It’s a scary world sometimes. We’re always hearing about disasters in the news. Tornadoes, hurricanes and wildfires can displace thousands of people from their homes and cause millions of dollars in property damage.
These events are difficult under the best of circumstances, but, with aging loved ones in the mix, they can quickly become even worse; however, preparing for a disaster doesn’t have to be difficult, and with a plan in place, you and your family can be prepared.
Depending on the location, you may need to prepare for different disasters. In the Midwest, this means preparing for tornadoes, while residents of Florida and the coastal regions of the Southeast should prepare for hurricanes and flooding. People living along the Pacific coast may be more likely to see earthquakes or wildfires.
There can also be manmade disasters like chemical spills or industrial explosions that have the power to upend our lives. Events like coal ash spills, train derailments and refinery fires are just as unpredictable as the forces of nature. It’s also important to prepare for the smaller disasters that can occur, like house fires or electrical outages.
While there isn’t a good one-size-fits-all approach to disaster preparedness, there are a few things you can do to help avoid the worst outcomes.
- Make a plan: Think about what you and your older loved ones do every day. Do they take medications? Do they require frequent medical procedures, like dialysis, that might be interrupted? How would you reach them if a disaster happened, and what resources can they rely on in their community if you or a relative is unavailable?
Government organizations like Ready.gov provide information on what should be included in an emergency plan. Write this information down, and provide copies to friends, family and neighbors who might be able to help when a disaster occurs. Keep a copy, along with any important medical or legal documents, in a waterproof bag as part of an emergency preparedness kit.
- Assemble Supplies: After a hurricane, tornado or other natural disaster, food and water can become difficult to access. Plan ahead by preparing emergency kits. The NOAA recommends they include at least three gallons of water per person, enough canned or preserved food for three days, a one-week supply of medication if possible, and whatever hygiene and medical products your loved ones regularly use.
In addition to the medical and legal documents, you should also include identification and a list of doctor and emergency contacts in this kit. It should be easy to move, so consider a rolling suitcase or bag.
- Know evacuation routes and shelters: In regions where disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes often occur, emergency management organizations have designated specific sites to act as shelters for those who may need to leave their homes. These shelters can provide food and water and will connect individuals with the medical assistance they need.
It’s important to know where these shelters are, and have a plan for how to get there. In other instances, residents may be advised to take shelter in their own homes or be forced to evacuate. Work with family and friends in other places to figure out what options are available in every scenario. Keep in mind that most emergency shelters only admit service animals, so if you or your loved ones have pets, talk to your vet to find a solution ahead of time.
- Special circumstances: If your loved one is living with Alzheimer’s, dementia or a physical or mental condition that might impact their ability to cope after a disaster, develop a strategy to keep them calm and safe. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, caregivers caring for these individuals should consider enrolling their loved ones in a wandering response service, which can help reconnect them with family members if they get separated. Also, work with your loved one’s medical professionals to determine what resources will be available to provide specialized care after a disaster, such as clinics, shelters and pharmacies.
Preparing for a disaster isn’t hard, it just takes forethought. Understanding what might impact your area and how to plan for what might occur are the most important considerations for disaster readiness. Government agencies like FEMA even provide templates and guides to help make this a quick and easy experience. With these resources, you can be sure you and your loved ones will be prepared for almost anything.
Rebecca Rushing, BSN, RN, is director of Client Care Services for FirstLight Home Care. Nurse Beckie is a certified dementia practitioner, an Ageless Grace brain health educator and has been trained in Teepa Snow’s “Positive Approach to Care.” Beckie has more than 30 years of nursing experience and a passion for the well-being of seniors.