Summary: Having an emergency preparedness kit, being informed of local hazards, and practicing emergency preparations could make you more ready as a caregiver in an emergency.

In 2018 alone, mudslides flattened homes in Montecito, California; flash floods washed away structures in Ellicott City, Maryland, and Hurricane Florence left nearly 2 million North Carolina residents without electricity.

Natural disasters can strike anywhere, often without warning. If you’re a caregiver for an elderly loved one, emergency preparedness is something you can’t afford to ignore.

Fortunately, the American Red Cross and government agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have decades of experience helping people prepare for and survive natural disasters.

Below you’ll find their top caregiver tips to create an emergency preparedness plan to keep your elderly loved one safe.

Emergency Preparedness Tip 1: Include family members, neighbors, and friends in your emergency plan

The Red Cross recommends forming an emergency preparedness support network to help you protect elderly loved ones. Request that a trusted neighbor come to check in after disaster strikes, and share keys to your loved one’s home and car. Make sure your neighbor knows where to find emergency supplies in the home and how to contact other members in the network.

Find an out-of-town family member or friend to serve as an emergency coordinato since local family members may also be affected by the natural disaster. Make sure the coordinator has contact information for all members of the support network, and numbers for local utility companies, emergency support personnel, health care providers, and insurance companies.

Make sure to include a check-in schedule in your emergency preparedness plan. For example, your plan may specify that your elderly loved one or someone in her support network checks in every two hours, and include persons to notify and steps to take if a scheduled check-in is missed.

Map out an evacuation plan, and if your loved one doesn’t drive or own a car, find a neighbor who will take responsibility for transporting her to a predetermined meeting place or shelter.

Emergency Preparedness Tip 2: Set up your emergency preparedness kit

Have your emergency supplies organized in one place and make sure your support network knows where to find it. Some often overlooked but useful caregiver tips include storing emergency supplies in a wheeled suitcase or duffel bag in case you need to evacuate, and labeling all medical devices and equipment, such as walkers or wheelchairs, with your elderly loved one’s name, address, and phone number.

Make sure you have at least a seven-day supply of food, water, and prescription medications in your emergency preparedness kit. You should also store copies of any important documents, emergency contact information, and medical records in your kit. A medical summary including your loved one’s medical conditions, significant medical history, allergies, daily medications, and health care provider information is also a good idea.

Other things to consider for your emergency preparedness kit include:

  • Flashlight and battery-operated radio with spare batteries for each
  • Toilet paper, hygiene items, and plastic garbage bags
  • Cell phone charger
  • A change of clothes and several pairs of undergarments
  • Can opener or multi-purpose tool
  • Sleeping bag or pillow and blanket
  • Cold-weather gear such as overcoat, mittens, boots if you live in an area with winter weather
  • Books, a deck of cards, or other games to help pass time

If you have pets or a service animal, don’t forget pet food, extra water, vaccination records, and a leash and/or pet carrier.

Emergency Preparedness Tip 3: Practice and review your emergency preparations

Twice a year, go over your written plan with everyone in your support network. If information changes, make sure everyone is up-to-date. Check out your emergency preparedness kit to make sure food and medications have not expired, and to refresh water supplies. Test and replace batteries as needed.

Conduct fire and evacuation drills with your elderly loved one—don’t forget to practice an evacuation using the designated member of your support network in case the primary caregiver isn’t available. Make sure all the pieces of your plan actually work in a simulated disaster situation.

Emergency Preparedness Tip 4: Be informed about local hazards

Find out about what types of natural and man-made disasters are most likely to happen in your area. If you live in a coastal area, for example, know the emergency alert system for hurricanes and floods. If you live in an area prone to earthquakes, tornadoes, blizzards, or wildfires, learn the community warning systems for those disasters. If there are chemical plants in your area, learn how to deal with a chemical spill.

An NOAA-All Hazard radio is a good thing to have on hand. Find out how to program it to alert you to situations in your local area, and make sure to have spare batteries in your emergency preparedness kit.

Understand when it is best to shelter in place versus evacuating to a local shelter. Some caregiver tips recommend having both a shelter-in-place emergency preparedness kit and a “go-bag” in case you need to leave home and find shelter. Map out the closest local shelter in your area and make sure your emergency support team knows where you will go if you need to evacuate.

It’s impossible to know when disaster will strike, but if you have an emergency preparedness plan, you’ll have the supplies and support you need to get through it. If you have specific questions about disaster preparation in your local area, contact your city or county disaster assistance office to help you fine-tune your plan.

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