It seems that every day, somewhere in the world, a natural disaster (or man-made disaster) has occurred. Events such as storms, floods, earthquakes, mass shootings, blackouts and much more seem to fill our newscasts daily. Being prepared is an important factor in today's world and this is true for all age groups, including the elderly and their caregivers.
So, what does emergency preparedness for seniors include?
- First, be aware of the kinds of emergencies that could occur in your geographic area.
- Second, make an emergency plan.
- Third, make sure you have an emergency kit updated and ready to go.
The following "checklist" is a general one meant for the majority of seniors. But of course, each individual person has their own unique set of needs and I would urge you to add those to this list for your very own emergency preparedness checklist.
But first, let's go over some of the basics when it comes to preparing for an emergency as it relates specifically to older adults.
How Do You Prepare For An Emergency?
There are some slight differences in preparing for an emergency if you have small children, or a disabled person or seniors, or any other individuals in your group with some type of special needs.
In this article, we'll be discussing how to prepare for an emergency if you are an older adult or if you are caring for one.
1) Be aware of the types of events in your geography
If you live in the Midwest, then where you live may experience many tornadoes. If you live in South Florida, then the threat of hurricanes is just part of your life there.
Knowing the type of damage that could occur to your property and environment will help you to know how to prepare.
2) Know what's happening by using an emergency radio
I recommend that you should have an emergency NOAA Weather radio of some type. There are several different ones you can choose from.
3) Install disaster preparedness apps on your smartphone
I also recommend that you have at least 2 or 3 smartphone apps that can help you stay informed or help you after the event has occurred.
Ask the family and friends on your emergency contact list to also download these same apps. Reason being that some of them can be used to communicate with each other when phone lines or internet service is down.
The apps that I would recommend are:
Zello - This is a free app that you can use to communicate with others.
Nextdoor - Many neighborhoods throughout the USA and 9 other countries are part of the Nextdoor community. This app is currently available in the Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Australia, Sweden, Denmark, Canada, and USA.
Red Cross - Yes, the Red Cross has apps (several in fact) that you can download and use.
Life 360 - This is a great app and truthfully, everyone should have it whether there's an emergency or not. This app keeps you connected with whoever you add to your account. It features location sharing so others know where you are when your mobile data or wifi are on. It also detects crashes over 25mph. It contacts you and your circle of contacts and sends help alerts if you feel you are in danger. There is a free version and there are 2 paid versions as well.
Flashlight - A flashlight app can help you when you find yourself in the dark. Apple and Android make flashlight apps what will work only on their phones, so look on the App store to find what is available for yours.
First Aid - This awesome app from the Red Cross has basic medical information on what to do in case of an allergic reaction, stroke, heart attack, puncture wounds, etc.
Disaster Alert - This app covers active hazardous situations that are occurring all over the world, so it's good to have if you are traveling.
Of course, none of these apps will work if your phone isn't charged. Thankfully, there are multiple ways that you can charge your phone when there's no electricity available, including solar chargers.
4) Make an emergency plan
This is done very much like creating a fire escape plan - it's true, not many of us do that but still, we all know we should. Creating an emergency plan and periodically rehearsing it can save your life and the lives of your loved ones.
- Make a list of items that would go into your emergency kit. Every emergency plan includes at least one emergency kit. This is either one or a few bags or boxes that contain everything you would take with you in the event of an emergency.
- Download this Care Form from the CDC. Fill it out with the information about the senior person(s) and make sure to keep it updated. Store this in your emergency kit.
- Include your pets or your senior's pets in your emergency plan! So often, we see news coverage of pets that need rescuing after hurricanes or other natural disasters because people left them behind. Keep Fido or Fluffy's pet carrier (and vet contact info) near your emergency kit to help you remember to bring your animals with you if you must evacuate. For more information, see the section below: Know Your Local Shelters.
- Create a chain of contacts. Assign who will contact who during an emergency. Enlist family, friends, and neighbors, if necessary, but do not leave it all to one person. In the event that the one person on the list is injured or incapacitated, a senior loved one may be left stranded. Keep this list in your emergency kit.
- Make at least one plan on how to escape your house. Several alternative plans would be better but have at least one clear plan on how you would evacuate your home if that was what you needed to do.
- Choose a meeting place. If you have to evacuate your home - choose one or several places that you would go to. This makes it much easier for your family and friends to find you afterward. This blog has a free worksheet that you can print and you can jot down all the important phone numbers as well as develop your family reunification plan.
- Sign up for Smart911. Go online and sign up for this free program. It works by giving your 911 operator your full profile (you choose what to put in your profile). In the event that you ever need to call 911, your Smart911 profile is displayed to the 911 call center with all your information, address, description of pets, emergency contacts, medical needs, etc.
- Get a medical alert bracelet or pendant. This could save your life, especially if you are a diabetic or allergic to specific medications, etc. Any of the medical alert jewelry that is available today could help first responders treat you properly in case you are unable to give or tell them your medical history.
5) Put together an emergency kit
The type of kit you put together depends on the type of emergency you are facing.
Honestly, you should always have a basic bag put together and ready to go, just in case, but especially if you live in an area that is prone to natural disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes or earthquakes.
There's more information below about what should go in your kit.
Types Of Emergency Kits / Bags
There are a variety of names out there for emergency kits. Let me explain what each one means.
- Bug Out Bags (aka Go Bags) are intended for quick evacuations and should have enough supplies to help you survive for 72 hours.
- Survival Bags (aka Emergency Survival Kits) generally include more outdoor / wilderness type of survival items such as tents and sleeping bags and much more. These are intended to help you survive for multiple days.
How much cash should you have in an emergency kit?
The general rule of thumb is to have at least enough cash to pay for 30 days of essential living expenses. This could be $1000 or $5000 - it just depends on how much your critical expenses are. This usually includes a mortgage, electricity bill, phone bill, water bill, gas bill, etc.
Of course, if you have your bills on auto-pay then you may not have to worry about this issue unless there is a widespread power outage in your part of the country.
Also, make sure you have at least some of your cash in small bills and some coins (in case you need it for toll booths or for buying groceries and supplies).
What should you put in a survival kit?
Your survival kit should be packed for the number of people in your group AND for a minimum of 72 hours - this would be the smallest type of bag.
The items that you put in your survival kit will depend on your specific needs and that of your senior loved one but generally, a survival kit should include the following:
- Drinking water
- Water purification tablets
- Hygiene kit (toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, floss, comb and/or hairbrush, washcloth, towel, contact lenses/solution, etc)
- Battery backups for smartphone
- Batteries in the sizes required for the flashlight, emergency radio, and anything else you'll bring that runs on batteries
- First aid kit
- Multi-tool knife
- Duct tape
- Dried food
- Phone chargers
- Pet food, feeding and water bowls, a leash, the carrier, and a toy or two for your pet
- and much more!
An in-depth guide about building a comprehensive first aid, 72-hour bug out, and 14-day bug in kit can be found here!
Know your local shelters
Knowing where you need to go in case of an evacuation can alleviate some of the stress involved. I would actually recommend having a list in your emergency kit of several local shelters.
Better yet - visiting these places beforehand can go a long way in helping you to feel more comfortable about the situation.
So, how do you know where your local shelters are?
- The Red Cross has a list of shelters that you can use.
- You can also look online using the phrase "emergency shelters" + "your county". The reason I put these in quotes is because if you don't use quotes in your search phrase, what you may end up getting is just a long list of homeless shelters instead.
*TIP: Know that shelters will have restrictions on animals - some will allow pets, others will not.
What to do for your pets in a disaster
If you or your senior loved one has a pet or two, then you need to make sure that caring for them is included in your emergency plan. The kinds of things you need to consider are:
- Packing any special needs items such as medications, thunder blankets, specific objects and toys that are familiar to them.
- Putting their vaccination and veterinarian records in with your personal documents.
- Packing at least one week supply of water and food for them.
- If you know that your closest shelter will not accept pets then make a plan beforehand to find a shelter for them. Your veterinarian may be able to help you with that.
- You may want to consider leaving the area and going to a hotel or motel further away that will accept pets.
- Of course, ask friends and relatives to help you to find shelter for you and/or your pet. To find shelters that are Pet Friendly, check out this wonderful resource at PetsWelcome.com. Choose a state (in the USA) and you will be given a list of shelters.
- ASPCA has a wonderful list of information for many different kinds of pets and what you can do for them in case of an emergency.
Again, I will reiterate that if you do have pets, make arrangements ahead of time because there are not many emergency shelters that will accept animals.
DO NOT LEAVE YOUR PETS BEHIND.
The following books and website are great resources for enhancing your preparation for disasters and safety in general.
- Disaster Preparedness for Seniors: A Comprehensive Guide for Healthcare Professionals.
Even though this book is written for healthcare professionals - the information in it can be extremely valuable for many of us.
Emergency Preparedness Plan: A Workbook for Caregivers, People with Disabilities, the Elderly and Others.
Preparing for an emergency is a team effort. Even if you are a senior living alone - gather friends, family and/or neighbors to help you prepare for an emergency event.
- Senior Safety Advice.
This website offers incredible guides, tutorials, and information on senior safety. I want to thank one of the owners of Senior Safety Advice, Esther Kane, for her expertise and contribution to this article.
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