Hurricanes, fires and other natural disasters never seem to take a season off anymore. Because of their increasing frequency, no one should be without an up-to-date disaster preparedness plan.
And if you’re older, perhaps facing mobility or other serious health issues, your planning should take on even more urgency. That’s because seniors are simply among the most vulnerable populations in a disaster. In fact, of the 44 deaths in the New York City region during 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, 31 victims were age 55 and older.
If you are an older American, you can take certain steps and measures now to improve your safety and survivability in a disaster. Natural disasters, by definition, are largely unpredictable events, but your response to them doesn’t have to be.
Start with an assessment
A good preparedness plan starts with an understanding of needs. Think about what it takes to get through a typical day, paying special attention to how you will manage daily activities for several days until conditions begin returning to normal. Ask yourself:
- How will you get out of your home if elevators are not available?
- How will you get around if your mobility aids are knocked offline, such as ramps that might get dislodged in an earthquake?
- How will you ensure that your home is safe to live in after a disaster? For example, authorities might instruct residents to turn off their gas valves. What if you lack the strength to execute this task?
- Do you have electricity-dependent equipment like chair lifts or ventilators? How will you get by if your electricity is out and you must shelter-in-place?
- Do you need assistance with daily living such as bathing and grooming? Who will help you if roads are unpassable and caregivers can’t reach you?
- How will you get around your home if debris blocks your path?
- Will you be able to care for your service animals?
Build your support network
Even the best-laid plans are ineffective if you don’t have people to help you execute them. Therefore, prepare a list of a few key contacts who will know to check up on you in an emergency and be ready to help you relocate if your home is no longer safe to occupy.
After identifying the people in your support network, consider taking these additional steps:
- Make copies of all your relevant medical documents and evacuation plans and distribute them to your support network.
- Provide your network with spare keys so they can enter your home easily.
- Show your network where you keep emergency supplies, such as medicines you may need if you must leave your home for an extended period.
- Agree on a way to stay in touch with one another if phones or other communications systems go down.
Create an emergency plan
Once you have thought through all your needs and firmly established your support network, start forming a precise emergency plan. Because emergencies, by their very nature, are chaotic and volatile events, be ready with a Plan B, C and D should Plan A falter or fail. Be as specific as you can, but leave room in your plan for course corrections because disasters rarely unfold the same way.
Start with an evacuation plan in the event your home becomes uninhabitable or local authorities yellow-tag it, deeming it too dangerous to occupy. Include an alternative escape route and designate a safe place where you can stay until the crisis passes.
Make an emergency supply kit and keep it in an easily accessible part of your home. Your kit should include:
- At least a three-day supply of medications. If you have medications that must be kept cold, make sure to include ice packs or a cooler.
- Hearing aids and spare batteries, glasses or contact lenses, medical supplies such as syringes and information on your medical equipment such as model numbers.
- A list of your emergency contacts.
- Some cash because ATMs may not be working and banks may be closed.
- Contact information for family members, doctors, pharmacies and caregivers.
- Copies of your medical insurance cards and your photo ID.
- Copies of any power of attorney if applicable.
Download a preparedness guide from the American Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA). You can also download the emergency app from the Red Cross that will monitor conditions in your or your loved ones’ area and give you alerts throughout severe weather situations.
Get all your ducks in a row
Once you’ve identified all the steps you need to take to make your preparedness plan a reality, you might realize that you’ll need to purchase additional equipment such as a back-up generator, duplicate medical equipment or something as simple, but no less critical, as a spare pair of reading glasses. If you lack the funds to pay for these items, contact your local area office on aging to find out about financial assistance programs.
In addition, Medicare and your health insurance provider may be able to assist you with paying for extra medications and medical equipment.
Also think about strengthening your financial lifeline as a prudent measure against a public health threat or scare that could persist for weeks or months, wreaking temporary havoc with the economy. For example, if you’re 62 older, you could take out a reverse mortgage line of credit that you could draw on whenever you needed it. And if you didn’t need it, your line of credit will continue to grow and be there for you when you do. The point is, the best emergency plan for seniors will include not just physical and mental preparations, but also financial ones to get you through some turbulent times.
As you begin building your disaster preparedness plan, hope for the best, plan for the worst and keep in mind that you may have more tools and resources than you think to help you stay strong and resilient through any challenge.