Three steps to help older adults prepare for an emergency

Police car

Everyone should be well prepared in the case of an emergency. The likelihood that you and your family will recover from an emergency tomorrow often depends on the planning and preparation done today.

While each person’s abilities and needs are unique, older adults have needs, conditions, and situations that warrant special preparation to ensure that they are indeed ready for an emergency. By evaluating those needs and making an emergency plan that fits those needs, the senior can be better prepared.

So to do just that, here are three steps to help older adults prepare for an emergency.

Step 1:  Create an emergency kit.

The first step is to make sure the senior has an emergency kit that’s handy, easy to access, and complete with everything they might need.

The basics

Basic supplies within the kit should include at least the following:

  • Water — One gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation.
  • Food — At least a three-day supply of non-perishable food (and a can opener if the kit contains canned food).
  • Radio — Get a battery-powered or hand-crank radio (most hand-crank radios also can be battery powered) that also includes NOAA weather radio stations and a weather emergency tone alert.
  • Flashlight
  • Extra batteries — For the radio and the flashlight.
  • First aid kit
  • Whistle — As a way to signal for help.
  • Dust mask — Helps filter contaminated air
  • Plastic sheeting and duct tape — Can help when trying to stay “sheltered in place” by sealing the rooms.
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties — for personal sanitation.
  • Wrench or pliers — to turn off utilities, if necessary.
  • Local maps
  • Pet food, extra water and supplies — if the older adult owns pets.
  • Copy of an emergency plan — Read “Step 2: Make a plan.”

Beyond the basics

For many seniors, daily living requires things such as medications, eyeglasses, hearing aids, wheelchairs, and oxygen. You’ll want to make sure that the senior will have all of these things necessary for his or her daily life available and accessible during an emergency. If anything (such as the wheelchair) requires batteries, make sure to have plenty of extra on hand for those devices as well.

The kit should also copies of important documents, such as family records, wills, power of attorney documents, deeds, social security numbers, credit card and bank information, and tax records. Keep these documents in a waterproof container. Include the names and numbers of everyone in the senior’s support network, including medical providers. Also be sure to have some cash or travelers checks in the kit, in case the senior needs to purchase supplies.

Step 2:  Make a plan.

As the saying goes, “fail to plan, plan to fail.” So the next step is to make a plan that can be followed in case there is an emergency.

Sadly, the reality of a disaster situation means not likely having access to everyday conveniences. To make your plan in advance, think through the details of the senior’s everyday life. If there are people who assist the senior on a daily basis, create a list of who they are and how they will be contacted in an emergency situation. And create an additional support network by identifying others who will help the senior in an emergency.

Think also about what modes of transportation could be used and what alternative modes might serve as back-ups. If the senior requires handicap accessible transportation, be sure to keep this in mind. For every aspect of the senior’s daily routine, plan an alternative, back-up procedure.

Other things to consider when creating the plan include:

  • If, when, and how to evacuate the home, and where to find shelter outside the home.
  • How contacts who assist the senior are to get inside the home. (For example, will they be given a key to the house?)
  • How to obtain medications and other necessary medical supplies.
  • How to contact medical providers, such as doctors and specialists that treat the senior.
  • What to do with pets.
  • What to do in case of fire.
  • How to contact emergency first responders (police, fire fighters, paramedics).

Take all of the above into account, and make a plan by writing it all down. Keep a copy of the plan in the emergency supply kit, and keep a list of important information and contacts in the senior’s wallet or purse as well. Share this plan with the senior’s family, friends, care providers and others in the senior’s personal support network. Everyone needs to be informed of — and on board with — the plan.

Step 3:  Stay informed.

It’s important to stay informed about what emergencies might happen and also to know what types of emergencies are likely to affect the senior’s region. That way, the senior will be all the more prepared when an emergency strikes. For more information about specific types of emergencies, visit or call 1-800-BE-READY.

Be prepared to adapt this information to the senior’s personal circumstances. If and when the time of an emergency comes, the senior must make every effort to follow instructions received from the authorities on the scene.

Above all, the senior should stay calm, be patient, and think before acting. With these simple preparations, an older adult can be ready for even the unexpected.

Information courtesy of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and