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Helping Seniors Be Prepared for Natural Disasters

Last month a hurricane rocked the Deep South states, disastrous flooding surprised a portion of Tennessee, and wildfires continued their destructive sweep of our western states. Natural disasters are becoming more frequent and while we all hope we never get caught in one, it is important to have a plan, just in case. Let’s look at some ways that we, especially seniors, can stay prepared for different natural disasters.

Hurricanes are the most common natural disasters in our corner of the country (the Southeast). Almost everyone here knows how to prepare for a hurricane (no, not by buying milk and eggs) and hunker down to remain safe. If you have never experienced a hurricane, here are some tips for safety and survival:

1. Stock up on flashlights and batteries for the flashlights. You want to make sure that your home has enough flashlights for each room as well as a flashlight for each person to carry with them when moving from room to room. The lantern type flashlights are the most useful for lighting rooms and smaller flashlights or even headlamps are the most useful for moving from room to room. Having enough lighting is very important, in the homes of seniors especially, because it will help avoid unnecessary falls, bumps, and bruises. Make sure that you have the right size of battery for each flashlight and buy enough batteries to last for a few days.

2. Stock up on shelf stable foods. Purchase foods like canned soup, peanut butter crackers, dried fruits, canned pasta, canned tuna, canned chicken, etc. While they may not be the most delicious food available in normal circumstances, they can save your life if you end up stuck at home for a while with no electricity. Make sure to have a manual (non-electric) can opener or purchase the cans with the easy open lids so that they can be opened easily. Having these foods on hand will help make sure that adequate nutrition is maintained in case of an emergency and shelf stable foods can last for years.

3. Make sure to have all communication devices fully charged. Hurricanes are gentle natural disasters in regards to giving warning. They do not just pop up and destroy, they give us a heads up and time to prepare. When you know that a hurricane is close by, make sure to charge your phones, computers, tablets, etc. , any device that may be useful for communication in case of an emergency or if you are wanting to check in with family. It is wise to purchase an emergency USB charger as well. A battery powered radio is also a good idea, though most news can be obtained via cell phone nowadays.

4. Have fresh water on hand. It is important to have fresh water to drink and use for basic daily activities on hand. Some people will fill up their clothes washer with water prior to a hurricane so that they have that water to use for basic daily living activities, other people freeze water in bags in their freezers. Other people just buy the gallons of water and water bottles. However you choose to do it, make sure to have freshwater on hand.

5. Stock up on medications. Make sure that if you or a loved one has a medical condition that needs or may need medication (like asthma) they have a 90 day supply on hand in case of emergency. Make sure that the medication is not expired and has been stored properly. Also, make sure that the medication, as well as any other first aid needs can be easily found in the event of a power outage.

6. Have a plan. It is important that everyone in the home knows the plans in the event that for some reason you all get separated. Know where you will meet up and how to get there by foot, by bus, by car, etc. Know what you will do in the event of damage to your home (make sure your homeowner/renter’s insurance is up to date). Pick a “safe room” in your home to wait out the storm in. A “safe room” is a home with minimal risk of tree damage or flooding, preferably with few or small windows and a bathroom attached. Move yourself, your family, your important documents, and your emergency stores into that room and wait for the storm to pass. It’s a good idea to have a TV in there as well.


Earthquakes are not that common in the south, at least not disastrous ones. If you happen to live in a state that is on the West coast, they are a more common occurrence. Survival in an earthquake is mostly about staying safe. You need to remain calm and know where the safe spots are in your home or building. Know your evacuation route and your family’s meeting spots. Layout a plan and practice it regularly. Have emergency stores in case you get stuck in your house or building.


Wildfires are also things that are typically announced ahead of time. In the event that a wildfire is encroaching on your area, gather your things and leave. Do NOT try to wait it out. Evacuate as soon as the threat is announced. In preparation, it is a good idea to have all of your important documents and things in one spot, possibly a folder or suitcase or storage box, and have some extra money set aside for immediate evacuation expenses. You need to know your evacuation route and meeting space for this type of disaster as well. It is important that if you have pets you confine them to one room so that if you need to evacuate you know where they are. Obey all evacuation orders.

As in any fire, if the fires are near your home or have reached your home, you do not want to: open hot doors, use the elevator, break windows, go into dangerous areas looking for belongings or pets. If you have time to prepare, the American Red Cross recommends putting all combustible furniture in the center of your home away from windows; placing any waterproof items or items not likely to be damaged by water in a bathtub full of water or a pool; and opening the fireplace dampers and closing the fireplace screens.

Do not return home until it is safe to do so.


Tornadoes can happen anywhere. They are scary, they are dangerous, and sometimes they are even deadly. Preparing for any type of severe weather is important to do before the fact. You do not want to be caught unprepared.

Preparation includes:
Putting together an emergency kit that includes enough non-perishable food, water, and medicine for 72 hours as well as flashlights and batteries.
Keep important documents with you or nearby.
Know where your safe room is. Ideally this will be a basement or storm cellar. If you do not have one of these, take shelter in an interior, windowless room on the lowest level of your home.
Mobile homes are not adequate shelters in a tornado, find a safe shelter.
Do not go outside until it is safe.


Prepare for snowstorms pretty much the same way you would for a hurricane. The biggest difference is that you want to have as many clean clothes and blankets as possible so that you can stay warm. If you find yourself in a situation where temperatures are freezing and the power is out, do not run a generator inside the house and do not sleep in your car in a garage. Both of these can cause death by exposure to carbon monoxide. Stay warm and dry. Avoid going out in a snowstorm. Keep each other warm, sleep in the same room or even in the same bed. Eat and drink regularly. It is a good idea to invest in a camping stove or grill (for outdoor use) and to keep plenty of firewood on hand, covered, protected from moisture.

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