Seniors and Disaster Preparedness

by Paul Konrardy

Senior citizens are particularly vulnerable during emergency situations—hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, even heat waves. Disaster preparedness can seem daunting but it’s certainly doable. Thankfully, there are resources available towards helping the elderly.

“Getting prepared for disasters is something that can be quite easy, it’s a positive experience and you’ll feel good about it when you’re done,” says Alicia Blater, a graduate student in University of North Carolina-Greensboro’s Gerontology program who created a disaster preparedness guide for senior center directors and others who work with older adults. “It doesn’t have to be overwhelming.”

Living in a Facility

If your elderly loved one is in a managed care facility or senior neighborhood, Blater suggests talking about emergency preparedness with facility staff and management.

Ask to see a copy of the disaster plan.

“Most facilities have a plan and make sure that the staff is well advised and well trained on what to do in an emergency,” says Stacy English, Marketing Director of Home Instead Senior Care. “But family members need to ask questions when they do admit their mom or dad to the facility.”

WHN Expert TIP – Improve the Info: Facilities might say they have a plan, but when families and staff are sitting down and sharing plans, the information can improve, says Alicia Blater.

Start the disaster discussion.

When you’re talking with a senior facility staff, Blater suggests asking things like “How can I help my family member be more prepared?” or “Can I tell you what I’m doing and can we help each other out?”

WHN Expert TIP – Ask Lots of Questions: “Ask the facility about the logistics of the plan: How do staff help residents on upper levels get down stairs in an emergency situation? How do staff help less mobile patients? Who is in charge of making the evacuation decision? If a facility is located near the coast line, do they have connections with facilities inland? Which ones and where? Make sure that the emergency plan has layers and complexities to it to see that they’ve thought it all through,” says Lynn Pharr, Dir. of Crisis Preparedness Response and Recovery at United Way.

Make a Kit

Whether someone is living in a senior care facility or on their own, they need a ‘grab and go’ kit and an understanding of the evacuation plan of action.

Grab and Go Kit

Start the disaster preparedness conversation by talking about a Grab-and-Go Kit. This is important in facility living or independent living. (More tips about the Grab-and-Go Kit here.)

Items for the Grab-and-Go Kit are great gift ideas, says Lynn Pharr, Dir. of Crisis Preparedness Response and Recovery at United Way. “When parents, grandparents or older friends and relatives get hard to buy for, preparedness items are great birthday gifts! Get flashlights, extra batteries, bottled water— things they’d probably never buy for themselves.

Pharr shared her own story to illustrate. “I was recently in my parent’s home in Arkansas [when] the tornado sirens went off. My parents are in their 70s, but they had a plan and we got in the closet,” she says. “Due to my line of work, I had bought them preparedness items over the years and in that closet they had them all lined up on a shelf: crank radio, flashlight, batteries, water. My mom said ‘Hon, you can crank the radio?’ And we waited out the storm.”

Make the Plan

Think each disaster preparedness plan through, especially in an area where hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards or storms are common.

Answer these questions to get yourself thinking:

  • If a hurricane is pending, who will help evacuate?
  • If a tornado or severe storm warning is issued, who will call your older relative/friend to tell them to get into a safe location? Who will take them there?
  • Do you need to find someone to check on your older relative/friend every now and then, especially before and after severe weather?

“It’s best to have a team of people to help because you don’t know whose going to be able to help and when,” says Pharr.

If you’re talking with a senior who lives independently, talk about what plans they may already have, such as a place to go, contact information for nearby neighbors, etc.

Revisit Your Plan

Blater stresses that, even if you have made disaster preparedness plans for the entire family, you need to revisit them!

“Six month out on your calendar, write ‘Let’s check Mom’s kit’,” says Blater. This is when you’ll update the kit with fresh water, food, contact information, and up-to-date medications. “It’s a continual process to stay prepared. Often we have new phone numbers, jobs, mediations—much more than we used to.”

Even if you do not have the time to devote to a full disaster plan, every little bit helps. “There’s lots of power in having what we need to be prepared and peace of mind knowing that loved ones are cared for,” Blater says. “We can’t do everything but we can do our best.”


For More Information

Read the following articles for additional advice:

Also, review our Senior Living section for more advice and recommendations.

Photo Credit: stevepb

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