Hurricane-force winds. Raging floodwaters. Surging wildfires. Damaging tornadoes. No matter where we live, natural disasters, and even man-made ones like arson fires and toxic spills often strike quickly and without warning. Tornadoes and severe thunderstorms seems to be occurring more often here in McMinn County. Sevier County was recently ravaged by wildfires. No one is immune from the effects of disasters, especially older adults.
If we know that disasters are inevitable in any location, what can we do to safeguard ourselves and our older loved ones from potential devastating effects? Preparedness is crucial – before disaster strikes. In an emergency, basic services, including water, gas, electricity, and communications such as home phones and cell phones may be cut off. Grocery stores, gas stations and pharmacies may be closed for some time. The key to withstanding disasters is readiness.
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In emergency services we need to consider the special needs of aged loved ones who are confined to a bed, wheelchair-bound or who have limited mobility such as using a walker or cane. Unfortunately, some of the most tragic losses in times of disaster are the seniors who couldn’t leave their homes to get to safety. With a little planning, aging seniors can stay safe and comfortable in times of disasters and emergencies.
One of the first steps in preparing for an emergency is to gather a supply kit. These are basic supplies that could be needed in an emergency: batteries, blankets, flashlight, candles, lighter, adequate supply of water, nonperishable food, medications, hygiene items, and supplies for pets and service animals. One of the best gifts I ever received from my son was a hand-crank radio. Inside these radios is a small generator powered by a hand-crank that charges a rechargeable internal battery when needed. A few minutes of cranking will usually give you an hour or so of power for getting emergency information. Very good disaster supply kit checklists can be found online.
After you gather your emergency supplies, you will need something to store it in. Pack the supplies in an easy-to-transport container such as a plastic bin of waterproof duffle bag. A storage container with wheels is even better.
Older adults should also be sure to have emergency supplies in their car. During a sudden snow-storm, you could possibly get stranded for quite a long time. A supply kit for your car should include a tire repair kit, jumper cables and flares.
The next step in planning for a disaster is to have a plan. Seniors need a group of people who can offer hands-on assistance in disasters. These could be family members, neighbors, friends or professional caretakers. They need to talk to these people about personal limitations and concerns. An action plan needs to be created to resolve these issues. Planning should include home escape routes, such as how to escape from a fire, community planned evacuation routes, and transportation needs. Copies of important papers should be kept in a fire-proof safe, a safe-deposit box, or given to someone to keep for you. These documents should include a birth certificate, social security cards, wills, passports, and insurance and financial records. A safe place in the home should be designated, such as planning to go to the basement or inside room with no windows during a tornado.