Disaster Preparedness for Seniors

Every adult should be aware of the potential disasters where they live and also have plans in place to deal with them, but senior citizens in particular can be more vulnerable and may need more help planning. We’ve put together the guide below to cover all the main topics to help you prepare for yourself or a family member.

Whether you are a senior citizen yourself, or a loved one who is a resource for a senior citizen, the steps below should provide a simple way of being prepared for any emergency.

1 – Assess the common risks near your home

Photo: NASA

It saves time when you are aware of the likely disasters in your area so you can prepare for them as opposed to situations that are incredibly rare.

Are you in an area that has:

  • Hurricanes
  • Tornadoes
  • Earthquakes
  • Flooding
  • Wildfires

Most of us need to prepare for some of these, but almost no one has to worry about all of them. All the preparation discussed below should be with the specific threats in mind.

2 – Know your local resources

Photo: US Army

Depending on the type of disaster, there may be a designated evacuation center or community center that will be set up for relief. It’s also important to know where local hospitals and other critical services are located, especially for those new to an area.

Keep a list of contact information for reference:

  • Local Emergency Management Office
  • County Law Enforcement
  • County Public Safety Fire/Rescue
  • State, County and City/Town Government
  • Local Hospitals
  • Local Utilities
  • Local American Red Cross
  • Local TV Stations
  • Local Radio Stations
  • Your Property Insurance Agent
  • Medical Transportation Companies

For more tips and further information on local risks and relief, the FEMA website at ready.gov is a great resource.

3- Prepare an emergency plan for the relevant potential disasters

Photo: Wonderlane

Senior citizens, or their family members, should come up with an emergency plan in advance. They may not be with their families when an emergency occurs, so they must be aware of how to contact them if necessary.

In some cases, senior citizens may need to shelter themselves within their own homes. If the air outside is contaminated, it may be necessary to remain indoors. It is a good idea to pre-cut plastic sheeting, in case the doors, windows and vents need to be covered.

The nearest evacuation/community centers should be located in advance. Senior citizens should consider using these places as drop-off or meeting locations with friends and family if such an event occurs.

In case they need to leave town, senior citizens should plan in ahead what methods of transportation they will take. Drivers should store an extra canister of gas, and should identify necessary evacuation routes on a map. Everyone should have passports and/or state identification in easy access in case they need to travel far.

4 – Establish a Personal Support Network

Even if senior citizens are self-sufficient, it is still a good idea for them to contact others and form a personal support network. This network could include family, friends, doctors, personal attendants, neighbors, co-workers or anyone they may feel comfortable with. They should include local members, as well as some out-of-town. These people should exchange phone numbers, email addresses and street addresses between others in the network.

If possible, senior citizens with cell phones should become familiar with text messaging. If there is an emergency, making calls is often unreliable, and this is the best way to communicate as texts can make it through in a matter of seconds or a few minutes if communication lines are extremely busy.

Senior citizens should show members of their networks where they store emergency supplies. They should exchange copies of important emergency documents, emergency health contacts and information and any evacuation plans. They should also exchange important keys.

People who are in each other’s support networks should let one another know when they leave town. If an event occurs where a senior citizen must leave to stay at an evacuation/community center, they should be sure to contact someone from their personal support network so that others would not try to find them at home.

If senior citizens use medical equipment such as a wheelchair, they should inform people of how to operate it. If they take any medications that require a special process, they must let others know.

5 – Have an emergency kit and important documents

A first-aid kit is only the beginning, as each person should have food, drinking water, and regular medicines on hand and ready to go. Many people also neglect to make sure they have access to important documents and account numbers.

Putting together an Emergency Kit

Photo: KOMU News

In every senior citizen’s home, they should have access to an emergency kit. This kit should contain materials that can be relied on for at least three days following an occurrence. These important items could be set aside in a sturdy storage unit, such as a small locker. If possible, there should also be a smaller emergency kit, such as a backpack or suitcase, in case evacuation is necessary.

This emergency should include:

  • Water (minimum one gallon per person per day)
  • Non-perishable food (at least three days’ worth)
  • Manual can opener
  • First Aid kit
  • Minimum one-week supply of medicine
  • Flashlight
  • Cordless radio
  • Extra batteries
  • Wrench or pliers (to turn off utilities, if necessary)
  • Important documents (see below)
  • Moist towelettes
  • Garbage bags
  • Whistle (to signal for help)
  • Plastic sheeting
  • Duct tape
  • Filter mask (or cotton T-shirt)
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Goggles
  • Cash

If necessary, include the following items:

  • Extra glasses
  • Hearing aids
  • Hearing aid batteries
  • Collapsible cane
  • Pet food

Depending on what specific emergencies occur in an area, senior citizens could include additional preparation items. For instance, if the area has a risk of blizzards, the kit should include a knit hat and gloves; if the area risks hurricanes, the kit should hold rain ponchos and umbrellas.

Preparing important documents

In case of emergency, senior citizens should have photocopies of important documents handy. These should be kept safe in a waterproof container or folder.

This packet should include copies of:

  • Birth certificates
  • Insurance policies
  • Medicare cards
  • Financial forms
  • Passport
  • State identification
  • Family records
  • Deeds
  • Wills
  • Social security number
  • Medical records
  • Bank account information
  • Tax records

If you are preparing for a senior relative, make sure you also have a folder containing your own photocopies of all of the above.

6 – Make plans for pets as well

If you have a pet, it’s important to consider their needs when developing an evacuation plan or emergency routine. Start by making sure each pet has an up-to-date ID tag.

You should assume that if you are being evacuated that your pet will be coming with you. If you live in an area that can flood, it would be wise to consider where you might ride the storm out, whether it’s a family members place in another area, or a pet-friendly hotel in a safer locale.

Read more about disaster preparation for pets.

7 – Don’t be taken advantage of

Photo: AMRosario

Remember to be very cautious of any phone calls or emails that solicit financial donations. Seniors in particular have increasingly become targets of scams. Here’s one suggested reply if you are faced with such a situation, “I am donating directly to the Red Cross, my church or other reputiable organization.”

8 – Social Security & Other Payments

If a senior citizen receives Social Security, other regular payments or withdrawals from retirement accounts, consider having them paid electronically. This can help to ensure that payments continue to provide a steady income should you not be able to return home to receive mailed payments.

Social Security direct deposits can be initiated by calling 1-800-333-1795, or visiting godirect.org.

More resources for further reading

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