CORNELL-What do older people's life experiences tell us-ID1243-IDRC2014_b

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5th International Disaster and Risk Conference IDRC 2014 Integrative Risk Management - The role of science, technology & practice 24-28 August 2014 in Davos, Switzerland

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  • Anecdotally, older people are considered to be under-prepared for emergency events. However, they are rarely engaged directly, to understand their knowledge and experience of emergencies and their feelings regarding emergency preparedness. The presentation will discuss research that explored how the life experience of older people influences their preparedness for emergencies.
  • This study had three main research drivers:
     
    An ageing population in Australian, indeed most of the world
    A warming climate, which brings the forecast of more severe natural hazard events such as heatwaves, bushfires and cyclones
    And the changing risk profile across the world, where services that underpin our daily lives are more interconnected, interdependent and complex
     
    Although little research has been undertaken with specific regard to older people and disasters (Ngo 2001), disaster researchers often classify older people as a ‘vulnerable’ group. However, it is not advancing age alone that makes people vulnerable; vulnerabilities are generally due to the issues associated with the advancing age, such as ‘impaired physical mobility, diminished sensory awareness, pre-existing health conditions, and social and economic constraints’ (Fernandez et al. 2002, p. 69). This may be true, but these issues are not specific to older people and may also be relevant to the non-aged.
     
    Recent events, and discussions that have taken place during disaster management planning and exercising, have triggered consideration to the way older people are engaged in disaster management processes (Cornell, Cusack & Arbon 2012). Most disaster research concerning older people ‘has focused on displacement and relocation as a consequence of a…disaster’ (Marshall & Mathews 2010, p. 80), i.e. the response and recovery phases; little research has been undertaken on older people and preparedness for emergency events. Of the preparedness research carried out to date, most is centred on authorities preparing to respond to an event.
     
    There is a lack of research on the preparedness of older people living in their own homes, or to agencies that provide care to older people in their homes (Laditka et al. 2008). Discussion thus far largely considers the development of tools and checklists that will help older people prepare for emergencies, rather than what might influence their decision to prepare. Another driver for this study, therefore, was the lack of research with respect to the meaning of preparedness to older people, to consider what being prepared means to them.
  • The study took a qualitative, interpretive approach as the aim was to explore and understand whether people’s life experiences have influenced their perception of preparedness and what it means to be prepared for an emergency event. People make decisions with regard to preparing for emergencies based on the context of their own lives and experiences. Eleven people aged between 77 and 90 years took part in semi structured interviews.
     
    All participants resided in their own homes, in the greater Adelaide area, and were in receipt of low-level in-home care, for example assistance with shopping or housework. All were of white Anglo-Australian heritage – nine were born in Australia, two in England. Ten of the eleven participants were or had been married, while one woman had never been married. Of the ten who were or had been married all the men were still married; one of the women was still married, and one divorced; and the five remaining women were widowed. The participants came from a range of professional and socio-economic backgrounds.
     
    The small number of participants was part of the study design, in order that in-depth interviews could be undertaken, gaining rich data. The interviews explored the variety of emergency events experienced during the participants’ lives; how those events may have changed them; the meaning drawn from the events; and the subsequent influence of their experiences on the way they prepare, or perhaps choose not to prepare, for emergency events.
     
    The interviews and transcripts were analysed using a thematic analysis approach, guided by van Manen’s hermeneutic phenomenology.
  • The thematic analysis of the data produced three themes - understanding my world, shrinking my world and accepting my world.
     
    The first theme illuminated the events that the participants had experienced. The emergency events that the participants wished to discuss were nominated by them; participants were not, for example, asked ‘have you experienced a bushfire; have you lived through a flood event?’ The events were wide-ranging and included natural hazard events, man-induced events and (for the time in which they occurred) socially unacceptable events such as teenage pregnancies. Those working in the professional world of emergency management, while espousing the ‘all hazards’ approach, often confine their thinking to a set range of events; traditionally considering natural hazard events, and man-induced events such as chemical leaks, terrorism and major transport accidents. This theme emphasised that older people - with experience of many, varied events - have a much broader view. They recognise that experience, strength and understanding can be gathered from many aspects of their lives, both the big events and the small.
     
    The temporal and private nature of events was highlighted by the participants’ stories. For some, the event was internalised and less significant to, or noticed by, others. Importantly, an event may not have a clear beginning and certainly may not have an end; it may continue to be a feature of every day experience, such as living without a loved one after their death, or giving up a child for adoption.
     
    All of the participants understood that their physical health is not as strong as it once was, and this did not worry them. Rather than dwell on activities they can no longer do, they either adapted previous activities, or found new ways to enjoy their world. They were conscious that this reduced physical strength has implications for being prepared for an emergency – in terms of potentially being unable to carry out certain preparedness measures (for example clearing vegetation) and also in terms of reacting in an impending event (due perhaps to no longer having a car). They did not, however, feel vulnerable.
     
    The participants felt mentally strong and prepared to deal with any type of emergency; in fact it was mental strength that was more important to them in terms of being prepared than physical strength. This feeling of mental strength is a positive finding, and something that can be harnessed by emergency management planners and community groups. These older people were not mentally fragile, and in fact felt stronger due to the events they have lived through. They therefore should be invited to share their experiences, advice and suggestions as to how they can cope before and during emergencies.
     
    The second theme was shrinking my world. The participants have a smaller social world, with both reduced contact with others, and also a reduced geographical area in which they now interact. This smaller social world is not something they feel negative about; they enjoyed the genuine friendships they have, and also the freedom to do what they please, with whom they please.
     
    The participants did recognise, however, that a shrinking social world has implications in terms of being prepared for emergencies, both for the negative and the positive. On the negative side, participants recognised that strong social resources, including good friends and a strong community spirit, are critical supports in times of an emergency. They can provide shelter, food and psychological support. A shrinking social world reduces access to these resources. On the positive side, the participants said that although their social world was shrinking, the relationships they had with friends and family members were ‘real’, with genuine supportive bonds, rather than casual acquaintances or family who were not close.
     
    The identification of shrinking my world as a theme was interesting because it highlights a potential window of opportunity to engage older people in emergency planning activities – while they are still happy to share their time, knowledge and experience, but before they potentially retreat to an increasingly smaller social world and also before their engagement with the wider world, and potentially their thinking, becomes so narrow and focused.
     
    The final theme is acceptance of my world, and an overarching conclusion for the participants in acceptance in their world is that life just happens. While one can learn from experiences, and they all attest they have learnt from their experiences, at the end of the day life is ‘what it is’, they feel that being prepared for an emergency event is a process rather than a one-off event. Being prepared is about living and learning.
     
    The participants accepted a greater level of dependence on others. This was not seen as negative, and in many cases was a release; they did not feel that this greater dependence implied helplessness. Indeed, acceptance of greater dependence showed a sophisticated type of control being displayed by the participants, whereby they made conscious decisions to ‘delegate’ certain tasks to others. In some cases, this delegation might be reversed, as perhaps they recovered from an operation. One notable exception to accepting greater dependence, was when this was seen as seen as a direct corollary to independence, for example relying on others as a result of giving up driving. This was raised by those participants who had already had to give up driving, and it was also raised as a major concern by those who had not yet had to give up driving, but knew that they one day might have to.
     
    The participants in this research displayed acceptance of sharing in their lived world, in terms of time and time priorities, without issue. They look after friends and family in both formal and informal arrangements, and are keen volunteers in the community. This volunteering has allowed the participants to share their past experience and knowledge - they do not consider that ‘knowledge is power’ and are happy to share what they have learnt through their lives.
     
    The participants felt that they have been lucky to live good long and fulfilled lives and were comfortable with where they were in their world; they were not concerned with their reducing future life, were not overly worried about preparing for what might come, were accepting that they may die soon, and confirmed that death held no fear for them.
     
  • This research has been supporting the implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action by fostering and eliciting community participation, education and knowledge gained from and within community members. The research has enhanced relations locally, between aged care providers, community groups and government agencies, facilitating a broader disaster preparedness dialogue.
     
    The research has highlighted that the Post 2015 Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction should undertake research among vulnerable populations – actually speaking with them, not their service providers or carers, and should emphasise building capacity at the local government and community level to prepare for and manage risks. In addition, in aiming for resilience in communities, a broader view should be embraced that considers a greater range of disaster risk including more ‘everyday’ concerns such as low income, financial and health concerns.
    From my own PhD research, I would suggest that policy needs to better informed, but empirical research, not assumptions
  • This research brings an ontological view of what it means to be prepared, having explored the lives of eleven older people. It provides new knowledge in understanding that for older people, being prepared for a disaster is not about toolkits and checklists, and tangible items.
     
    It is a process built upon over many years, and influenced by a range of emergency events. This variety of – and accumulation of - event types helps to build a feeling of being prepared.
     
    This research also highlights that while older people might not define themselves as ‘being prepared’ in terms of traditional disaster management assessments, they do not feel vulnerable to disasters. They accept their limitations, but feel confident they can cope. Given their lack of engagement to date, this is a key finding as it has implications for how older people may (and should) be engaged in the future; i.e. they should not be approached as a ‘vulnerable’ group as such; rather a group that has some specific needs, but that also has a wealth of positive attributes in terms of knowledge, experience and sense of community. While the older people in this study might not define themselves as being prepared, they certainly consider themselves to be resilient.
     
    In allowing the participants to self-define the emergency events they discussed, events that from a professional ‘disaster management sector’ perspective might not be considered to influence preparedness were raised. This has implications for the development of preparedness messaging and education, suggesting that the most effective messages are relevant to all hazards and meaningful on a day to day basis, while also effective in an emergency. By being too specific about ‘being prepared for a flood’, or ‘being prepared for a bushfire’ agencies may miss the opportunity to engage with people about being prepared for emergency events generally.
     
    When considering the development of disaster management plans and policies, in addition to involving older people themselves, their shrinking worlds and acceptance of their worlds must be taken in to account. At this stage in their lives being prepared for disasters – when understood from the more traditional disaster management sector world of, for example, natural hazards – is not important to the participants. They are confident of their resilience and their ability to cope. Designing preparedness materials for older people on specific hazard types, therefore, may serve no purpose. Ensuring older people are secure, safe and feel mentally strong is more important.
     
    The material gathered in this research shows that for the older people who took part, being prepared is principally a mental state of being. In accepting their advancing years and deteriorating physical ability, the participants gain comfort in knowing that their life experiences (including the emergency events they have lived through) have left them feeling comfortable in their shrinking world, and strong enough mentally to deal with any potential future emergency.
      
    This research has implications in terms of developing well informed disaster risk reduction, resilience and preparedness policy and practice. By understanding what influences older people living in the community to prepare for emergency events – indeed, understanding that for this group of older participants being prepared is less important than being resilient - the sector can establish how best to assist them in their emergency preparedness planning; rather than making assumptions about what this target group wants or needs.
  • CORNELL-What do older people's life experiences tell us-ID1243-IDRC2014_b

    1. 1. What do older people’s life experiences tell us about emergency preparedness? Victoria Cornell, South Australian Fire and Emergency 5th International Disaster and Risk Conference IDRC 2014 ‘Integrative Risk Management - The role of science, technology & practice‘ • 24-28 August 2014 • Davos • Switzerland www.grforum.org Services Commission, ex-Flinders University Paul Arbon, Flinders University Lynette Cusack, University of Adelaide
    2. 2. 5th International Disaster and Risk Conference IDRC 2014 ‘Integrative Risk Management - The role of science, technology & practice‘ • 24-28 August 2014 • Davos • Switzerland www.grforum.org Study Rationale • Ageing population • Warming climate • Changing risk profiles – highly interdependent world • Older people considered to be vulnerable to disasters • However, often not engaged in disaster research directly • Little research on older people living in their own homes • What does it mean to older people, to be prepared?
    3. 3. 5th International Disaster and Risk Conference IDRC 2014 ‘Integrative Risk Management - The role of science, technology & practice‘ • 24-28 August 2014 • Davos • Switzerland www.grforum.org Method • Qualitative, interpretive study • Eleven older people • Aged 77 to 90 years old • Semi structured interviews • Thematic analysis
    4. 4. 5th International Disaster and Risk Conference IDRC 2014 ‘Integrative Risk Management - The role of science, technology & practice‘ • 24-28 August 2014 • Davos • Switzerland www.grforum.org Findings • Understanding my world – Events experienced – Temporal and private nature of events – Physical and mental strength • Shrinking my world – Shrinking social world – Shrinking engagement with others • Accepting my world – Greater dependence on others – Sharing time
    5. 5. Added value for the Post 2015 Framework for 5th International Disaster and Risk Conference IDRC 2014 ‘Integrative Risk Management - The role of science, technology & practice‘ • 24-28 August 2014 • Davos • Switzerland www.grforum.org Disaster Risk Reduction • How did your work support the implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action: – fostered and elicited community participation, education and knowledge gained from and within community members. The research has – enhanced relations locally, between aged care providers, community groups and government agencies, facilitating a broader disaster preparedness dialogue. • From your perspective what are the main gaps, needs and further steps to be addressed in the Post 2015 Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction in – Research: perspectives and beliefs of vulnerable populations – Education & Training: building capacity at the local government and community level to prepare for and manage risks – Implementation & Practice: a broader view should be embraced that considers a greater range of disaster risk including more ‘everyday’ concerns such as low income, financial and health – Policy: to be informed by research, not assumptions
    6. 6. 5th International Disaster and Risk Conference IDRC 2014 ‘Integrative Risk Management - The role of science, technology & practice‘ • 24-28 August 2014 • Davos • Switzerland www.grforum.org Conclusion • Being prepared is a process, not a one-off activity • Many emergency event types influence meaning • Accept limitations, but don’t feel vulnerable • Feel mentally able to cope
    7. 7. 5th International Disaster and Risk Conference IDRC 2014 ‘Integrative Risk Management - The role of science, technology & practice‘ • 24-28 August 2014 • Davos • Switzerland www.grforum.org Thank you

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