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Voice of Experience

Voice of Experience: September 2023

Planning for Disasters for Older Adults and People with Disabilities

Nancy Mayer


  • This article emphasizes the importance of preparedness and timely evacuation in the face of various types of disasters, such as earthquakes, wildfires, hurricanes, planning for transportation and services disruptions, and the impact on aging and disabled individuals.
Planning for Disasters for Older Adults and People with Disabilities

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While many people do not want to leave their homes in an emergency, it is very important to realize that sometimes it is absolutely necessary. Watches may not involve mandatory evacuations, but warnings often involve them. People with disabilities, or others who require more time to prepare to leave must take action earlier than others.

Knowing what types of disasters are common where you are is critical for planning for the disruptions they cause. Disasters may cause major disruptions in transportation, power, cell service, internet access, drinking water, or availability of medical services and medications.

A disaster is anything that disrupts your life, such as, earthquakes, wildfires, home fires, winter storms, hurricanes, flooding, tornadoes, tsunamis, extreme heat, landslides, volcanoes, and toxic chemical releases. Some of these have warnings and some do not. Climate change is causing more widespread disasters.

Some people say they will never leave their home. However, staying at home may put your life at risk. You might think you can change your mind later, but once the disaster evolves, emergency personnel may not be able to come rescue you. Also, some jurisdictions strictly enforce mandatory evacuations, and will use law enforcement to forcibly remove people from their homes. Or police may ask people who stay at home to write their name and social security number on their torso for identification.

People who take longer to respond must make their disaster plans way before a disaster arrives. They must plan how they will react to the disruptions described above when there is no disaster forecasted in the near future. [For example, when a hurricane watch is issued, that is the time for people who need more time to start implementing their disaster plan.] Set up a “go bag” or make a list of what is needed and where it is located in the home. This list includes legal papers, food, water, medications, necessary medical equipment (e.g., CPAP), and backup power supplies.

When someone decides their plan is to evacuate, it can be to another town, to a relative, or to an emergency shelter. Red Cross shelters should be an evacuation of last resort. While the Red Cross has a mixed history in caring for older adults and people with disabilities in shelters, current Red Cross policy says, “everyone is welcome.” Except for individuals who need active nursing care, attempts are made to accommodate everyone. There are even plans for animals/pets to be accepted either in the shelter or an adjacent shelter. However, short term evacuation shelters do not always have many amenities. Longer term shelters have many more amenities, even entertainment.

In summary, there will be more disasters affecting everyone. Preplanning is essential to avoid dangers and even death. After the short-term part of the disaster is over, the Red Cross provides recovery assistance.