Flirting With Disaster
Are your parents ready for the next crisis?
Tropical storms in Southern California. Relentless heat in the Midwest. Canadian wildfire smoke blotting out the sun in New York City. Tornadoees in Massachusetts. Catastrophic fire on Maui.
What’s next? “Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!” Let’s hope not, Dr. Venkman.
It’s hard to shake the feeling that the next disaster is around the corner. Are your parents ready? Older adults are particularly vulnerable when disasters shut down power, delay help, and disrupt lives for weeks and months.
You know that, of course. But helping your parent stay safe takes more than a generic checklist for a basic emergency kit. If you want more peace of mind, remember these often overlooked planning essentials.
Emergency Contacts and Documents
Do you know your parent’s primary doctor? How about their dentist and insurance agent? Or which meds mom can’t go without for more than a few days?
Now is the time to gather this critical information. Paperwork is the last thing on anyone’s mind in an emergency. Until your mom can’t remember the name of the meds she left behind when she was told to evacuate.
At the very least, make sure both you and your parents have access to these essential documents:
- Emergency contacts for family, friends, and health care providers
- Your parent’s photo ID and healthcare information
- Medical information, including medications, dosing schedule, and prescribing doctor
Print copies even if your parent has it all on their smart phone. Phones get lost. Batteries die. And if your mom is incapacitated, don’t count on anyone knowing how to find emergency contacts on a locked iPhone.
Keep one set of copies in a waterproof gallon Ziplockbag as part of your parents’s emergency kit. A duplicate set stays with you. Secure the originals in a safe deposit box or a fireproof and waterproof safe.
Use a password protected thumb-drive or cloud storage for digital copies of insurance policies, bank statement, and other legal and financial records that can help with recovery.
Make It Personal
Disaster planning for older adults is not a one-size-fits-all process. Many people have special needs that change over time.
Does dad use a wheelchair or walker? Is there a lighter, manual transport chair ready if evacuation is necessary? Is his name on it? And who is going to help transport dad and his chair when it’s go time?
Does mom use medical equipment that needs power? Does she have a working backup generator? Is it a standby generator? Or are you counting on your 83-year-old father to roll a portable unit from the garage and keep it running?
Does your parent have chronic health conditions? Medical alert tags or bracelets are a good idea. So is a care plan that details medical needs, med schedules, and instructions for caregivers. Keep a printed copy with your parent’s essential documents and a duplicate for yourself. Don’t have a care plan? Put one together using the CDC’s Complete Care Plan form.
Does dad have meds for 30 days? Don’t count on access to a stocked pharmacy after a disaster. Unfortunately, refill limits can make it hard to put together an emergency stash. Your best bet: Have your parent talk with their doctor or pharmacist about how to create an emergency supply.
What’s the plan for pets? Now is the time to put together a disaster plan for Fido and Fifi. Many shelters and hotels don’t allow pets unless they are service animals. And your mom isn’t about to abandon a member of the family. Avoid this dangerous dilemma. Pets are one of the key reasons people choose to stay put when they should go.
Make Local Connections
Your parent’s disaster plan isn’t much more than an academic exercise if you do not research and reach out to local resources. This direct approach may beel a bit awkward at first. Do it anyway. Because if things go from bad to worse, what you know and who you know matter.
Meet your parent’s neighbors and exchange contact information – especially if your parent lives alone. In a crisis, they may be able to check on mom when you can’t.
Does you parent live in a condo, retirement, or assisted living community? Talk to the manager about their emergency playbook. Who do you call or text when dad doesn’t?
Call your parent’s local Area Agency on Aging for information about emergency shelters, transportation, and other resources and recommendations.
Call your parent’s fire department and utility company and ask if there is an at-risk registry for priority power restoration.
Does your parent receive home health care? Call the agency and ask about their emergency plans and protocols.
- Emergency Preparedness for Older Adults (Red Cross)
- Disaster Planning for People With Disabilities (FEMA)
- The Calm Before the Storm: Family Conversations About Disaster Planning, Caregiving, Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia (The Hartford)
- Disaster Preparedness for Pet Safety (ASPCA)
Thanks for caring,
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