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How Older Adults Should Prepare for Hurricanes, Wildfires and Other Emergencies

Don’t forget important items that might not make the typical list

spinner image Phil Roberts loads sandbags on to his truck in preparation for Hurricane Ian on September 26, 2022.
Phil Roberts loads sandbags on to his truck in preparation for Hurricane Ian on September 26, 2022.
The Washington Post/Getty Images

Hurricane season, fire season, tornadoes and other emergencies mean that people who live in areas prone to these events should have a plan in place. But if you’re 50 or older, there are some extra things to pay particular attention to.

In addition to getting the basics, like water, nonperishable food, a first-aid kit, flashlights, batteries and a full tank of gas, older adults need to think ahead, says Don Walker, the public information officer for Florida’s Brevard County Emergency Management, which is bracing for a hit from Hurricane Ian.

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Anyone with medical issues who may need to go to a shelter should make those preparations early — before a weather event hits, Walker says. Some shelters provide access to nurses, medical staff or other equipment, but they need to know you’re coming. And have enough prescription medicine to last for several days, or even two weeks if power is out for an extended period of time and pharmacies aren’t open, Walker says. “Make those arrangements early on,” he says. “If you’re doing it at that last minute, that’s not going to work well.”

Older adults may be more likely to live in older homes, mobile homes or manufactured homes that are not able to withstand storms as well as newer homes can, Walker says. Have a plan for where you might go if necessary — whether that means a shelter, hotel or staying with a friend or relative — even if evacuation isn’t required.

“If you’re evacuating, do it early versus later,” Walker says. “You don’t want to be driving in the rain or through high water or on a road experiencing flooding.”

And make sure you have contact information for people you might need to notify if you leave home. “You don’t want to leave them guessing,” he says.

Russ Dunn, 54, of Bradenton, Florida, spent days getting ready as Hurricane Ian approached . He cleaned his home’s gutters, fixed windows leaks, got his hurricane shutters ready to go up, put gas in the cars and made sure the grill was ready in case of a power outage. He got out the flashlights, bought batteries, stocked up on nonperishable food, bought some ice, made sure his family had all their medications and charged his portable cellphone batteries. He bought extra pet food for the dog, and checked that all his nonelectric and gas-powered tools were functioning. “An electric chain saw doesn’t do you any good if you don’t have power,” Dunn says.

But he also had to make sure that his parents, who are 84 and 83 and live about 20 minutes away, were prepared for the storm. He repeated most of his to-do list at their home, bringing in patio furniture and potted plants that could get blown around in high winds. He also made sure to set out flashlights, stocked up on food and bought them portable cellphone chargers.

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“Depending on how bad it might be, I might just get them and have them come over to our house,” he says.

Disaster planning

For more information on what to do to prepare for an emergency, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a list of information created specifically for older Americans. Among the items the agency recommends you have on hand:

  • A minimum three-day supply of medications, along with a cooler and ice packs if your medications require refrigeration. Also, if needed, medical supplies such as syringes.​
  • Contact lens solution, glasses and/or hearing aids and extra batteries for people who need them.​
  • An identification band with your full name, a list of any allergies and a family-member contact number.​
  • Information about your medical devices, including oxygen, walkers and wheelchairs. The information should include model numbers and the vendor of the products.​
  • Documents in a waterproof bag. They should include a personal care plan; contact information for family members; a medication list including the dosage, exact name, pharmacy information and the prescribing doctor for each medication; a list of food or medical allergies; copies of photo IDs and medical insurance cards; and durable power of attorney and/or medical power of attorney documents.​
  • Cash to be used if automatic teller and credit card machines are not working.

The CDC also recommends people include additional supplies to address the spread of the coronavirus, flu and other viruses. They include masks for everyone age 2 and older, soap, hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes. 

The Department of Homeland Security’s site offers a number of emergency resources, including a list of items that should be in a basic emergency kit. Among those suggested:

  • ​1 gallon of water per day per person for at least three days.
  • ​At least a three-day supply of nonperishable food.​
  • A battery-powered or hand-crank radio, along with a NOAA weather radio that sends an automatic tone in case of an emergency alert.​
  • A flashlight and extra batteries.​
  • A cellphone with chargers and a backup battery.​
  • A whistle to signal for help.

AARP’s Create the Good program offers a do-it-yourself project to help prepare for hurricanes. The guide for individuals is here.​​

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect new information.

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