The Department of Homeland Security and FEMA have designated September as National Preparedness Month to promote family and community disaster and emergency planning now and throughout the year. This year’s theme is “Prepared, Not Scared.” We chatted with Dennis Gardin, Grace Ridge’s manager of plant operations, safety and security, to learn what the retirement community does to keep its residents and staff safe and well-informed all year and during emergency situations.

What kind of emergency response system does Grace Ridge have in place?

Resident safety and peace of mind are top priorities. Each residence is equipped with two emergency pull cords, and we offer manual daily check-ins for apartment residents and phone check-ins for cottage residents. However, many of our residents are always on the go and spend a lot of time enjoying various activities throughout our campus. If they fall or have some other emergency, it’s not necessarily in their bedroom or bathroom where they can use their pull cord.

A couple of years ago, we implemented the SARA program (Situational Awareness and Response Assistant) to integrate with our existing emergency and security systems. Residents wear a call pendant that notifies the appropriate first responder in real time, while simultaneously alerting staff. The pendant features a hands-free, two-way talking device, so if residents are unable to press the pendant, they can still call for help. This allows them to continue living active, vibrant lives without worrying about getting immediate help if they have an emergency anywhere on campus.

What other kinds of safety features and surveillance are in place?

We have a uniformed security officer in place from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. Monday through Friday, and 24-hour security on the weekends. There are numerous video cameras located throughout the inside of the community, including the main lobby, hallways and in health care. Outside, we have cameras at the main entrance points and driveways.

What about safety drills?

Grace Ridge currently runs drills with staff and walks through evacuation procedures; we’ll be doing drills and evacuations with residents in the near future. Burke County also runs county-wide drills that involve all retirement and assisted living communities. We also provide the county a copy of our policies and procedures regarding emergency preparedness.

How does the staff stay in touch with each other and residents?

At the beginning of the season, I give a presentation on disaster preparedness at a monthly residents’ association meeting. When there’s an event that looks like it may affect the community, we have a leadership meeting to discuss preparedness for the upcoming event. We then initiate phone calls and send email updates to staff and residents through Constant Contact. Within Grace Ridge, we use walkie talkies, cell phones and an overhead paging system during emergency situations. Outside the community, we post updates on our Facebook page and website, and update outgoing voicemail recordings as needed.


Helpful emergency preparedness resources for older adults


What are some of the ways the community prepares for tropical storms and hurricanes?

We secure all furniture and belongings on patios, balconies and decks, as well as test our generators and make sure we have a surplus of fuel. Both our dining services and operations departments have plans in place for situations regarding power outages, water, food and overall safety. We’re also in contact with North Carolina state government officials regarding our natural disaster policies and preparedness to ensure the safety of both staff and residents. Carolinas Healthcare System – Blue Ridge also provides support to the community as needed. We communicate all of this to staff and residents.

How about snowstorms?

We have email communication with Burke County Emergency Management, and the Grace Ridge leadership team meets to discuss the upcoming event. To ensure we have plenty of staffing coverage, we have a policy in place for staff to stay overnight in guest apartments if the weather is severe. We have a snowplow for the work truck, plenty of ice melt on hand, and a spreader. The landscape crew also has snowplows and staff available to assist as needed.

Next year you’ll celebrate 25 years with Grace Ridge. Do you have any preparedness stories that stand out?

During my first winter here in December 1995, the residents asked me to stay overnight on a Friday because of an upcoming storm. I’m glad I did, because the snow amount was pretty significant – about 10 inches! We did a lot of scraping and shoveling before I went home on Saturday evening. We’ve always had staff who are willing to stay throughout snow events, if needed. It’s nice for our residents and their families to know we have such dedicated staff.

What words of encouragement do you have for Grace Ridge residents and their loved ones?

Emergency situations can be a particularly stressful time for older adults, so we want to assure residents – and their loved ones – that they’re in very good hands. With just over 200 residents, we’re really like one big family here. We have caring and professional team members whose number one priority is to keep everyone safe. And, we’ll always do everything we can to keep residents and their loved ones apprised of any emergency situation.

Nestled in the foothills of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, Grace Ridge is a Life Plan Community spanning 52 pastoral acres in Morganton, NC. Come for a visit and find out why our community repeatedly garners awards, high rankings and superior satisfaction ratings as one of the best retirement communities in North Carolina.