Hurricane Preparedness for Seniors Although hurricane season started on the first of June, September is the month that these devastating storms really start to pick up. As anyone who lives in a hurricane zone already knows, these storms don’t spare anyone or anything--if it’s in their path, they do not discriminate. However, as with all natural disasters, hurricanes are particularly damaging to senior citizens. Because of unique health and other physical needs, disasters often take a greater toll on seniors. There is a way to prevent natural disasters from becoming tragedies, however; when people prepare for disasters by planning and purchasing any goods they’ll need to survive on their own for an extended period, then they can steer clear of the major missteps that so often lead to a catastrophe. It is important for everyone to plan during hurricane season--but especially for seniors. The elderly tend to have less options and less flexibility when it comes to disaster, so they must plan ahead to a much greater degree. Whereas someone young might be able to evacuate on foot, this is probably impossible for someone older; or while younger people could probably survive a disaster and its aftermath outside of a shelter, many seniors need the special care they can only get in these emergency lodgings. Therefore, the first thing for any senior citizen to do is to become informed and to plan well in advance. Before the media really starts reporting on hurricanes, there will always be specific weather channels on the radio or Internet that can provide more accurate information. NOAA radios broadcast National Weather Service warnings and announcements 24 hours a day. In addition to this, seniors need to be aware of storm terms and the dangers hurricanes pose to them and their area. They should also be aware of any emergency buildings or phone numbers, and they should know where emergency supplies will be handed out if possible. Not only is it important to know where to find emergency supplies, it is especially important for seniors to know where to find emergency shelters. Contact The Red Cross or local police stations to find out where these can be found during hurricanes. Seniors may find it difficult or even impossible to live on their own during a disaster, so they must know where to find help if they need it. Communities will also often have some sort of warning system if there is a severe storm in the area, so know where to look for those and how to interpret the different levels of severity. For example, there is a difference between a storm watch and a storm warning. A watch is when there is a possibility of a storm being in or near the area sometime in the next 36 hours. A warning, however, is when a storm will certainly be, or already is in the area. Watches mean to be wary; warnings mean to prepare for the worst and to evacuate if told to do so. There could be other, community-specific codes and warnings, which is why it is so important to be well aware of the community’s plan of action during any emergency, especially a storm. Besides knowing the community’s plan during hurricanes, seniors should also have their own. In some cases, it is safest to stay home, especially when there is no hurricane watch initiated. Unless directed to evacuate, it is often safest for seniors to stay in one place, as long as others know where they are. Evacuating when it is not necessary has caused medical emergencies in the past, when seniors overheated in cars that were stopped on the highway--because so many people tried to evacuate when they didn’t need to, the roads were at a complete standstill and more damage was done than what would have happened if everyone had stayed home. If seniors plan on staying home and it is declared safe for them to do so, then they need to have emergency supplies stocked, as well as any medications. Seniors who require special care, like oxygen or help getting in and out of a wheelchair should either stay at a family
member’s house or go to an emergency shelter--do not attempt to wait out a disaster alone. For those who are mobile, however, waiting out a hurricane at home can be very easy and convenient, as long as they have the right supplies. These include least two weeks’ worth of food and water. The food should be nonperishable and easy to prepare, like these MREs, or freeze-dried food. Hurricanes can cause major damage to water mains, so it could be many days before it is safe to drink water out of the tap again; hence, the two week water supply. Make sure the food is nonperishable and the water is secure so it doesn’t spoil. Other necessities include: flashlights, one week supply of medicines, a first aid kit, a battery operated radio or TV, a whistle, a wrench for gas turn-off, garbage bags, extra blankets, toilet paper, paper towels, paper plates, personal hygiene supplies, duct tape, and money. It’s better to have stocked up on all this already, but in case someone needs to buy other supplies, they will probably need to have cash on hand (many places can’t or won’t accept credit or checks during a hurricane). The other alternative to remaining at home is evacuating. If emergency personnel order or recommend an evacuation, people must leave or risk injury or even death if they stay. For senior citizens this is especially true since officials may not be able to reach stranded people for days or even weeks after a hurricane. Seniors who have medical needs should write down their daily routine of medicine or other needs before they evacuate. That way, they can keep on schedule or medical personnel can take care of them. Either arrange to go to a relative or friend’s house that is well outside the danger zone, or a storm shelter. Whichever way they choose, people should not leave the house to evacuate without knowing exactly where they’re going and how they’ll get there. Even when evacuating, seniors should consider having an emergency auto kit in case it takes longer than they thought it would to reach their destination. Although seniors are especially susceptible to hurricanes, they too can avoid all the dangers that come with these destructive storms. Hurricane season is now--so there’s never been a better time to prepare in order to save lives and money. As long as people are prepared for disasters, follow emergency officials’ directions, and have a plan for every possibility, there is no reason why they shouldn’t be able to survive a hurricane.