You may think you have everything you need for severe weather, but experts warn that most older adults aren’t as prepared as they should be.
About two-thirds or more of adults 50 and older have a phone charger for their car that they can use if the electricity goes out, put emergency contacts in their phone, stockpiled at least three weeks’ worth of their prescriptions, and downloaded their bank’s smartphone app, according to a July 2023 survey from AARP and the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center. But from there, preparation for a potential disaster goes downhill.
“Technology has made it easier for people to prepare and take action during emergencies, but its reliability depends on the steps a person takes before a disaster strikes,” said Tom Kamber, executive director of Older Adults Technology Services (OATS) from AARP. The AARP-affiliated charity specializes in teaching technology skills to older adults.
Most older adults lack an emergency plan
Less than a third of the 1,012 older adults surveyed said they had created an emergency plan, which the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) considers vital. Nor have they invested in a generator — a portable gas- or solar-powered device or a more expensive whole-house generator — to provide backup power in case of days without power.
As adults age, they become increasingly vulnerable to extreme weather, the Environmental Protection Agency says.
- Chronic health conditions make people more sensitive to air pollution, such as smoke from wildfires.
- Medications and a reduced ability to sweat alter a body’s capacity to cool down in extreme heat, leading to heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
- Decreased mobility lessens older adults’ ability to escape hazards quickly. Only six of the 85 dead in the 2018 Camp Fire in Paradise, California, were younger than 50.
The 50-plus population is up by about 15 percent in a decade, to 120 million as of 2021, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, accounting for more than a third of all Americans.
“Being prepared for a disaster is important at every age,” says Jeff Jackson, acting assistant administrator for national preparedness at FEMA. “This is especially true for older adults who may rely on the availability of health care services, accessible transportation, special diets, medications, mobility devices, access to power, communications and other vital resources.”
Any month can have a natural disaster
Peak hurricane season is mid-August through mid-October, but just about any time of year has its own dangers.
Peak tornado season starts in the spring on the Gulf Coast and moves its way up to the northern Plains by July. Peak wildfire season in the West is during the summer, but the U.S. Forest Service now considers it a year-round problem.
Flooding can occur at any time when rains are heavy or snow and ice are melting; mudslides can be part of the danger, too. Extreme cold with or without blizzard conditions can create frostbite risks and paralyze power grids.