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Preparing for Emergencies in Senior Living (with transcript)

Cate Steane leads an organization by the name of Make It Happen Preparedness Services. She enables businesses to outsource emergency preparedness planning & training.

Cate spent 12 years practicing law, representing the City of Oakland Hills Fire litigation, training in Community Emergency Response Teams, Wilderness First Aid, & project management.

She spent over 20 years leadership in risk management, facilities and human resources responding to the Loma Prieta Earthquake, Oakland Hills and Wine Country Fires.


Frank:               Welcome to Boomers Today. I’m your host, Frank Sampson. Of course, each week on our show we bring you important useful information on issues facing baby boomers, their parents, and other loved ones. Today on the show we have Cate Steane. Cate leads an organization called Make it Happen Preparedness Services. She enables businesses to outsource emergency preparedness planning and training.

                          Cate spent 12 years practicing law representing the City of Oakland Hills Fire Litigation and California, training in community emergency response teams, wilderness first aid, and project management. She spent over 20 years leadership and risk management facilities and human resources responding to the Loma Prieta earthquake, Oakland Hills and Wine Country fires. Cate, thank you so much for joining us on Boomers Today. I really appreciate it.

Cate:                Oh, it’s my pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Frank:               I have to say this is the first time that we’ve had somebody on the show to discuss the subject matter. Here in northern California we especially know how important it is to be safe and prepared for fires. Cate, why don’t you tell us a little bit more about Make It Happen Preparedness Services.

Cate:                After ending my career in law, I spent 20 years in leadership of nonprofit organizations serving vulnerable populations. That’s where I really honed the skills that helped me understand the business aspects of preparedness, because I was responsible for facilities, insurance, safety and HR, and all those things that are related to preparedness. I was in San Francisco in 1989, where I was practicing landlord tenant law, and I became involved in preparing a legal guide for landlords and tenants about their rights and responsibilities regarding earthquake repairs.

                          And then, you know, a much bigger impact was when I was a Deputy City Attorney for the City of Oakland when The Tunnel Fire, which was the big fire in the Oakland Hills, struck and destroyed 3000 homes. I was assigned to the team that represented the city in that litigation. And that’s where I had my first really deep dive into the specific details of disaster.

                          They say that vocation is where your great passion and talents meet the world’s great needs. I had already started my own project management business, and after the fires in 2017, I realized that preparedness really is my vocation, and it was the greatest thing that I had to offer a community that had this very high need. So that’s how I got from being an attorney to being the founder of a business focused on disaster preparedness.

Frank:               Oh, so many of us are so happy you did. I know you serve many different types of businesses in many industries, but you seem to be particularly passionate about working with senior living communities, smaller residential care homes, anybody servicing, seniors and senior living. How did that come about?

Cate:                It was probably initially inspired by the Sonoma County Fires in 2017. you know the story well, but your listeners may not. The night of October 8th, 2017, the largest wildfire in California history to that date was bearing down on the Fountain Grove area of Santa Rosa. Two assisted living facilities under the same ownership were side by side and Fountain Grove, the staff on duty called senior management for help, but it never came. These night shift staff were on their own to figure out what to do. They had never been trained on emergency response and never done an evacuation drill. That one facility there was a van big enough to evacuate the residents, but the staff on duty didn’t know where the keys were. The staff started evacuating residents in their own cars, but there were only a couple of them on duty and before they could evacuate everyone, police had blocked off their return to the area because it was about to become engulfed in flames.

                          The only reason all the residents made it out alive that night was because relatives and emergency responders arrived at the facility and evacuated the remaining residents. At the neighboring facility, staff conducted and evacuation. Miraculously the building survived the fire, but four residents of the facility woke up the next morning wondering where everyone was. Everything smelled the smoke.

Frank:               Wow.

Cate:                In the chaos of an unpracticed evacuation, staff had left behind four residents. And this didn’t happen at a couple of low budget board and cares. It happened at two high end facilities that only the most well-heeled clients could afford.

                          I realized that there was a great need there for more training, more preparedness and that there were some organizations that were doing it right. And the other businesses, the rule is you have to be up and running within five days. Senior assisted living facilities can’t have any interruption in services so that they’ve got to be ready to go, whether it’s for an evacuation scenario or a scenario where you’re going to be hunkering down without utilities. I always served vulnerable populations. I have a real passion for helping people who can’t really do everything for themselves. And so that’s why I’ve developed this focus on senior living facilities.

Frank:               You mentioned board and care homes, which is a popular term in California to describe smaller houses, license by the state to be able to care for seniors in the same manner that a larger community would.

What has the state of California done I guess from a legislative standpoint to make it a requirement for these locations to go through this emergency preparedness? That’s part one of my question. Part two is are you aware of other states who are dealing with emergencies? I mean Louisiana with the floods and Florida and hurricanes, and tornadoes and in the Midwest. What’s going on there as far as making it a requirement for these locations to be prepared for, whether they be the small care home or a larger 300 bed location?

Cate:                The year after the Sonoma County Fires, the state passed legislation really upping the standards for emergency preparedness for all kinds of assisted living facilities. It was almost as if they took exactly what happened in Fountain Grove and used that as their playbook for the new legislation down to the detail of staff on every shift have to know where the keys to the vehicles are. California did two things and the second thing was as important as the first. First was they up the standards in the legislation. The second was they hired more inspectors to enforce it. So previously an assisted living facility might see an inspector from the state once every five years. They’ve hired 42 new people to do this enforcement. They’re going to be seeing these folks every two years and there’s going to be an increased focus on their preparedness plans.

                          I’m not familiar with legislation in other states, but I do know that there’s only one of the big national assisted living chains that actually talks about preparedness on its website. And theirs is focused on responses to hurricanes. I think the chain was perhaps founded in Florida and in the southeast. And so that’s the type of emergency they had to prepare for. But anything you need to do for hurricane is the same as what you need to do for a wildfire or for an earthquake. The mechanism of the disaster may differ, but for the most part there’s only two things you’re going to do. You’re either going to evacuate or you’re going to try and hunker down with no utilities for  an extended period of time.

Frank:               So what do you suggest to family members who are evaluating senior living locations for their loved one? They may know what they want in terms of price, and finding the right type of care, but asking about fire and emergency preparedness is not necessarily something that they may think of right away.

Cate:                Alright. They absolutely should ask about it. It may turn out to be the most important question they ask. You know, because of climate change, we’re facing more and more frequent and more severe weather-related disasters all around the country. It’s a different place than it was 20 years ago and this is becoming a more and more important factor to know about. I think families simply need to ask and watch carefully on how the sales staff responds.

                          If they fumble and struggled to come up with an answer or they’re vague, the facility most likely does not have good preparedness. Preparedness really needs to be a part of the culture of the organization. Every employee needs to be familiar with the facility’s response plans, so ask about backup power and water system, how much emergency food and water that facility keeps on hand and how it’s set up to cook during a power outage. You should ask to see the preparedness plan and be sure it covers both evacuation and continuing operations when utilities are interrupted. If staff can’t produce a written plan for you and describe how often employees on every shift do drills and training, it should be at least quarterly, strike that facility from your list of options.

Frank:               Oh, those are great recommendations. I’d like to now get into a little bit more about your services, and to know how your organization helps prepare companies for emergencies. What type of services do you provide? How does that all work?

Cate:                Okay. Now I focus on businesses with 10 or more employees, in part because there are OSHA requirements that kick in at that level, and also just because it makes more economic sense for a company of that size. But on my website, which is MakeItHappenPS, as in preparedness services, .com, I have a lot of free preparedness resources that anyone can access, as well as several articles about preparedness. People can sign up for my free monthly article that I send out on preparedness so that they can truly stay up to date. So that may be helpful to smaller businesses. For my clients, my full service package includes assessment, development of that OSHA required emergency action plan, live training for employees that’s professionally videotaped so that the night shift workers and the employees hired after the training can see it, and an in depth preparation plan and schedule. And then finally a kit with all the materials and information needed for a year’s worth of drills and exercises. Employers who don’t need everything in the full service package can purchase the individual elements of it.

Frank:               So again going back to my question before, if somebody doesn’t bring on an organization like yourself to do this, how are they learning? And if the state hasn’t brought on an organization like yours, how are they showing that they’re prepared? What other options do to these senior living locations have?

Cate:                Well, they can certainly do it themselves. I always say there’s two kinds of projects: DIY and PSE. PSE stands for pay someone else. And the challenge with people kind of DIYing preparedness is there is a lot of information and resources out there on the internet, but it can be really overwhelming and hard to figure out what’s relevant to your particular company.

                          The Red Cross has a program called Ready Rating, so just look up ReadyRating.org, and then FEMA. Their website also has resources for businesses. So those are some places that smaller companies can get started on their preparedness.

Frank:               For an average size company, how much training would be necessary for their staff?

Cate:                Okay. If someone’s doing training only, I first do some assessment of the organization to find out what the key elements of their service are and what’s going to be most challenging in an emergency situation. I then offer a three-hour training that I do live. I like to do that for groups of no more than about 25 so I may have to do that more than once, depending on how many employees they have. And then as I mentioned, I have those professionally videotaped, and they’re edited and then put up online, so that all the employees who weren’t able to attend the training or who were hired after the training can get the information they need.

                          And then I recommend that people, I give them a schedule of drills, exercises, checking in on where they are on their development of their preparedness plan that they do and that they go through. They do something once every month. The key ones are the tabletop exercises where they really get the practice of responding to an emergency. And then I recommend that they bring me back once a year for a refresher training and to check up on how they’re doing on their implementation plan and see if things have changed at all in the facilities since last time I was there.

Frank:               And even though I know you’re based in California, I would think you’d be open to servicing and maybe you are already organizations that need your help outside of California.

Cate:                I’m happy to do that.

Frank:               Great, great. Could you give us a little more detail on why you’d be a wonderful person to bring on and do help these organizations?

Cate:                Right. Yeah, I did talk earlier about how I got from my involvement as an attorney and a couple of disasters and then my experience with nonprofit organizations and helping them up their standards of preparedness. In the meantime, I’ve become certified in community emergency response teams. I also have a certification in project management, which is extremely helpful in figuring out how to organize preparedness efforts. And I also happen to have training in wilderness first aid. I sometimes say that law school is a three-year master class in what could possibly go wrong, and wilderness first aid training is a masterclass in everything that could go wrong when 911 is more than an hour away. So that’s why it ends up being great training for emergency situations cause that’s the primary thing we have to understand that we will be on our own. You know, 911, they’re not going to be coming fast if there’s a big area wide disaster. So those are just a few pieces of how I’ve developed this skillset.

Frank:               I’m going to put you on the spot here. If somebody isn’t prepared, an organization, assisted living community, they don’t put anybody through any training or anything and it’s pretty kind of haphazard the way they did it, could there be legal ramifications if an incident occurs and they didn’t handle it in the proper way?

Cate:                Absolutely. The owners of the facilities in Fountain Grove were at the receiving end of a large lawsuit that was settled and then they were subject to proceedings by the state where they came very close to losing their license.

Frank:               All right.

Cate:                So absolutely they could be held liable, I would guess in any state for negligence. They could definitely could be subject to court litigation and state regulatory consequences as well.

Frank:               Okay, good. So how can people get a hold of you, whether it be your website or any other means?

Cate:                Sure. The website is MakeItHappenPS.com and there they can sign up for the monthly article that I send out. And businesses with 10 or more employees who are interested in looking at their preparedness can sign up on my website for a free one-hour preparedness strategy session with me. So those are two ways. I’m also fairly active on LinkedIn and my name is spelled C-A-T-E and the last name is S-T-E-A-N-E. Those are probably the two best ways to stay in touch with me currently.

Frank:               Great. Cate, thank you so much for joining us on Boomers Today. I really appreciate it. It was really eye opening.

Cate:                Oh, I enjoyed it so much and I really appreciate the opportunity to get some information out.

Frank:               Thank you very much.

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