Officials urge seniors to prep for storm season

Christian Ramos, left, and the Touching Hearts at Home staff are preparing clients and caregivers for hurricane season.
Christian Ramos, left, and the Touching Hearts at Home staff are preparing clients and caregivers for hurricane season.
Courtesy of Touching Hearts at Home

The arrival of June means not only is summer fast approaching, but that hurricane season is here as well. While all Floridians should take special precautions, aging adults have distinctive measures they should take.  

“The biggest thing that everybody needs to do is to make sure you are signed up for emergency alerts,” said David Peaton, assistant director of emergency management for Alachua County. He said the best way to do that is to text the word “Alachua” to 888777.  

David Peaton
File photo by Suzette Cook David Peaton

“Senior residents need to look to see if they have any special needs … that need to be covered in the event you must evacuate,” he said. “It’s important you get signed up with the Alachua County special needs registry.”  

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That’s not hard to do and it can be a lifesaver, Peaton said. Putting your name in the registry allows the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County to prepare for residents with special needs who may need to evacuate to a shelter.  

“Some of those things include electrical dependent medical devices, medication administering assistance, and anything that would require them to have to have power in their home in the event of a disaster,” Peaton said. “This allows emergency personnel to know who may need to evacuate to a shelter and how many shelters they may need to open.” 

Local residents can register by going to the county website or calling 352-246-6500.  

“If someone doesn’t have technical skills, they can call and we can walk through the registration process over the phone,” Peaton said.  

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also has special tips for seniors. Suggestions include making a list of who can help you, making certain your medical information is available, and listing things you may need to take with you if you leave your home.  

This includes putting together a kit with everything necessary to cover your needs for at least 72 hours and having enough cash on hand to cover 30 days of essential living expenses.  

For a more comprehensive list, you can visit or call the FEMA Mitigation Outreach phone line at 833-336-2487. 

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Local groups serving older adults are also gearing up for hurricane season. Christina M. Ramos, executive director of Gainesville’s Touching Hearts at Home, said her organization has put together a list of preparedness measures for both its caregivers and clients.  

“With our services, we don’t intend to be the biggest, but we want to be the best,” she said. “What that means for us is going above and beyond. The state of Florida has regulations and rules for hurricane protocol and mandatory evacuation. We do our due diligence educate patients and workers.” 

Ramos said in the event of a storm, Touching Hearts staffers check in on all clients daily. She said because the company’s employees are considered essential workers, they can get support from city and county emergency workers to reach their clients.  

She told the tale of one employee who was blocked from reaching her client’s home during a storm.  

“The roads were flooded, and they weren’t letting traffic through, but a police officer was able to navigate and help her through,” Ramos said. “So, we have never missed a shift even with storms.” 

At Oak Hammock at UF, a continuing care and retirement community, staff members are also preparing for potential storm impacts.  

Anthony Lopiccolo, director of plant operations, said the state and county mandate that Oak Hammock must submit a comprehensive emergency management plan for approval by county emergency officials. On site before and when a storm is approaching, he makes sure permanent and short-term residents and their families are aware of what is happening. 

“I will present documents and things of that nature. And I go over hurricane preparedness with them. If we have an impending storm, we will publish a message and will give categories of storm,” he said. “ ‘This is what we do under level 1. If you need furniture moved, let us know.’ ” 

“We do a run of outside property to be sure all umbrellas are down—that could take off as projectiles with wind and storm,” he said.  

Loppiccolo says Oak Hammock staff all know they are essential personnel and may need to stay overnight in the event of an emergency.  

“We also make provisions to make a place for families and pets,” he said. “If they have to bring family, at least they are there with them, as we do have some common rooms and common spaces.” 

Editor’s note: This is the ninth story in Mainstreet’s Aging Matters series. It was independently reported by Ronnie Lovler and underwritten by Elder Options. Some reporting was made possible by Lovler’s acceptance as a fellow into the 2022 Age Boom Academy, a program of the Columbia Journalism School, the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center, and the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health.  

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Thank you for this information.

Jenny Dearinger

I love this series!
Great article to get prepared for hurricane season! I immediately signed up to receive texts from Alachua County EMS.
Thanks for helping seniors (and everyone) get prepared.