September is National Preparedness Month, sponsored by the U.S. government’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
Three years after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report on the members of the population that perished. The public health world learned 49 percent of the victims who died during the storm were at least 75 years old.
Since that time, a collaborative effort for aiding older adults on the importance of preparedness has escalated.
This year’s Georgia’s tornado outbreak of January 21-23 brought preparedness to the forefront once again. It arrived with one of the largest tornadoes on record — and not just for the month of January. The EF3 tornado stayed on the ground for an hour and 12 minutes, tearing a nearly 71-mile path through parts of five Georgia counties, according to the National Weather Service. Albany and the surrounding area were especially hard hit.
Retired nurse and medical writer Beth Stover is still grateful that her aunt survived. “You never think it will happen to you or anyone in your family,” she said.
“My 89-year old Aunt Annie, who is bedridden, is enrolled in and followed by hospice home care. She happened to be among those whose homes and yards sustained serious damage,” said Stover.
As the tornado approached, unable to move her to a windowless room, her home caretaker took emergency steps and used her own body to cover and protect Stover’s aunt.
Following the tornado’s touchdown, family members took action to reach them by using chain saws and assisting first responders. Hours later, when they reached the home, they transported Aunt Annie to Albany’s Phoebe Putney Hospital for examination.
Since hospice had followed Stover’s aunt (with hospice home care), it qualified her for acceptance at a hospice facility. Willson Hospice House in Albany opened its doors, provided a room for her aunt and caretaker and welcomed both until they could safely return to Aunt Annie’s home.
“My aunt’s experience during this natural disaster emphasizes the difficulties some seniors face in these situations, and how it takes family, friends, emergency responders, volunteers and a caring community to help out,” Stover said. “Many people don’t realize that temporary housing for home hospice patients is available in emergencies.”
Aspects of the aging process can contribute to older adults’ vulnerability during a natural disaster, according to CDC’s Healthy Aging Program and media consultant Bill Benson. This is especially true if one or more chronic illnesses, functional limitations or dementia are involved, Benson explains to public health workers in a course he teaches.
Dr. Cheryl A. Levine, a senior policy analyst with HHS’ Assistant Secretary for the Office of Preparedness and Response offers medication suggestions in her blog about disaster training. “Many older people are more likely to have multiple chronic conditions and to rely on daily prescription medications,” says Levine. “Know how your medications work.”
Planning ahead can help alleviate a crisis. For one thing, have an emergency kit ready in case you’ll need to evacuate or shelter in place.
Ready Georgia, a statewide campaign supported by the Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security (GEMA/HS), focuses on motivating people to actively prepare for disasters. Its website, ready.ga.gov, provides a list of recommended items for seniors and other adults to keep in their kits. Most items are readily available in the home, but it’s a good idea to print the list and shop for the other necessities.
Find out if your medications can cause mental confusion or a greater susceptibility to problems such as dehydration, Levine suggests. “Older adults should keep a three-day supply of medications on hand,” she said.
Julia Regeski, Communications Strategist with GEMA/HS, advises to plan for unique needs. For example, work with medical providers to learn their emergency protocols, sign up for electronic Social Security delivery (direct deposit) and make sure that emergency kits include items such as extra eyeglasses, hearing aids, wheelchair batteries, oxygen and medication.
Most importantly, don’t forget that decades of knowledge and experience can also help contribute to an individual’s resiliency at coping with adversity, says Levine.
“Many older people have great coping skills, and they might also be able to provide practical and emotional support to the people in their communities,” said Levine. “Look to seniors who may easily be your best support in a disaster — they’re not necessarily a liability. Many are ready and able to help.”
Tornadoes can touch all regions in the U.S. In fact, of the top 20 States in tornado frequency, five are in the Southeast, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security (GEMA/HS, gema.ga.gov) keeps residents informed about tornadoes as well as other disasters — drought, earthquakes, explosions, extreme heat, floods and flash floods, house fires, hurricanes, terrorism, thunderstorms and lightning, wildfires, winter advisories and ice storms.
Go to the Ready Georgia site — ready.ga.gov — to find out the best way to stay safe.
- Be Informed: Download the Ready Georgia App to receive important alerts. You’ll learn other ways to stay informed, too, like through the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Weather Radio.
- Make a Plan: Download the Family Emergency Plan and fill it out.
- Build a Kit: Review the list of recommended kit items and include them in your emergency kit.
- Get Involved: There are emergency management contacts and volunteer opportunities listed.
Emergency Preparedness for Pets
Pets can add another level of concern in an emergency. According to FEMA, the likelihood that you and your animals will survive an emergency such as a fire or flood, tornado or even a terrorist attack depends largely on planning.
Whether staying put in an emergency or evacuating to a safer location, you’ll need to make plans in advance for household animals. Keep in mind that what’s best for you is typically what’s best for them. However, if you’re going to a public shelter, it’s important to understand that animals may not be allowed inside.
Regeski reminds all Georgians to plan today for emergency pet care. “Make sure your pet has a microchip and develop a pet kit with items like food, water, medicine, an ID tag and important documents,” said Regeski.