Emergency Disaster Planning for Senior Citizens: Putting a plan in place for your aging parents

During these past days and weeks, as the entire country has been transfixed by news of first Hurricane Harvey’s, and now Hurricane Irma’s, impending upheaval, I’ve been thinking about disaster-preparedness and the elderly.

If you have aging parents, I would venture to guess that this same topic has been on your mind as well.

Imagine being in the path of a potentially deadly storm and having to worry about not just your nuclear family’s physical safety, but the safety of your aging parents, who have also come to depend on you. Equally terrible, what if you and your family are not in danger but your folks are, yet simple distance prohibits you from being able to help them prepare for, or evacuate from, a life-threatening storm? You would feel powerless and scared.

Then you would probably kick yourself for not having had a disaster-preparedness plan already in place. Below, I’ve written up the basics for you, but I recommend that you visit the links I’ve added in order to more thoroughly read up on the specifics as they apply to your family.

Geography/natural elements

First, consider your parents’ location and any seasonal or likely natural forces for which their area is known. Obviously, no one can predict the future, but if Mom and Dad live in an area known equally for its forest fires as for its beauty, along coastal waters, or perhaps in an earthquake-prone part of the country, etc., you can help them be far more prepared for the risk(s) they’re likeliest to encounter.

Create a plan (and practice it with Mom and Dad)

This website is fantastic. In fact, it even has a dedicated page for senior preparedness, complete with an on-target YouTube video for Mom and Dad to watch. The key to a disaster-survival plan involves putting into place, in advance, the following three elements:

  1. Support network

Your support network is someone who has agreed that in the event of disaster/community emergency, he or she will check on Mom and Dad immediately following the crisis. This can be a neighbor, a trusted friend, a pastor. This person will be given a key to your home and access to medical information. Remember that in a crisis event, travel may be challenging, so factor distance into your decision-making. More information about establishing a support network for an aging parent is offered by the American Red Cross.

  1. Communication tree

What could be worse than being hundreds of miles away from loved ones whose community is in turmoil and worrying whether or not they’re okay? Your parents’ disaster plan will therefore include specifics on communication (among your extended family as well) in the event of a disaster. While cell towers may be too jammed to allow for phone calls, texts are usually successfully delivered. Teach Mom and Dad how to text, download a texting app on their tablets, etc.—whatever it takes. Then practice texting with them routinely, so it’s not a foreign concept when the time comes.

           3Emergency kit

An emergency kit should contain not just food and water for each person for several days, but also a stash of medication, which is going to need to be replaced once a year or so if stored beyond its effective date. Other items to stash in the kit: a NOAA radio and extra batteries, important documents such as insurance policies, doctor’s names and numbers, medical information/limitations/allergies and schedules, a copy of the emergency plan, etc. You should also add a portable battery charger for Mom and Dad’s electronic device(s) and schedule a reminder for yourself so that you can have the folks recheck the charge a couple of times a year. Don’t forget about Fifi and Fido, who will need the same few days’ worth of food and vital supplies.

It’s a good idea to also include a flash drive of the same information—not for the folks, but for them to hand off to an aid worker or to the trusted family friend who is in your support network.

More information, including what to do after a disaster hits, where to seek shelter, how to have Mom and Dad’s Medicare payments wirelessly deposited directly into their bank account from now on (to avoid disruption in payment), etc., may be found online, HERE.

At some point in time, your parents  or parent may be safer in a different setting, one in which there would be more assistance during a crisis, but that is a conversation for another day (one I am happy to help you and your family to evaluate). Please reach out to me so that I may help lead you all through a constructive dialogue.

All the best,

Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.

More resources:

For even more perspectives on this topic, see the CDC’s page on senior emergency preparedness HERE

To stay atop disaster awareness and to locate shelter by area, download the FEMA app

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