With the Bahamas and the Southeast United States so recently pummeled by yet another hurricane, it seems like the perfect time to ask: Do you have an emergency preparedness plan?
Studies show that the vast majority of seniors, though they know they need a strategy, do nothing to make it happen.
Older adults often face unique challenges during an emergency. For example, you may have mobility issues or chronic health problems and no one nearby to help out. Or you may receive support services, like Meals on Wheels, that aren’t able to make it out for an extended period of time.
Other issues, such as difficulty hearing or reading, may make it impossible to access or understand emergency instructions, even if they are provided.
The key, then, to successfully navigating a hurricane, tornado, flood, or other natural disaster is to have a plan in place that you review regularly – and make loved ones aware of.
Build a personal support network
The American Red Cross suggests creating a personal support network made up of several individuals that will check in on you during an emergency to ensure your wellness and safety.
There are seven steps they recommend you discuss and implement with your network:
- Make arrangements, prior to an emergency, for your support network to immediately check on you after a disaster and, if needed, offer assistance.
- Exchange important keys.
- Show them where you keep emergency supplies.
- Share copies of your relevant emergency documents, evacuation plans and emergency health information card.
- Agree on and practice methods for contacting each other in an emergency. Do not count on the telephones working.
- You and your personal support network should always notify each other when you are going out of town and when you will return.
- The relationship should be mutual. Learn about each other’s needs and how to help each other in an emergency.
Note: If you have neighbors that you’re close with, they make great additions to your support network, since they’re already nearby.
Create an emergency supply kit
After an emergency, you may not have access to clean water or electricity. And, even though you have a support network, it may take a little while for anyone to be able to reach you.
Experts suggest being prepared with enough food, water, and other essential items to last for at least 72 hours (some say 7 to 10 days).
At the most basic level, your kit should include:
- Non-perishable foods such as dry cereals, canned fruit and vegetables, granola bars, or peanut butter crackers
- Bottled water
- Spare clothing
- Pet food (if you have pets)
- Extra keys to your house and car
- Glasses or contact lenses
- First aid kit
- Waterproof matches
- Swiss Army knife
- Can opener
- Basic toiletries
- Cell phone charger
- Spare hearing aid batteries
- Battery powered radio
- Whistle to signal for help
Also, consider creating a care plan and keeping a copy in your emergency supply kit for first responders, so they can be made aware of any special needs. The CDC has an easy template.
Familiarize yourself with local resources
Whether you’re a senior yourself or a loved one/caregiver, it’s important to familiarize yourself with local resources before a disaster takes place. Most areas should have an emergency shelter nearby, planned escape routes, and a viable source of medical assistance. In addition, you should also have contact information for your local:
- Police department
- Fire department
- Water supplier
- Power supplier
- Animal control
- Poison control
At ComForCare, an important part of our client assessments is having our RN assign a “Class Code” to each client. Keeping an up-to-date list of our client codes helps us quickly determine, in the event of a emergency situation, which of our clients are at the highest risk. Those who have “live-in” aides are sure to have support, but those who rely on our home health aides reaching them may have delays in service. Our office will be in touch with clients, family members and our employees and we will do everything possible to get timely help to those who need us.
During Hurricane Sandy, we had intrepid aides on the roads the morning after the storm navigating around downed trees and power lines to make it to their shifts, while Roger and I charged our phones in the car so we could stay in touch with clients and aides.
And when big snow storms have hit, we have had aides stay overnight with their clients, even sleeping on the floor at times, to be sure they can be there in the morning for client who truly needs them.
But at times there can be delays in service, and being prepared individually prepared is the best way to be sure of making it through an emergency situation safely and as comfortably as possible.
The following resources can offer additional information and assistance in the event of an emergency or disaster situation:
- Register Ready – New Jersey’s Special Needs Registry for Disasters. This allows New Jersey residents with disabilities or access and functional needs and their families, friends, caregivers and associates an opportunity to provide information to emergency response agencies so emergency responders can better plan to serve them in a disaster or other emergency.
- SMART911 or Code Red are additional services that can help first responders identify people who might need assistance right away
- FEMA Emergency Financial First Aid Kit
- FEMA Pet Owner’s Fact Sheet
- gov tips on building and storing your Emergency Kit