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How to Keep Your Senior Safe if Disaster Strikes

disasterWith so many disasters in the news I cannot help but think about how I can prepare my home and my elderly friends’ and clients’ homes for an earthquake, flood, a pandemic flu or even landslide – the disasters most likely to happen in the Northwest.

Although planning for an emergency is no fun and feels like negative behavior, it really is important to be realistic. In terms of our seniors with limited mobility and who need certain equipment and medications to live, it is absolutely necessary to prepare for disaster situations.

Preparing Makes Sense for Older Americans

A popular readiness website suggests that while everyone’s needs are different, there are some basic, common sense steps older Americans can take to prepare for disaster victims

The site recommends creating a network of neighbors, relatives, friends and co-workers to help in an emergency. Discuss contingencies together. It also suggests seniors should keep specialized items ready, including extra wheelchair batteries, oxygen, catheters, medication, food for animals and any other items that make life possible. Also, make sure they have some way to keep medications safe that require refrigeration.

Here is another idea I hadn’t thought of before. It suggested that seniors who receive federal benefits should consider receiving payments electronically because a disaster or evacuation could disrupt regular postal service. For example, after Hurricane Katrina some 85,000 Social Security recipients lost mail service. To learn more about direct deposit call 800-333-1795 or at

Disaster Education Programs

While most of us are not readiness experts, we can get a lot better prepared by taking a free preparedness presentation. The Red Cross offers a number of different 60-minute classes to local community organizations, housing associations, senior groups, senior care givers, special needs caregivers and faith-based groups.

Topics include general preparedness, earthquake preparedness, pandemic flue, how to use 9-1-1, how to build an inexpensive and effective disaster kit and more. For more information call 206-323-2345.

Evacuation Plan



One article I read on preparedness said that evacuations happen lots more often than people think. For example, a train derails that was carrying some sort of chemical. Sometimes people in homes near the accident are required to evacuate for a few hours or days. Or a wild fire, we hear about that sort of emergency all summer and fall.

Here are some evacuation guidelines:

  • Plan places to meet both in and outside the immediate neighborhood.
  • If you have a car, keep the gas tank topped off.
  • Learn about alternate routes.
  • Leave early to avoid being trapped.
  • Follow recommended evacuation routes.
  • Be alert for road hazards.
  • If no car, plan transportation.
  • Take your emergency supply kit unless it has been contaminated.
  • Listen to a battery-powered radio and follow evacuation instructions.
  • Take your pets with you. But realize that only service animals will be allowed in public shelters.

If you don’t need to evacuate, you still need to have the above supplies plus food and one-gallon of water per day per person for at least three days.

Besides the evacuation guidelines above, please consider many other factors about disaster preparedness.

Your disaster Checklist:

  • Assemble a disaster supplies kit.
  • Arrange for someone to check on you.
  • Plan and practice the best escape routes from your home.
  • Plan for transportation if you need to evacuate to a Red Cross shelter.
  • Find the safe places in your home for each type of emergency.
  • Have a plan to signal the need for help.
  • Post emergency phone numbers near the phone.
  • If you have home health care service, plan ahead with your agency for emergency procedures.
  • Teach those who may need to assist you in an emergency how to operate necessary equipment. Be sure they will be able to reach you.

Medical Emergency Supplies

For your safety and comfort, you need to have emergency supplies packed and ready in one place before disaster hits.

  • You should assemble enough supplies to last for at least three days.
  • Assemble the supplies you would need in an evacuation, both medical and general.
  • Store them in an easy-to-carry container, such as a backpack of duffel bag.
  • Be sure your bag has an ID tag.
  • Label any equipment, such as wheelchairs, canes or walkers, that you would need.

For Your Medical Needs

It’s hard enough to remember all the stuff you need when packing for a trip. Imagaine how hard it would be to plan during a disaster. Here is a good reminder list to get you organized:

  • First-aid kit
  • Prescription medicines, list of medications including dosage, list of any allergies
  • Extra eyeglasses and hearing-aid batteries
  • Extra wheelchair batteries, oxygen
  • List of the style and serial numbers of medical devices such as pacemakers
  • Medical insurance and Medicare cards
  • List of doctors and relatives or friends who should be notified if you are injured

General Disaster Supplies

  • Battery-powered radio and flashlight with extra batteries for each
  • Change of clothing, rain gear, and sturdy shoes
  • Blanket or sleeping bag
  • Extra set of keys
  • Cash, credit cards, change for the pay phone
  • Personal hygiene supplies
  • Phone numbers of local and non-local relatives or friends
  • Insurance agent’s name and number
  • Other items you want to include

Is your favorite senior prepared for an emergency?