Yes, it’s hard to believe that there are other ‘types’ of emergencies to be ready for apart from COVID!

However, the advent of spring and the approach of summer means greater risks of fire, heatwave conditions, storms and floods.

As a volunteer firefighter, the month of October is a time for drills, re-orienting myself with equipment and procedures, locating and checking emergency supplies and updating key contact lists. With the increasing use of technology, it also means updating Apps and logins as well.

Aged care facilities and services are not so different. This is a time for you to be reviewing and preparing for the usual ‘Australian’ emergencies. As we head into summer, I thought it would be helpful to revisit a few key points covered in a post I wrote a couple of years ago and provide updated links.

Firefighter spraying a bushfire with a hose, text reads "Be prepared for natural disasters."

Tip One: Check contact lists and information are up to date

As part of our consultancy work, we carry out a lot of internal audits with managers and staff. One of the key things the CDCS team looks at during a site visit (home care and residential) is when the key contact list was last checked and updated.

Who is on your list? It might include a range of local emergency services, such as:

  • the local Rural Fire Service or Country Fire Authority, or urban fire stations if you are in a city or town
  • police
  • hospital or clinic
  • local council services

Once you know who should be on your list, what next?

  • It is important to meet with external emergency service organisations to review agreed protocols and procedures in the event of a natural disaster. This meeting can include advising them of any changes to your service that would help them if they need to assist your service or clients in an emergency or where evacuation is required.
  • Have a staff member ring your identified emergency services and confirm numbers and key personnel contacts.
  • Check whether the Department contact information you have is current.  Previous links you may have noted in policies, procedures or work instructions may have changed. The Service continuity and emergency events in aged care is one.

Tip Two: Update your ‘Vulnerable Persons’ register

For home care service providers, it’s important that you know who in your client group is ‘vulnerable’. What makes a person vulnerable? Ask yourself:

  • Does the person live alone?
  • Does the person have their own well thought out emergency plan?
  • If a warning was issued, would the person receive the warning? If so, could they understand and act on it?
  • Do they need assistance to move to a shelter, or somewhere safer if necessary?

This is why it is important to not only gather relevant information during the intake process, but also to assess the person’s risk during the initial assessment and when conducting care plan reviews and through regular monitoring.

For residential care providers, although capacity will vary between your residents, the majority will require assistance and support to respond appropriately in an emergency.

  • Ensure there is an up to date list of the most vulnerable residents and identify what assistance they would require if an emergency evacuation was necessary, e.g. how many would need assistance to leave their room, or have to be evacuated by ambulance?

Some providers place an ‘Alert’ against a client/resident in their electronic client management system, but can this be accessed during an emergency?  A paper-based Register or spreadsheet may be more useful in an emergency situation – as long as it’s maintained and updated!

Tip Three: Engage with your consumers and their carers/representatives

Making sure that stakeholders understand your policies and procedures and that you have good communication processes in place is important. I think providers have gotten better at this over the past year and a half – they’ve had to keep concerned relatives connected to their loved ones and well-informed throughout the pandemic.

Use the new processes developed during the pandemic as part of your updated communication strategies to highlight emergency plans to stakeholders.

For home care service providers:

  • Let clients know about your heatwave policy and what support they can expect, or what may change to support staff welfare, e.g. non-essential services rescheduled to cooler times of the day.
  • Provide reminders about the importance of hydration and keeping cool. You could send texts or facebook alerts – it’s incredible how technologically connected seniors are now.
  • Provide regular (daily) face-to-face visits to vulnerable people who may not be as tech savvy and may not see alerts.
  • Would your client group benefit from having an emergency planning meeting or could you provide a list of what to do in the case of an emergency?

For residential care providers:

  • Include relevant information in your monthly or quarterly ‘Newsletter’, e.g. the Summer Edition, reinforcing what the heatwave policy is and how to access outdoor areas, or highlight changes to planned outings on days of extreme temperatures.
  • Laminate heatwave information sheets and provide them to residents, carers and families, as well as displaying them throughout the building during summer, e.g. from 1st November to 30th March each year.
  • Discuss emergency planning with your resident group, seek support and ideas from them on appropriate responses and listen to their concerns.

Tip Four: Check Emergency Equipment, Power and Water supplies, Grounds and Buildings

We often see adverts on media outlets at this time of year that highlight being prepared, to clean up around our homes and set up emergency kits. We need to remember that clients may not be able to do some of these activities themselves and may need assistance. Residential care facilities need to also consider the premises they operate within.

For home care service providers, consider:

  • Are there clients who need help with clearing gutters, cutting back grass and removing dangerous debris? (While these may not be services you provide, you may be able to refer them to relevant services or other ways they can get help.)
  • Do you need to provide social support assistance to help someone set up their personal emergency kit?

For residential care and day respite centres:

  • If there is a backup generator or UPS, has this been serviced and has a drill been done to test everything works?
  • Check there is sufficient fuel to operate your generator and that any spare fuel is stored appropriately.
  • Is there a procedure in place to check fridge and freezer temperatures, and alternative cooling options for food and fluids identified?
  • What happens to secure doors/areas when an outage first occurs? Are there manual overrides, or do you need to assign staff to monitor key entrances/exits?
  • Does emergency lighting and power points work? Do you know what areas work on the back up grid and what goes ‘offline’?
  • Can drinking water be accessed and for how long?

Tip Five: Ensure evacuation kits and plans are in place and up to date

For home care service providers:

  • In rural and remote communities, aged care providers may want to develop or update a community or town map, clearly identifying where vulnerable people live. This is useful when emergency services personnel need to locate clients and help them to safety.  This can be especially relevant for cyclone prone areas.

For residential care and day respite centres:

  • Check that your facility’s grab-and-go-bag is ready and contains key supplies and information, such as an up-to-date first aid kit, resident identification tags, and relevant resident documentation and medication list is accessible.
  • Check to see if the evacuation plan is up-to-date and options are clearly identified for different scenarios, e.g. if the main exit road out of town was blocked by fire, what are other escape routes?
  • Note what agreements are in place with other nearby facilities who may be able to take residents if an evacuation is necessary.
  • Check how care plans and essential client information will be accessed in the event of an evacuation.

Tip Six: Training and workforce – general considerations

Well-trained and knowledgeable staff are one of your greatest assets, and you want them to be ready to respond appropriately in an emergency.

  • Have your staff participated in a recent fire and evacuation drill?
  • Do your staff know where to locate key resources like the Emergency Management Folder?
  • Do they know who the fire warden is?

You also need to consider what the impact on your service will be if staff are unable to get to work. How will this impact on rosters and the provision of essential care, such as meals, personal care, medication support, etc?

Some other helpful links include:

If you can think of someone else who might benefit from this article, send them a link. We’d appreciate it! And if you’re looking for more helpful resources, why not check out our Total Quality Package resource hub? We have culturally appropriate, tailored resources that are designed to make your job simpler and help you provide quality care to your clients. Click here to find out more.

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