EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS

COVID-19 Update: Meals on Wheels provides an essential service and we continue to deliver Meals on Wheels to any senior who in need.


A 2014 study found less than 25% of older adults have an emergency plan. Of those surveyed a quarter live alone and a third were disabled or in poor health. Statistically seniors suffer disproportionately more than other populations, but are often overlooked in mainstream coverage of natural disaster events. Our older population is most vulnerable at a time of crisis, so being prepared today means a faster response time and less stress in the future.

HURRICANE HARVEY FACTS:  81% of fatalities occurred due to drowning, particularly in and around vehicles. 70% were males and 56% were people over 50 years old in the Houston area.National Hazards Earth System Sciences

Age alone does not make someone more susceptible to natural disaster—it’s the complications that come along with aging that make seniors especially vulnerable in times of emergency. Even those capable of caring for themselves are at higher risk if they are cut off from their usual support systems. Fort Bend Seniors delivers a hurricane pack of 5 emergency shelf-stable meals with a shelf life of one year and a complete hurricane kit to our senior clients prior to hurricane season.

Sitting down with your loved one to work out a natural disaster plan gives you and your family peace of mind and reassurance they are prepared when an emergency occurs. Creating a senior emergency preparedness plan is similar to creating one for yourself, with a few extra considerations.

Special Considerations for Senior Emergency Preparedness Plan
  • Are they in an assisted living facility, if so how does the facility plan for natural disasters?
  • Do they live alone, is their home a safe place to weather the storm? Conduct a safety inspection to reduce fall risk by ensuring that freestanding bookcases, mirrors, artwork, etc. are tightly secured.
  • Is it likely they could be trapped in their house without power or running water? For seniors requiring oxygen tanks or other electrical devices, loss of power can be especially life-threatening.
  • Where should they go if they need to evacuate, and how will they get there if they are unable to drive themselves? 
  • If they are trapped in their home, do they have enough medication and other medical supplies to wait out the storm?

Beyond these basic considerations, there are 3 critical components to any effective natural disaster preparedness plan:

1) Stay Informed

Staying informed is especially important for emergency preparedness. If your seniors don’t have cable or a smartphone, there are a number of tactics you can employ to ensure your loved one stays informed:

  • Invest in a battery-powered radio (or a hand-cranked radio, if they are physically able) and make sure it’s tuned to the right station so they can stay updated on their own.
  • If you live in the area, visit, or better yet, have them stay with you.
  • If you don’t live nearby, contact them as soon as you know a storm is on the way, and keep in touch with updates about the storm’s path and severity, especially if evacuation orders are issued.
  • Contact your senior’s support network so you can work together to keep your loved one informed and safe throughout the disaster.
2) Pack a Senior Emergency Kit

Your senior’s emergency kit, just like yours, should last for a minimum of three days. For seniors, you could consider creating two emergency kits: one for staying at home, and a go-bag designed to travel with your senior if they are required to evacuate. Label them both so that it’s clear which is which.

Stay-at-home emergency kit:

  • 3 day supplies of non-perishable food and water (1 gallon per person per day)
  • Battery-powered radio, plus extra batteries
  • Flashlight, plus extra batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Sanitation and hygiene items (moist towelettes and toilet paper)
  • Matches and candles, stored in a waterproof container
  • Extra clothes
  • Extra eyeglasses
  • Extra batteries for medical supplies like hearing aids or blood sugar monitors
  • Blankets
  • Basic kitchen utensils, including a manual can opener
  • Multi-purpose tool, like a Swiss Army knife or a Leatherman tool
  • Cash and coins
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Medications and supplies for medical devices like blood sugar monitors—at least a 7 day supply, ideally more
  • Record of medical conditions, allergies, and current medications, stored in a waterproof container
  • Pet food, water, medications, and supplies for managing pet waste

Go-bag:

  • Car and house keys
  • First aid kit
  • Sanitation and hygiene items
  • A change of clothes
  • Extra eyeglasses
  • Extra batteries for medical supplies like hearing aids
  • Cash and coins
  • Medications and medical devices
  • Records of medical devices (including device type and model number), medical conditions, allergies, and current medications, stored in a waterproof bag or container
  • Duplicates of important documents such as passports, drivers licenses, social security, wills, deeds, financial statements, and insurance information, stored in a waterproof bag or container

Make sure your loved one knows where they can find their senior emergency kit and/or go-bag, as well as what supplies are in it.

PREPAREDNESS TIP: Store all current medications near your loved one’s overnight go-bag so they can grab everything easily if they need to evacuate in a hurry.

Medical records

Your senior should have a copy of medical conditions, allergies, and current medications with them at all times during a natural disaster, whether they choose to stay in their home or are required to evacuate. You should also keep your own copy, especially if you live outside of the flood or danger zone.

These records should include:

  • Names and dosage amounts for all medications, put a copy in their wallet also.
  • Doctors names and locations, including phone numbers
  • Pharmacy names and locations, including phone numbers
  • Special instructions if your loved one has trouble communicating
  • Emergency contact information
  • Blood type
  • Duplicates of important documents such as passports, drivers licenses, social security, wills, deeds, financial statements, and insurance information, stored in a waterproof bag or container
  • A list of medical devices, including type and model number
  • Personal care assistance plan
3) Create a Plan

If your senior receives care from a home healthcare agency, start by finding out how they respond to natural disasters so you can plan accordingly. If your loved one is self-sufficient, you can sit down together to create an emergency preparedness plan together. Make sure you consult your loved one’s regular healthcare providers to determine the safest plan of action.

Your emergency plan should include the following:

  • Who can your senior rely on locally to help them out during a natural disaster? When you’re creating an emergency plan for your senior, reach out to friends, neighbors, and nearby relatives who can be called upon to lend a hand when disaster hits. Explain your loved one’s needs so they know how best to help, and keep a list of current contact information near your loved one’s phone so they can reach out when necessary, including local contact numbers for agencies like the American Red Cross or FEMA.

    If your senior is concerned about their valuable or cherished belongings, such as heirlooms or antique furniture, a reputable shipping company can also help you ship them into storage.
  • Will your senior weather the storm at home, or will they evacuate? Often, the safest option for seniors is to evacuate, and to evacuate sooner rather than later. If they wait too long, they may be unable to evacuate when the time comes, especially if they require assistance.

    If they are unable to evacuate and have special medical needs, such as an oxygen tank or dialysis machine, make sure their power company knows so their home can be prioritized when power is restored. You may also wish to consider investing in a portable generator to keep these machines running. The best evacuation option for your senior is to stay with family or friends in the area (or out of the area, if possible). If this option is unavailable, staying in a hotel may be a good alternative.

    Weathering the storm in emergency public shelters should be your last resort. Often, these shelters are not equipped for people with special needs; however some coastal areas shelters are capable of handling evacuees with special needs, so do your research ahead of time to find out where these shelters are located. Create a plan for how your senior can get there, especially if they can’t drive themselves, and ensure there’s a caregiver nearby who can stay with your senior throughout the evacuation.

    If your loved one has special medical needs and your doctor recommends evacuating to a hospital or other medical facility, you will need to arrange for pre-admittance prior to evacuation. To do this, you will need to obtain a pre-admission letter from your doctor that says your loved one is to be taken to a specific hospital or nursing home. Make sure your senior has this letter on them when they evacuate
  • What will happen to your senior’s pets during a natural disaster? If your loved one has a pet, make sure they are microchipped so they are easier to find if they get separated during the evacuation process. Do not abandon the pet tied up or in a pet crate.

    For seniors with pets, staying with other family and friends is most likely their best option, though staying in a hotel that allows pets may be a suitable alternative if there are no family or friends nearby. Public emergency shelters don’t allow pets, aside from service animals.

    If the option is available to you and your senior, you could also consider boarding their pet. Research out-of-town options along your planned evacuation route, and be sure to call early to ensure they have room before you drop off their pet.

    Include vaccination records and other important paperwork, as well as pet care supplies like a leash and an adequate supply of pet food, in your senior’s emergency kit.

Manage Senior Stress

With some natural disasters, there is a time of warning when you can prepare, but there may also be time to worry. As a possible emergency situation arises, older people may feel stressed and isolated. Having an emergency plan and a kit can help them feel prepared. In addition, some strategies may help lower stress:

  • Maintain typical routines, meal patterns, and normal sleep as much as possible.
  • Minimize talk about the disaster and avoid 24-hour news reports on the crisis.
  • Seek out positive activities to pass the time.

Older adults may also want to volunteer or provide assistance to others. This is a great way to showcase their strengths and resilience. Plus, finding ways for them to contribute to the efforts may ease some of the worry and helpless feelings.