Emergency Preparation for Seniors With Disabilities
September is National Preparedness Month. Natural disasters have been top of mind for many of us lately as we followed news coverage of Hurricane Dorian. In our own region, we’re only residually affected by hurricanes, but we’re frequently impacted by severe weather events such as blizzards, tornadoes, floods and heat waves — along with power outages, fires, explosions and other man-made emergencies.
Older adults are especially hard hit by disasters. Time after time, we hear of seniors who are unable to evacuate or access the healthcare they need in the aftermath of a natural disaster. People with physical limitations can be stranded in their homes, unable to get to a shelter, cut off from the services upon which they rely. The time to prepare for an emergency is well before it happens!
If you or a senior loved one lives in a skilled nursing facility, assisted living or other senior living community, staff will have a plan in place to protect residents. Be sure you and your family members know the details of the plan and what you should do in the event of an emergency.
For seniors who live at home, here are six important ways to be prepared:
Create a personal support network. If you would need assistance in the case of a disaster, who could help? Talk to family, friends and neighbors about how to help you in case of evacuation or sheltering in place. Exchange contact information, and demonstrate the use of any special medical equipment.
Learn the location of the nearest emergency shelter. If you have special medical needs, talk to your local emergency management agency well ahead of time. Most likely, certain shelters will are designated for people who use oxygen, dialysis, an electric wheelchair or other medical equipment that needs electricity. You may be able to register and learn about services in advance. If you have a condition that makes it hard to communicate, create an information card to share with first responders and shelter personnel. You can download and print a card from the U.S. Administration for Community Living.
Create an emergency supply kit. Sometimes it’s safest to shelter at home during an emergency. But you may not have power, water, or the ability to obtain supplies. Everyone should have emergency supplies at home, including a flashlight or other battery-powered light source, a battery-powered radio and extra batteries, and enough food and water for at least three days. Have a supply of your medications and any other supplies you need for your care.
Be prepared to evacuate. Have a backpack ready with food, water, flashlight, sleeping bag, cell phone with charger, and any specialized items you would need, such as wheelchair batteries, medication and assistive devices that you would need when you get to a safe place. You can get a checklist from FEMA to use as you build your kit and make your plan.
Don’t forget pets and service animals. Shelters are required to accept service animals, but not all allow pets. Sadly, in the past, many seniors have refused orders to evacuate when not permitted to bring animal companions along. Some of them did not survive. Make arrangements ahead of time to find someone who will care for your pets if you can’t bring them. And be sure to include pet food, leash, and your pet’s medication in your emergency supply kit.
Here’s hoping that we won’t have to put this information to use any time soon! Yet even during the most tranquil, uneventful days, it’s good to know that we’re prepared for the unexpected.
The information in this article is not intended to replace the instructions of your local emergency services personnel. If you have disabilities or use medical devices, talk to your doctor about preparations you should make to be safe.