The worst time to be away from our loved ones is when they’re facing a disaster – whether you’re just a few blocks away or clear across the country. It’s normal to feel helpless and worried about their safety.
In addition to weather-related events like hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes and winter storms, there are other situations that can turn their world upside down including fires, pandemics, power outages or travel emergencies.
Although the exact details needed to prepare for the different types of emergencies vary somewhat, the information outlined here provides a great start to helping you put together the resources needed to prepare for a wide range of potentially dangerous situations.
Practice makes perfect
When you were a child in school, you knew what to do when the fire alarm went off. Your teacher taught you which door to use, showed you where to stand outside and practiced with you several times a year. The same should be true of all families, especially with older loved ones who live on their own. A well-rounded plan includes the following:
- Knowing when and where to go
- Protecting critical resources
- Creating your emergency kit
- Staying in touch
The plan you create for (and with) your loved ones should be reviewed with them regularly and include practice sessions. If your family members are embarrassed that you want them to walk through their safety plans, just remind them that corporations, churches, schools, retailers, campsites and others hold disaster drills regularly.
Knowing when and where to go
It’s easy to panic when the tornado sirens go off, smoke appears, the house smells like gas or a public health emergency is declared. You can relieve some of that stress by providing your loved ones with a list or visual chart showing where they go for different scenarios.
For situations that require leaving their home (fire, gas leak, lack of heat, etc.) it’s important to have a meeting place established, along with the next steps that need to be taken. This may include going to the neighbor’s house or meeting at a designated spot down the road, calling 911 and then contacting you. In anticipation of this type of situation, it’s smart for your loved ones to provide you with the neighbor’s contact information – and provide them with yours.
Wide-scale evacuations (hurricanes, major floods, chemical spills, wildfires, etc.) will require different efforts since going to a neighbor’s house or even the nearby fire station isn’t an option. In these situations, your loved ones should call you, pay attention to local news reports and reach out to their city or state disaster agency for help. You AND your loved ones can download the Federal Emergency Management Agency FEMA mobile app and sign up for text alerts so you’ll both be notified of disaster plans for their areas.
Protecting critical resources
If your loved one depends on respiratory equipment such as ventilators and oxygen tanks or equipment related to feeding and nutritional processes, make sure you have sufficient power supplies, including backup generators and battery backups. You should reach out to your local utilities to make them aware of your loved one’s health needs. Utilities typically make vulnerable people a higher priority for power restoration due to life-sustaining equipment needs.
In addition, encourage your loved one to reach out to neighbors, a church or a community group and establish connections with people who can assist them in an emergency. One of the worst things that can happen is that there is an unknown survivor because no one knows they are there.
If the emergency requires mass evacuation, work with local services to plan for accessible transportation and call your county emergency management agency so your family member can be added to a list of people with disabilities who will receive prioritized help in the event of a crisis.
Creating your emergency kit
It’s smart to have a basic “grab-and-go” bag that can be taken during an emergency evacuation, when heading to the basement for a tornado or other urgent scenarios. Although a fire would be considered an urgent reason to flee, your loved ones should not stop to grab anything.
In case of a fire, they need to get out of their home as quickly and safely as possible. That being said, it can be a good idea to keep a smaller emergency kit at a nearby friend’s home in case a loved one locks themselves out of the house, there’s a fire or they’re otherwise temporarily displaced.
FEMA suggests a comprehensive list of items to include, but keep in mind that some of the items (like 3 days’ worth of food) may be too heavy to grab-and-go in a rapidly emerging disaster. You may want to put those longer-term needs (2 or 3 days) in a separate box or wheeled travel case next to the quick grab-and-go bag. Here are some of the items recommended by FEMA:
FOOD, DRINK, DAILY LIVING
- Water (one gallon per person per day for several days, for drinking and sanitation)
- Food (at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food)
- Any special dietary items or eating supports
- Manual can opener (for human and animal food)
- Mess kits (plates, plastic silverware, other meal supplies), paper towels, cups, etc.
- Pet food, leashes, dog tags, service animal vest and extra water
- Diapers, feminine supplies, adult bladder control needs, etc.
- Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person (extra for the elderly or ill)
- Complete change of clothes for everyone and sturdy shoes
- Disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer, garbage bags and plastic ties (for personal sanitation)
MEDICAL AND HEALTH NEEDS
- Prescription medications (in their original bottles) and related supplies like syringes (see documents section below for more details)
- Non-prescription medications including pain relievers, anti-diarrhea medicine, antacids, etc.
- A cooler and ice packs if medications or special foods need to be kept cold
- First aid kit (be sure creams and pain relievers aren’t outdated); include no-touch thermometer and pulse oximeter
- EpiPens, inhalers, diabetes supplies, etc.
- At least two N95 masks per family member
- Glasses and/or contacts and contact solution
- Hearing aids and extra batteries
- Assistive devices such as canes, wheelchairs, walkers and oxygen tanks (including model numbers)
- Adequate oxygen supply and back-up plan
- Identification band (full name, contact number for family member/caregiver and allergies)
COMMUNICATION, GENERAL SUPPLIES
- Battery-powered or hand-crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- Cell phones with chargers and extra batteries
- Whistle or loud airhorn (to call for help)
- Plastic sheeting and duct tape (to shelter in place)
- Wrench or pliers (to turn off utilities)
- Fire extinguisher
- Matches in a waterproof container
- Cash (in case electronic payments can’t be used due to power or data issues)
The CDC recommends keeping physical copies of your documents in a waterproof bag or container and taking a photo of each document listed below. Consider developing a care plan that can be easily referenced during an emergency.
- Complete list of medications, including the exact name of the medicine, the dosage, frequency and reason it was prescribed
- Contact information for family members, doctors, pharmacies and/or caregivers
- Medical insurance cards
- Photo IDs and Social Security cards
- Durable power of attorney and/or medical power of attorney documents
- List of allergies to food or medicines
- Bank accounts, mortgage deed, car titles, insurance agent and attorney contact information, etc.
- If your loved one depends on Social Security or other benefits, consider switching to electronic payments or direct deposit in case mail is disrupted
Staying in touch
Regardless of the distance, one of the greatest struggles about being away from our loved ones is not knowing what’s happening. Even if your family members know how to reach you, it’s a good idea to place the details prominently throughout their home so that it’s handy in an emergency. Consider printing a list of important names and numbers using a large font. They can keep this on the refrigerator door, taped to the mirror of their bathroom, folded up in their wallet, sitting on their night table and any other place they would be likely to see it.
In addition to providing your loved ones with the information they need to contact you, the resources listed below can alert you to a possible problem. Most of these apps or online tools can be configured for multiple locations, so you can track your own local information:
Earthquake Notification Service: The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) allows you to customize email and text alerts based on location and earthquake magnitude.
Weather Alerts: The Weather Channel and other similar apps can be configured to notify you of severe weather or dangerous conditions such as extreme heat, wind advisories, bitterly cold temperatures, tornadoes and hurricanes. Your loved ones may not be able to hear the alerts, may not have their TV on or may have their notification device in another room. Giving them a call can set your mind at ease – and ensure that they get to a safe place as quickly as possible.
BrightStar Care® is committed to serving seniors and other individuals with special health needs, following the . In addition to the information shared here, our nurses can help you develop an emergency strategy as part of your family member’s overall care plan.
To learn more about how your loved one might benefit from our expert in-home care team, call 866-618-7827 or contact a BrightStar Care® home care agency near you.