Weather-related disasters have increased globally by a factor of five in the last fifty years. Fortunately, weather-related deaths have not increased at the same pace. Scientists have improved their ability to predict extreme weather events and governments have become more adept at issuing warnings while there is time to avoid a catastrophe.
Measured by economic loss of more than $1 billion, the United States experienced 18 separate weather disasters in 2022. Half of those events involved strong winds and hail. Tornados, hurricanes, wildfire, floods, and periods of extremely hot or cold weather round out the list. A destructive storm that spawned multiple tornados recently placed more than 85 million lives at risk in the Midwest.
Weather emergencies may be particularly dangerous for older family members. Loved ones who have limited mobility, cognitive impairments, or other serious health conditions might find it difficult to respond to an approaching disaster. Weather emergencies can separate older adults from their families and caregivers. A loss of cell service, electricity, or transportation services can leave older relatives stranded.
Make an Emergency Plan
While seniors are often at greater risk than younger people during a weather emergency, only a quarter of seniors have made a plan to respond to a disaster. Since public health agencies may be overwhelmed during an emergency, families should take primary responsibility for assuring the safety of their loved ones.
Preparing for an emergency maximizes the opportunity to respond effectively. The CDC urges families to plan for emergencies before weather events endanger the life of a vulnerable loved one.
An emergency plan should identify people who can help keep an older family member safe. In addition to designating a primary contact person who will communicate with the family member, the plan should identify neighbors who would be willing to knock on the loved one’s door if he or she cannot be reached by telephone.
Sheltering in place may be an appropriate response to a blizzard or heat wave if the family member’s heating and cooling system is working, but hurricanes and wildfires may risk the loss of a home. Family members should have an evacuation plan in place to assure that their loved one can be relocated until the disaster ends. The plan should identify the individuals who will have primary responsibility for transporting the loved one to safety before disaster strikes.
If the family member resides in a nursing home or assisted-living facility, the family should understand the disaster readiness plan that the facility has implemented. If the family member lives at home with the assistance of caretakers, the family should identify medical transportation services that can be engaged to help with an evacuation. Family members should also place their loved one on a local registry (such as Code Red or SMART911) that allows first responders to identify community residents who should receive priority assistance in the event of an emergency.
Prepare an Emergency Response Kit
Finally, the CDC recommends that families prepare and maintain an emergency response kit that includes:
- a three-day supply of necessary medications;
- copies of prescriptions and a complete list of the loved one’s medications;
- copies of Medicare and other insurance cards;
- extra glasses, hearing aids, and other assistive devices, as well as batteries;
- an ID band with the relative’s name and emergency contact information;
- a copy of the loved one’s ID;
- detailed information about medical devices the loved one needs;
- a copy of the loved one’s care plan; and
- a copy of other important documents, such as a durable power of attorney.
The Red Cross suggests that any shelter-in-place plan should include a supply of water and nonperishable food that will be adequate for two weeks. An evacuation plan should also provide for lodging for a two-week period.