Older adults are more vulnerable than younger adults during a disaster. A 2005 Harris poll found that 13 million people aged 50 and older said that they would need help to cope with a serious disaster. Some of us don’t really want to dwell on, or spend time on, planning for emergencies that may never happen. But research tells us that emergency planning should be one of our priorities, especially if we are older adults. Most cities and towns have plans in place for emergency preparedness, but each of us needs to take responsibility for our own personal needs in case a disaster strikes.
There are very basic actions we can take to feel more secure about a possible emergency. We need to keep in mind that emergencies can happen at different levels of intensity, so we should plan with the “better safe than sorry” maxim in mind. The time we invest to prepare for what we might need during an emergency will give us peace of mind and be well worth it if a disaster strikes.
The Centers for Disease Control, FEMA, the Red Cross, the Administration on Aging, Homeland Security, and other national organizations have provided us with some tried and true action steps that we should take in these situations. There is no need to plan alone, and it is recommended that we get together with another friend or family member to work a “buddy system” for emergency preparedness. We should assume that we might not be able to reach our doctors or pharmacies, receive home-delivered meals, or obtain our usual home health services during the initial days of a severe disaster.
Listed here are some important questions we should be able to answer and recommendations to help us plan for emergencies.
*If there were an evacuation order, what is the recommended route from where we live? If we don’t drive, what are our transportation options? Where is the nearest emergency shelter?
*Where are the shut-off valves for our household utilities (gas, electricity, water)? Do we know how to use them? If they take a special tool, is it kept right there, ready to use?
*Neighbors helping neighbors can be critical in an emergency. Do our neighbors know about any special needs we may have?
*Has our family identified a meeting place away from home that is convenient so that we can meet in case of an emergency?
Staying at Home: Preparing for an emergency means having the supplies we would need if we were staying at home during that timeframe. In a major disaster, we would have to assume that we may be without power, food or water. This means that our emergency supplies should include: Enough water to last 3 to 6 days (recommended quantity: one gallon per person per day); food – also enough for 3 to 6 days – consisting of high energy items that won’t spoil and don’t require cooking; flashlight; portable radio; spare batteries; first aid kit; hand-operated can opener; some light sticks (along with your flashlight and spare batteries, these are a safe, inexpensive alternative to candles.) Remember, any open flame in a post-disaster situation requires extreme caution, since the fire department will have its plate full and may not be able to respond quickly, or at all.
In addition, we need to have on hand: waterproof matches; a 3 to 6 day supply of our prescription medications, together with an up-to-date list of the medications we’re taking; a cell phone, if we have one; some cash or travelers’ checks; an emergency contact list, including the names, phone numbers, and email addresses we would want to have, and be able to give, aid workers in an emergency.
In Case of Evacuation: In case we would need to evacuate, we would need to put together an “evacuation bag.” These are the things we would need to have for a safe evacuation, if that became necessary. This bag should be a backpack or travel bag, preferably one that rolls, that has room for many of the items listed above and that is pre-packed with the following items: basic personal hygiene items, such as toilet paper, alcohol wipes, and gel hand sanitizer; an extra pair of prescription glasses; change of clothing; compact rain slicker; good pair of walking shoes; blanket or sleeping bag; bottle or two of water, some breakfast bars, and some hard candy; some disposable dust masks; a copy of both your emergency contacts list and your current medications list.
If we have a pet, we would need to have an extra supply of pet food. Keep in mind that most emergency shelters do not allow pets, unless they are service animals, such as a Seeing Eye dog. FEMA recommends that pet owners contact a local animal shelter or talk to a veterinarian to learn about emergency options for pets.
After pulling together the items we need to survive well in the house and in case of evacuation, the next action step is to make a Personal Plan for ourselves. No one knows our personal situation better than we do. If we have limited mobility or are disabled, we may be able to register with our local fire department or office of emergency services for special assistance. If we use an electric wheelchair or scooter, we should consider keeping our old, unpowered model around for emergency use.
If we are receiving health care services at home, we should ask our home health provider about emergency procedures. For example, if we depend on electric power for home dialysis or infusion, we’ll want to know our options for temporary emergency power or, in the case of home infusion, we may want to discuss having a back-up drip system.
If we live in a retirement community, assisted living facility, or adult family home, we should learn about emergency planning and procedures. How will we be kept informed? What will the facility or community expect of us and our fellow residents?
Websites of interest for learning more about emergency preparedness for older persons:
Red Cross: www.redcross.org
FEMA Local Info: www.fema.gov/fema/statedr.shtm
Administration On Aging: www.AoA.gov or www.AgingInStride.org