Disasters are a fact of life in so many communities. Frequently they strike without warning. In the western United States, wildfires can engulf areas in a matter of minutes. In the southern and eastern coastal regions, hurricanes can be unpredictable and widespread. In the Midwest, it’s tornadoes.
We have seen the devastation in Japan from the March 2011 tsunami. Earthquakes, floods and other emergencies highlight the need to be prepared to evacuate safely with a moment’s notice.
For the millions of elderly and disabled Americans with physical or cognitive disabilities, emergencies present an especially daunting challenge. Many of these individuals are unable to evacuate themselves, or even see or hear evacuation announcements.
Seniors, the disabled, their families and caregivers must take medical conditions and physical limitations into consideration along with other needs that must be met when planning for possible disaster.
According to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), 1,200 senior citizens are killed from fire related incidents each year. Over 13 million seniors across America report that they would need help from others to evacuate properly. Seniors often have unique needs for medication and care that can be fatal if left untreated in an emergency.
As a private duty home care agency tending to the needs of senior and disabled clients for 28 years, I worry whether the people we care for would be able to react swiftly and have the resources to deal with an emergency, whether a natural disaster or even a man-made disaster such as a gas main break, a major transportation accident in their community, or a law enforcement action.
With the height of hurricane and wildfire season approaching much of the nation, I urge everyone to make plans now to ensure the safety of seniors and the disabled. An evacuation plan complete with vital medical information and a team of people designated for assistance is something every person with special needs should have. It could mean the difference in making your way to safety instead of risking injury or death.
If you’re a caregiver, or you have a family member who relies on a home care organization such as At Your Home Familycare, encourage your loved ones to make plans now. Beside the benefits of being able to take action when the time comes, knowing what to do eases the fears and anxiety we all naturally feel when faced with an emergency. It’s empowering to know that you are prepared.
Individuals should make plans getting help with family, friends and neighbors and put together a “Disaster Team” who can help with evacuation. The team should include someone who can carry and transport larger objects such as wheelchairs. The team should all exchange contact information and at least one should have a key to the home. Inform your regular caregiver of your plan.
Put a checklist together of the items you’ll need if you evacuate, including medication and medical supplies, and things you use every day such as cleaning and personal hygiene items. If you become separated from your regular caregiver, having your routine and instructions in writing will help maintain as normal a routine as possible.
If you must call on emergency personnel to help you evacuate, post your instructions in an obvious place, such as a note taped to your refrigerator.
The Department of Homeland Security, FEMA, and the American Red Cross have an excellent free booklet called Preparing for Disaster for People with Disabilities and other Special Needs with tips on getting informed, making a plan, assembling a kit, and maintaining these plans for people with mobility problems or who have hearing, learning, or seeing disabilities. These tips provide individuals and caregivers with considerations needed to help manage communications, equipment, pets and home hazards. The booklet is available free at www.redcross.org, or by calling the American Red Cross at 1-800-REDCROSS.