Developing Storm-Proof Senior Communities

It can be difficult for seniors to evacuate when a severe weather event is imminent, and they are less likely to relocate once the event has passed.
Colin Marshall

In recent years, various developers have set out to satisfy the demand in the United States for senior housing communities that allow residents to “age in place” by incorporating tenets of New Urbanism into their design and lifestyle offerings. While it’s important that we continue to fill the dearth of walkable and environmentally sustainable communities that cater to seniors, it’s perhaps more imperative that we simultaneously meet the country’s significant need for housing that’s equipped to protect older adults living in disaster-prone areas. With seniors becoming an increasingly larger portion of the population at a time when both the incidence and intensity of weather events is on the rise, ensuring safety and continuity of care for older adults is a growing concern.

Research shows that seniors are much more at risk from storms and natural disasters than younger age groups. According to an Environmental Protection Agency report on the impacts of climate change on human health in the U.S., more than half of the deaths from Hurricane Katrina were of people over age 75, and almost half the deaths from Superstorm Sandy were of people over age 65. Across the country, we’re seeing older adults perish in the days following floods, droughts and wildfires because their care is disrupted by power outages, inability to obtain medications and other infrastructure problems. It can be difficult for seniors—particularly those with serious health issues, disabilities and cognitive impairments—to evacuate when a severe weather event is imminent, and they are less likely to relocate once the storm has passed. Furthermore, older adults are also especially vulnerable when exposed to the environmental hazards that can arise after disasters, such as mold in the home or bacteria-contaminated water.

Building for a Category 5 

Thankfully, there are a growing number of developers that have set out to solve this problem by implementing thoughtful and creative solutions in both the construction and operation of their independent-living and assisted-living communities. For example, in Fort Myers, Fla., my company recently developed a senior community that transcends the use of storm-resilient construction techniques and materials. At the 460-unit development, known as Amavida, the community clubhouse—typically a gathering spot for socialization, relaxation or exercise—doubles as a hurricane shelter that was built to withstand Category 5 storm surges and wind gusts of up to 200 miles per hour.

A multitude of residents, many of whom were forced out of their homes in 2017 by Hurricane Irma, have reported that they chose Amavida specifically because of its storm resiliency features, which, in addition to the Category 5 hurricane shelter, includes four large generators for backup electricity.

Nevertheless, even the most state-of-the-art construction methods and materials cannot guarantee the safety of our most vulnerable citizens. It’s important to remember that we’re all in it together, and for developers, this means being able to contextualize your projects, understanding the impact a development will have on the surrounding locality, and vice versa. In Fort Myers, we are partnering with the county’s emergency management department to provide residents with an annual education program in which we disseminate literature and host hurricane awareness/preparedness seminars. Similarly, we worked closely with municipal officials to formulate an emergency hurricane notification and evacuation plan for the development that not only ensures the safety of our residents, but is also aligned with the county’s overall hurricane preparedness process.  

Although we can expect the number of weather-related disasters to continue to rise in coming years, by working together to identify and implement the methods, measures and protocols that best protect older adults, we can ensure that our nation’s seniors—no matter where they live—can enjoy their golden years in peace and comfort.

 Colin Marshall is president of Quadrum Senior Living Management, where he is responsible for the development and active management of Quadrum Global’s Senior and Long Term Care division.