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Nursing professor co-chairs National Policy Expert Round Table on Emergency/Disaster Preparedness for Older Adults

Wanda Spurlock, a professor in the College of Nursing and Allied Health, recently served as co-chair of a National Policy Expert Round Table on Emergency Preparedness for Older Adults. The outcome of this partnership between the American Red Cross, Scientific Advisory Council and the American Academy of Nursing, was a white paper titled, Closing the Gaps: Disaster Preparedness, Response and Recovery for Older Adults. Release of the report is especially timely with the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on older adults and a current active hurricane season.


“These recommendations are also useful and pertinent when emergencies necessitate shelter-in-place policies, such as the directives a majority of states have enacted in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic,” said Eileen Sullivan-Marx, Academy president.


The report was based on a scientific review of the latest evidence and legislation on disaster preparedness, response and recovery for older adults.  Through a rigorous consensus decision making process, a comprehensive final set of 25 evidence-informed recommendations were developed. The final recommendations are based on six identified emergency domains: individual and unpaid caregivers; community services and programs; healthcare professionals and emergency response personnel; care institutions and organizations; legislative/policy; and research.

Findings from the report highlight that while disaster preparedness is vital for people of all ages, older adults are more vulnerable and experience more casualties after a natural disaster or emergency due to several outstanding factors:


  1. Older adults have a greater prevalence of chronic conditions, multimorbidity, cognitive impairment and medication concerns during disasters
  2. Older adults have a greater dependency on assistive devices, supplies and support requirements during a disaster
  3. Greater issues of social isolation make older adults more vulnerable
  4. Mixed findings exist around the vulnerability for older adults to psychological distress compared to younger adults
  5. Gaps in preparedness of caregivers of older persons, especially those with dementia.


In addition to the American Red Cross and the American Academy of Nursing, this report has been endorsed by the Gerontological Society of America, the International Federation on Aging, the John A. Hartford Foundation, and the American Geriatrics Society, among others. The full report can be accessed here.

As a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing, Dr. Spurlock served as immediate past Co-Chair of the Expert Panel on Aging and as the Chair of the Emergency/Disaster Preparedness Subcommittee. She was  also the lead author on the “American Academy of Nursing on Policy position statement: Disaster preparedness for older adults” published in Nursing Outlook and co-authored, “Improving disaster recovery for older adults,” published in Geriatric Nursing among other publications on this topic.

Dr. Spurlock is also recognized as a Distinguished Gerontological Nurse Educator by the National Hartford Center for Gerontological Nursing.