In Florida a severe hurricane can force homeowners to evacuate days ahead of the storm. In New York a snowstorm can cause power outages that leave people stranded in their home for days. In California an earthquake can unexpectedly rattle the home and break valuables. And in Texas, a tornado has the potential to force residents to take shelter at a moment’s notice.
For able bodies, minimal preparation and the ability to move quickly may be enough to adequately respond to an emergency. But for many older adults in the United States, planning for an emergency requires foresight, and reacting to an emergency can’t be done at a moment’s notice. To make matters more challenging, some older adults live alone and they have unique needs or limited physical mobility.
Whether you are an older adult, the caregiver of an older adult, or a family member or friend who wants to do your part to help an older adult, taking the proper safety measures will mean the difference between survival, efficiency, and smooth sailing. Here’s what you need to know:
The Beginning Stages of Preparation
Start preparation by finding out what types of emergencies are possible and most prevalent in your area. These could include power outages, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires, but also consider home-grown accidents like house fires.
It’s important to be aware of what could go wrong and have every variable covered. Many older adults who are injured, misplaced or worse during disasters don’t fall victim because of health issues, but a lack of preparation. If you do have health issues, preparation will be especially important. This includes those with hearing or vision problems, walking canes or wheelchairs, and adults who take certain medications
Build a Network
Establish a network of people that you can check in with that know you have evacuated, may be in need, and are aware of your situation. This includes friends, family, places of worship, doctors and others. Include contacts that are out of state.
Update Contact Information
Have updated contact information for friends, family and emergency officials. Make sure this information is kept in cell phones, wallets, purses, vehicles and other accessible locations.
Check City Resources
Check with your city to see what emergency response systems are in place, or if any plans and procedures are available for older adults. Know where the nearest shelters are and what the procedures are to check in with them.
Plan for Animals
Many emergency shelters don’t allow pets unless they are service dogs. Be sure to plan for pets in your evacuation and know where you can take them during emergencies. .
Designate Meeting Locations
Have a designated location to meet with family and friends after the disaster. Plan a few locations in case the first one is not available, and choose locations that are safe and accessible during disaster.
Check Safety Equipment
Frequently check household safety equipment to make sure that they are up to date and working properly. Smoke and carbon detectors are your first line of defense for an emergency and should be tested once a month.
Know Insurance Coverage
Know what your insurance plan covers. Homeowners insurance does not always cover flood damage and it may not fully cover other disasters. Keep an updated record of inventory in the home and have your children sit in on insurance meetings so they know your policies.
Talk to Doctors
Many older adults receive treatment like dialysis, chemotherapy and others that could be interrupted in the event of an emergency. Talk to doctors about emergency situations for medical treatment. They can help plan and make sure that your needs are met.
Guard Personal Information
Keep important personal records like healthcare, insurance, passports and others in an emergency safe box that can withstand any weather or travel conditions.
Keep Cars Prepared
If cars are part of your evacuation plans, make sure there is gas in them. Don’t allow them to ever be under halfway full. Have an emergency kit that is packed just for the vehicle. This will also come in handy if you are ever stranded in your car.
Know How to Shut off the Home
Be aware of shut off valves in your home for gas, electricity and water. Know how to safely use them.
Have Important Documents
Keep copies of important documents like birth and marriage certificates, social security cards, passports, wills and deeds, financial, medical and insurance information. Also keep an electronic copy of these things on a USB or on Cloud service accounts.
Be Prepared for Shelters
If you go to a shelter for an emergency, let them know about any needs that you may have and how they can accommodate them
Reminder: When disaster strikes, there’s rarely much time to plan, so being ahead of the game will reduce anxiety and stress. Review your evacuation plan and practice it.
Packing Your Emergency Kit
An emergency kit will be your life source during an emergency. If a storm has the potential of happening, like a hurricane, then having your emergency kit prepared will allow you to avoid long lines, traffic and the mad rush of people preparing at the last minute.
It’s good practice to have separate emergency kits, one for staying in during a disaster and one for evacuating. Though some of the items will be similar, this will allow you to be prepared for all situations. If possible, also have individual kits for each member of the family.
Pack your supplies in a mobile bag. This could be a backpack or duffel bag, camping or hiking bag that can be packed tight and moved efficiently without weight issues. A great habit for medicine is to fill prescriptions the first day a refill is available rather than waiting until you run out of medication.
What to Include:
- First aid kit
- Extra clothes
- Hygiene products
- Feminine products
- A can opener and non-perishable foods
- A generator, but be aware of proper use
- Electronic copies of important information
- Maps to re-route yourself if roads are blocked
- Enough food and water for at least three days
- Chargers and other necessary electronics that you’ll need
- Cash, $50 is recommended, but as much as you have available
- Sleeping equipment, including blankets, pillows and sleeping bags
- One gallon of water per person per day, and at least a three day supply
- Personal medical items like oxygen tanks, hearing aids, contacts, catheters, etc
- Weather gear like a rain poncho or slicker, a solid pair of walking shoes, blanket or a sleeping bag
- Important personal information like health insurance cards, medicare cards, family records, and insurance policies for home and auto
- Flashlight, battery powered radio, batteries, waterproof matches, a knife, basic cooking utensils, resealable plastic bags and tin foil
- Aids like walkers, wheelchairs, canes, and others. Place a label on them and make sure to have a label on whatever stuff you need
- A medical bracelet that that informs of your medical conditions, allergies, medications, and emergency contacts also engraved on it
- Additional medical equipment that you will need like ike blood pressure monitors, blood sugar monitor, etc
Place your emergency kit in a central and easy to reach location so you aren’t scrambling at the last moment if you have to leave the home abruptly. Make sure your kit is up to date and check on it every six months to look at expiration dates. Your needs might have changed or you may need to add or subtract items. Check for things that are perishable. The motto, “first in, first out,” is a common rule of thumb
Prepare. React. Recover.
During an emergency or evacuation, there will be a lot of moving parts and variables that need to be accounted for. In the mad rush that your instincts, anxiety and survival mode will create, it’s possible that vital tools could be forgotten.
The best way to keep track of your emergency gear is to create a checklist that will ensure all of your items are accounted for. Revisiting your checklist will remind you what needs to be thrown away if old or expired, and what needs to be updated.
If a disaster does happen in your area, it will likely impede mail, city services, and other every day infrastructures. If you have to evacuate, make sure to check in with all important parties to know what to do to obtain your necessities. This may include medication, social security checks or other benefits. A disaster can close down common systems for days or weeks. You can fix this by simply switching to electronic payments which will also help you avoid ever having your checks stolen.
There’s many variables to be accounted for during emergency preparation. You may not feel a sense of urgency to act, because disasters oftentimes seem unlikely. But if a disaster does occur, you’ll be glad you did.
- Disaster Preparedness for Seniors by Seniors | Red Cross
- Emergency Preparedness for Older Adults | Health in Aging
- Disaster Preparedness Planning for Older Adults | Public Health Emergency
- Emergency Readiness for Older Adults and Caregivers | US Department of Health and Human Services
- 5 Disaster Prep Tips for Older Adults | AARP Foundation
- Disaster Planning For Older Adults | Insurance Information