Between the hurricanes hitting Florida and the Gulf of Mexico last month and the fires devastating California this week, we are all reminded that disaster can strike at any time to anyone no matter where you live. Whether it’s a large scale natural disaster like a hurricane, or smaller scale event like a blizzard, everyone should have a plan to avoid being trapped without essential items.

Emergency preparedness is especially important for the elderly and their caregivers. While disasters cause upheaval for everyone, seniors and their caregivers face special challenges during emergencies. Be aware of those challenges and make a plan to ensure the safety of yourself and your loved ones.

1. Look for safe shelters in your home.

Know the safe places within your home in case you need to shelter during extreme weather events. Do you have a basement that will keep you safe in a tornado? Do you have a clear attic or second story above predicted water levels in case you need to take shelter in your home during a flood? Figure out where you can stay safe in your home in case you are unable to evacuate.

2. Resolve challenges of evacuation.

Are there limitations that may affect your ability to evacuate in a disaster? If you, or seniors in your care, have limited mobility, require special equipment (like oxygen tanks), or have other conditions that will make evacuation difficult, be aware of those limitations so you can factor them into your plan.

3. Know the emergency plans and procedures that exist in your community.

Know about your community’s response and evacuation, and make arrangements for your transportation if you cannot transport yourself. If you receive elder in home care, speak with the Agency’s management to find out how they can help with your plan.

4. Assemble a disaster kit.

Your emergency kit should contain approximately 3-5 days worth of the following items:

  • Water (1 gallon per person in your household, per day)
  • Canned and packaged foods that don’t require cooking
  • Manual can opener
  • Flashlights with extra batteries and bulbs
  • Battery operated radio
  • Extra battery/charger for cell phone
  • An extra set of keys
  • First Aid Kit
  • A whistle, or other distress signal device
  • Emergency blanket
  • Extra bedding and/or sleeping bag
  • Thermal underwear
  • Person hygiene items (e.g., soap, toilet paper, toothpaste)
  • Protection against the elements (like sunscreen and hats in the summer, and gloves, boots, hat, and scarves in the winter)
  • Pocketknife
  • Lighters and matches
  • Copies of personal documents, living wills, DNR, etc
  • Medication list and (if possible) about 1 week supply of all medications
  • Some cash
  • Map(s) of the area
  • Pet supplies (if you have pets)

5. Discuss your emergency plan with family, friends, and your elder care support network

It is very important to discuss your disaster plans with your family, friends, and elder in-home caregivers. Work with them to prepare for an emergency. Especially if you live alone, have a “buddy” who commits to check in on you and vice versa during a disaster. You should choose also have a non-local contact person who will be less likely to also be affected during a disaster. Immediately following a disaster, it is often easier to make a long-distance call than a local call.

Once your plan is in place, be sure to practice it at least twice a year to make sure it is manageable and to determine if you need to make any changes.

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