Caring for an older loved one is hard, and it becomes even more difficult if you live far away.

In the event of a natural disaster — whether it’s a fire, hurricane, or other massive event — it can be especially worrisome to know that relatives are on their own in a scary situation.

Here are 5 steps you can take to make sure your older relatives stay safe and connected if disaster strikes.

1. Know what to expect

First, consider the region your relatives are located, and take stock of the hazards that might come their way.

“Whether you live nearby or are out of town, it is important to anticipate and plan how senior citizens will communicate with family if disaster strikes and you are not together.”
Linda Mastandrea

Do they live in California fire country? Are they in common hurricane paths in the Southeast? Are they smack in the middle of Tornado Alley in the Midwest?

A general idea of which disasters might happen will guide your next steps.

Linda Mastandrea, director of the Office of Disability, Integration and Coordination at FEMA, agrees that knowing what to expect and being prepared is crucial.

“Knowing how to prepare for and what to do during a disaster will help keep you safe and could possibly save your life,” Mastandrea told Considerable.

“The most important step is sitting down with your family members and developing a plan.

“Talk through your contingency plans and identify low-tech and no-tech ways to meet their needs.”

2. Be clear about your communication protocol

How will your loved one contact you if disaster strikes? Make sure you’ve agreed on an emergency phone number, but keep in mind that certain disasters can take down phone lines and cellular towers.

Also agree on a checklist of locations to connect online. Sometimes when cell service is down, the internet still offers a way to contact people via social media or learn about the best places to seek shelter.

According to Mastandrea, “Whether you live nearby or are out of town, it is important to anticipate and plan how senior citizens will communicate with family if disaster strikes and you are not together.

“Decide how you are going to contact each other and where to meet up in an emergency if/when possible. Speak with care providers about how you will reconnect in the event of an evacuation.

“Senior citizens with disabilities should have a family member’s contact information, details on any specific medical or disability-related needs they may have, and necessary medications with them at all times.”

3. Make sure they have an easily accessible emergency kit

To ensure they’re ready to go if disaster strikes, make sure your older relatives have emergency necessities ready to go in a portable package, such as a backpack. According to Aging Care, an emergency kit should include:

  • Water
  • Non-perishable food
  • A flashlight plus extra batteries
  • A first aid kit
  • Sanitation and hygiene items (moist towelettes and toilet paper)
  • An extra pair of clothing
  • A blanket
  • A manual can opener
  • A multi-purpose tool
  • Photocopies of credit and identification cards
  • Cash and coins (in a waterproof container)
  • Medical items like prescription medications, glasses, and hearing aid batteries
  • A cell phone and charger
  • A whistle
  • An extra set of car and house keys

4. Consider medical conditions

Medical alert bracelets or a voice-activated alert system are both good resources to make sure loved ones obtain the assistance they need should they find themselves in a disaster area.

(Medical alerts are a smart system for older folks to have in place even when a natural disaster isn’t imminent.)

It’s also important to be prepared for prolonged delays in medication delivery or procurement.

As Mastandrea put it: “An important part of planning is making sure you have enough medication available immediately after disaster strikes. For example, what if a disaster affects your access to insulin and you need several weeks’ worth available to help with your diabetes?

“If you have diabetes or a disability that requires prescription or nonprescription medication, you will need to have enough medication to last at least a week, as well as enough bandages, test strips, catheters, alcohol swabs, gloves and other supplies to support your needs.”

5. Familiarize yourself with other local resources

Besides knowing where a local shelter is, make sure you and your relative have the phone numbers for local fire and police departments, hospitals, veterinary clinics, locksmiths, and water and power suppliers.

Save these contacts on a cell phone, but also keep a physical copy in the emergency kit.

“Sign up for local emergency alerts so that during an emergency, you receive life-saving information from your state and municipality.

“Download the FEMA mobile app (available in English and Spanish) to get emergency alerts and safety information on your phone so you and your loved ones know what to do before, during, and after disasters. The app provides real-time alerts, open emergency shelter locations in your area, and preparedness tips for every type of disaster.”

And one final bit of advice from Mastandrea? Have cash on hand, just in case.

“Always have cash on hand. When networks are down during a disaster, ATMs will not be available, and when cell towers are down, you will not be able to use cashless systems, either.”

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