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Emergency! Equipping Elders for the Unexpected


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Retirement Preparedness Part 2:

As the Olympics taught, preparation is all. No one wins gold without years, if not decades, of grueling training, and no one retires with all aspects of their life in place without prior planning — ideally years, if not decades, before retirement.

But while we’ve focused on the financial, interpersonal and medical aspects of retirement planning, we haven’t explored emergency preparedness: what to do if there is a fire, flood, earthquake, tornado, power outage, etc.

How to Keep Seniors Safer

In some parts of the country, such as Florida, people may be more prepared for hurricanes since they’ve experienced enough of them. The same holds true for the Midwest and tornadoes. But emergencies can happen anywhere — remember when “superstorm” Sandy plunged much of New York City into darkness, and hospital patients had to be carried down flights of stairs for transport to other facilities?

This excellent Red Cross download covers disaster preparedness for seniors by seniors. After experiencing a two-week-long power failure due to a massive ice storm, a group of seniors in upstate New York realized that even basic preparation would have eliminated much of the hardship they endured.

Generously wanting to help other seniors be ready for similar predicaments, a dozen Rochester residents created this helpful handbook. Your reverse mortgage clients and prospects may wish to print and bind the entire document and keep it handy, or affix a few key pages to places like the refrigerator or closet door, where they will be easily accessible.

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Three Steps to Preparedness

The seniors recommend a trio of steps: get a kit, make a plan, be informed. While these may sound simple, they could make a life-saving difference in a crisis.

A basic emergency kit, packed and ready, should:

  • Contain enough supplies to last at least three days.
  • Store supplies in one or more easy-to-carry containers, such as a backpack or duffel bag.
  • Be on wheels if possible.
  • Have an ID tag: name, address, phone number, email.
  • Be kept up-to-date. Review the contents at least every six months or as your needs change. Check expiration dates and shift stored supplies into everyday use before they expire. Replace food, water and batteries, and refresh medications and other perishable items with “first in, first out” practices.

In addition, any equipment, such as wheelchairs, canes, or walkers should be labeled with the senior’s name, address and phone numbers.

20 suggestions to include in a senior’s disaster supplies kit:

  • Water: one gallon per person, per day (3-day supply for
  • evacuation and 2-week supply for home)
  • Food: include foods that do not need cooking (canned, dried, etc.) (3-day supply for evacuation and 2-week supply for home)
  • Flashlight with extra batteries and bulbs (do not use candles)
  • Radio: battery-operated
  • First aid kit and manual
  • Medications (7-day supply) and medical items
  • Multi-purpose tool such as a Swiss Army knife, plus a manual can opener
  • Secure container for essential assistive devices: hearing aids, eyeglasses
  • Sanitation and personal hygiene items (toilet paper, plastic garbage bags)
  • Copies of personal documents (medication list and pertinent medical information, deed/lease to home, birth certificates, insurance policies)
  • Cell phone with an extra battery and charger(s)
  • Emergency contact information for family and friends
  • Cash (ATMs may not be accessible)
  • Blanket
  • Map(s) of the local area (Internet may be down)
  • Whistle to attract the attention of emergency personnel
  • Change of clothing
  • Pet and service animal supplies, including food and vaccination records
  • Extra set of keys: car, house, etc.
  • Pack of playing cards for entertainment and to pass the time

Making a plan includes knowing the best escape routes and meeting places, and where you will rendezvous with family members in the event you need to leave the area immediately. It also means making sure you have adequate insurance. (Just as Medicare doesn’t cover long-term care, homeowners’ insurance doesn’t typically cover flood damage and some other hazards.)

Most of all, emergency preparedness for seniors means having a support network. Know how you’ll be notified of a disaster, where to go, and keep your kit up to date. If you never need to use it, you’ll still have the peace of mind that comes from knowing Nature isn’t likely to catch you unawares.


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