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Emergency Preparedness for Older Adults and Their Caregivers

The losses from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have made most Americans more aware of the need to plan for emergencies. This includes preparation for natural disasters—earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, tsunami, extreme heat or cold, wildfire or volcanic events—as well as human error or deliberate acts: power failure, chemical or nuclear accidents, and events of terrorism and war.

If you are an older adult, or have older friends and loved ones, remember that older adults can be disproportionately affected by disasters. Physical impairments, medical and dietary needs, lack of transportation and isolation can make it harder to be safe, and to recover from a hazardous situation. But advanced preparation makes it far more likely that you will be able to take appropriate action before...during...and after an emergency.

Taking practical steps to protect yourself or your loved one begins with getting the information you need. You should KNOW....

  • the type of emergencies that are most likely to occur in your area

  • immediate actions to take in case of a sudden emergency (such as an earthquake, explosion or landslide)

  • your community's disaster preparedness plan

  • the recommended evacuation route from your home

  • the location of the nearest emergency shelter

  • how to tune in NOAA Weather Radio

  • escape routes out of your home in case of fire

  • how to shut off the electricity, water and gas

  • an out-of-area contact that you and your loved ones can reach if you are unable to make local calls

  • your neighbors. In times of disaster, people helping each other out is key. If you are disabled, make sure that someone nearby knows to check up on you—more than one person, if possible.

Once you have the information you need, the next step is to PREPARE....

A personal support network. This can be an informal arrangement with family, neighbors or friends. If you have limited mobility, a sensory impairment or other disability, you may also be able to register with your local fire department or office of emergency services for special assistance. If you use home care, speak with your agency about emergency arrangements.

A shelter plan. If possible, make arrangements in advance to stay with friends or loved ones out of the area. Know where you should go if the order to evacuate is given. Make arrangements ahead of time for transportation to a Red Cross or other emergency shelter. (If you have special needs, see the next article, "Disaster Preparation Concerns for Older Adults with Disabilities.")

Emergency preparation supplies for surviving safely and comfortably at home, as well as an emergency evacuation kit with survival supplies in an easy-to-carry container, such as a backpack or duffel bag. It is recommended that you have....

  • One gallon of water per person per day; enough for at least three days (or as long as is suggested in your area). Water should be stored in unbreakable containers that you are able to handle.

  • Non-perishable, high-energy food supply, keeping in mind any dietary restrictions you have. Choose foods that are easy to store and carry.

  • Basic utensils, including a manual can opener

  • First aid and hygiene supplies (including toilet paper, moist wipes)

  • Powerful flashlight and extra batteries

  • Portable battery-powered radio or television and extra batteries

  • Candles and waterproof matches

  • Cell phone and extra battery

  • Two-week supply (minimum) of your prescription drugs and other medicines.

  • Clothing, rain gear and sturdy shoes

  • Blanket or sleeping bag

  • Cash, credit cards or traveler's checks

  • Phone numbers of relatives and friends, insurance agent, emergency numbers

A place for important papers, such as birth certificate, will, deeds, insurance policies and Medicare information. This can be a waterproof, sturdy container; or store them in your safe deposit box.

If you have pets, keep a supply of non-perishable food. Remember that if you evacuate to a shelter, normally only service animals are allowed to enter.

Then, if an emergency does occur, you will be ready to TAKE ACTION....

  • Listen to your radio or TV for instructions about the prescribed steps for the emergency that is happening.

  • If you are instructed to take shelter immediately, do so at once.

  • If you are instructed to evacuate, your most comfortable choice is with family or friends who live out of the danger area. Or, emergency public shelters can also provide food and a safe place to stay. Bring your disaster supply kit, and use the routes specified by local authorities.

  • If instructed to do so, shut off electricity, gas and water.

Photo: American Red Cross

© 2005 Caresource Healthcare Communications

Right at Home is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned providers of in-home care and assistance services.


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