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Keeping Seniors Safe

Awareness of surroundings, safety hazards at home topic of two seminars.

Simple things like locking doors, not opening a door to an unknown person and checking in with neighbors are what will help keep seniors safe, said Crime Prevention Officer Jim Nida of the Franconia District Police Station.

After the deaths of two Springfield women this year, Marion Marshall in August and Marion Newman on Nov. 21, Nida and his partner, Officer Alice Bennett, are offering two Senior Safety Seminars in Springfield to help seniors feel safer in their homes and neighborhoods.

"We do these seminars somewhat regularly, but this one is more focused because of the homicides," Nida said.

The seminars are Saturday, Dec. 16 from 1-3 p.m. at Lynbrook Elementary and Monday, Dec. 18 from 2-4 p.m. at Bren Mar Elementary. They will be open-forum type of meetings, where some basic information about safety will be presented but questions from those who attend will drive the discussion, Nida said.

"We throw out ideas and overviews, but we give lots of time for seniors to ask specific questions," he said.

ALTHOUGH IT HAS been several months since a seminar like this has been offered, Nida said the advice is almost always the same.

"We tell people not to open doors to anyone they don't know or engage anyone who calls you and wants to talk over the phone that you don't know," he said. "We also tell them not to hire someone who comes up and says they're a contractor and offer you a great deal to work on your house."

Some common-sense awareness of surroundings, looking for things or people that seem out of place or suspicious, are also good things to keep in mind to stay safe, Nida said.

In the past few weeks, seniors who visited the Lorton Senior Center in Gunston Plaza have been talking more about their own safety and the homicides in Springfield, said Anne Miller, the center's director.

"It has prompted some discussion and some questions because a lot of people here live alone," Miller said.

On occasion, the center will offer safety programs in conjunction with the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, Miller said, to talk about keeping homes safe from intruders.

"We tell them things like, when opening a door, you can keep your storm door locked so there's something between you and whoever is there," she said. "It's so important to ask for identification when someone tries to drop off a package or says they're some kind of utility worker."

Miller said informational brochures are always available at her center for quick-references answers to some questions, but said the flyer for the Senior Safety Seminars are posted now to encourage people to attend them.

"Most people I see are aware of what they need to do to maintain their safety," she said. "Still, it bears repeating and we've got to keep reminding each other."

Dorothy Keenan, supervisor of senior services for the Department of Community and Recreation Services, said the 13 senior centers in Fairfax County frequently offer discussions about safety in the home from the police.

"We can ask them for a specific slant on a topic for their presentation," she said. "This time, we're asking them for more information about keeping safe in your own home and neighborhood, like what to do if someone's trying to get into the house."

Keenan said police and fire stations will visit individual homes to check for possible safety hazards, ranging from slippery rugs that could cause someone to fall to spotting easy access points for intruders.

Printed information about safety is available at all the centers in the county, Keenan said.