Keep Senior Loved Ones Safe During Emergencies

Preparing for an Emergency

"Be prepared." That motto isn't only relevant for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts! As we approach the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we will no doubt be reminded that during disasters, older adults and people with disabilities are affected more than other groups. Heartbreaking stories and photos show that these vulnerable people need help that many are unable to get.

If you are an older adult, or have older friends and loved ones, remember that since older adults are at higher risk it makes sense for them to take the time to be prepared. This includes preparation for natural disasters—earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, extreme heat and cold, wildfire and volcanic events. We also need to be aware of the possibility of man made emergencies, which include power outages, chemical or nuclear accidents, and events of war or terrorism.

If you or a loved one have chronic health challenges, physical impairments, medical and dietary needs, lack of transportation and isolation can make it harder to be safe, and to recover from a hazardous situation. But advanced preparation makes it far more likely that you will be able to take appropriate action before...during...and after an emergency.

Taking practical steps to protect yourself or your loved one begins with getting the information you need. You should KNOW...

  • the type of emergencies that are most likely to occur in your area
  • immediate actions to take in case of a sudden emergency (such as an earthquake, explosion or landslide)
  • your community's disaster preparedness plan
  • the recommended evacuation route from your home
  • the location of the nearest emergency shelter
  • how to tune in NOAA Weather Radio
  • escape routes out of your home in case of fire
  • how to shut off the electricity, water and gas
  • an out-of-area contact that you and your loved ones can reach if you are unable to make local calls
  • your neighbors. In times of disaster, people helping each other out is key. If you are disabled, make sure that someone nearby knows to check up on you—more than one person, if possible.

Once you have the information you need, the next step is to PREPARE....

A personal support network. This can be an informal arrangement with family, neighbors or friends. If you have limited mobility, a sensory impairment or other disability, you may also be able to register with your local fire department or office of emergency services for special assistance. If you use home care, speak with your agency about emergency arrangements.

A shelter plan. If possible, make arrangements in advance to stay with friends or loved ones out of the area. Know where you should go if there's an order to evacuate where you live. Make arrangements ahead of time for transportation to a Red Cross or other emergency shelter. If you have special needs, be sure the designated shelter knows ahead of time. People with medical needs requiring electricity (such as oxygen or an infusion pump) should plan to go to a shelter that has emergency power generators.

Emergency preparation supplies for surviving safely and comfortably at home, as well as an emergency evacuation kit with survival supplies in an easy-to-carry container, such as a backpack or duffel bag. See the next article for a checklist you can use.

A place for important papers, such as birth certificate, will, deeds, insurance policies and Medicare information. This can be a sturdy, waterproof container; or store them in your safe deposit box, if you have one.

Then, if an emergency does occur, you will be ready to TAKE ACTION....

  • Listen to your radio or TV for instructions about the prescribed steps for the emergency that is happening.
  • If you are instructed to take shelter immediately, do so at once.
  • If you are instructed to evacuate, your most comfortable choice is with family or friends who live out of the danger area. Or, emergency public shelters can also provide food and a safe place to stay. Bring your disaster supply kit, and use the routes specified by local authorities.
  • If instructed to do so, shut off electricity, gas and water.

While it is tempting to avoid "thinking about the unthinkable," taking the practical steps to preparedness can turn worry into action. You will be able to rest easier knowing that you have done everything you can to ensure the best matter what emergency strikes.

Don't Forget Fido and Fluffy!

When asked to evacuate from a storm, flood or other disaster, many people are distraught to have to leave their pets behind. Indeed, many people put their lives at risk by refusing to evacuate rather than abandon their beloved animals.

If you have pets, keep a supply of non-perishable food with your emergency supplies. And remember that if you evacuate to a shelter, normally only service animals are allowed to enter. FEMA, the Humane Society, the ASPCA and several other animal welfare groups have teamed up to offer online information to help pet owners prepare. Visit to watch an online video and download a free brochure.


Source: Assisting Hands Home Care in association with IlluminAge. c 2012 IlluminAge.