Disaster Preparedness for Seniors: Are you Ready?
Are you prepared for a disaster that may affect you as a senior, family member, or neighbor? According to the Centers for Disease Control, “Disasters of all kinds affect older adults disproportionately, especially those with chronic diseases, disabilities or conditions that require extra assistance to leave an unsafe area and recover from an event.” 1
In the event of an approaching life threatening disaster people may be told to shelter in place or evacuate their homes. Consider the challenges these two options may create for seniors.
Sheltering in Place
This may require going to the highest level of a house in a flood or down into a basement in a tornado. This presents many challenges for those with mobility issues. Sheltering in place may require obtaining 3-5 days of food, water or medications as well as candles, flashlights with batteries and radios. If someone cannot get to the grocery store or pharmacy on demand, has no money to buy these items, or is physically not able to transport them, their options are limited. If sheltering involves boarding up windows or making other home modifications some individuals do not have the stamina or dexterity to do it.
If you use a wheelchair for mobility, are confined to a bed, or are a caregiver for someone who uses a wheelchair or is confined to a bed, evacuating is not easy. Some individuals rely on public transportation, which may not operate in a disaster. There are seniors who, by choice, or for medical reasons do not drive at night, do not dive in heavy traffic and don’t travel on highways, which are a common evacuation route. Persons who have dementia or who are caring for a loved one who has dementia may not be able to or may not want to leave and go to an unknown environment. Some seniors do not have the physical stamina or cognitive ability to gather necessary items, secure their homes and leave. Many seniors rely on medical equipment for breathing, bed and chair transfers and other needs. They or their caregivers may fear going to a shelter or hotel without these resources. Limited incomes present a problem for some seniors who would like to go to a hotel or travel to the home of a relative or friend. Seniors who have pets may be hesitant to leave them or may be unable to manage a frightened pet that they are trying to evacuate. For this reason they may stay behind.
Furthermore, individuals who have hearing, visual or communication difficulties may not understand or be able to comply with evacuation requirements. Persons in rural areas who do not have access to many information resources may not learn of the evacuation requirement as quickly as others. Some individuals who have farm animals to care for may find it difficult to leave.
All of these challenges described above have been faced by seniors who have experienced disasters. There have been too many instances in which those individuals did not fare well in terms of survival, injury, suffering, trauma or recovery after the disaster.
How can we improve senior disaster preparedness for and improve outcomes for them after disasters? There are several things that seniors, their families and neighbors can do.
- Exchange information with neighbors. They should know about the senior’s health challenges, be willing to check on them in a disaster, and know how to contact family or another backup person.
- Prepare an emergency shelter-in-place kit and an emergency evacuation kit. The American Red Cross has special guidelines for making this process work for seniors:
- If available in your area, get the individual on the list with your local emergency management as someone who will need special assistance in the event of an emergency.
- Practice evacuation drills in the home. This allows you to identify weaknesses in the evacuation plan and correct them before the danger arises.
- Identify a supportive group of family or friends who can assist during the disaster with communication, prepping the house, purchasing needed supplies, moving someone who has difficultly, and providing transportation. Get this same team or others to assist with post disaster needs such as replacing medications, accessing disaster relief benefits, repairs, insurance claims, and restoration of routines and services for meals, prescriptions, etc.
- Develop an emergency plan for pets and farm animals that includes others who can help. The NC Dept. of Agriculture has some tips.http://www.ncagr.gov/disaster/Livestock.htm