Severe weather patterns seem to become increasingly more forceful and dangerous with each passing year. From wildfires in the West to hurricanes across much of the South to tornadoes in the Midwest, very few parts of the country have been spared from these natural disasters.
What are the best ways for seniors to stay safe during severe weather occurrences? We’ve rounded up some helpful tips from Right at Home caregivers who have lived through a disaster to help you remain calm and prepared should a weather emergency occur in your area.
Before a Hurricane: Pick Up Extra Essentials
When the forecast calls for a hurricane, make sure to stock up on necessities, like food, water, batteries and toilet paper, before the storm hits.
Charlotte Wimmer, a Right at Home caregiver in the Galveston, Texas, office, wanted to be prepared as Hurricane Harvey made its way to the greater Houston area.
“I decided to make a run to the grocery store and bought extra food and bottled water,” said Charlotte. “I also packed a bag of extra clothes and brought everything to work with me on Friday because I didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Experts from the National Hurricane Survival Initiative suggest running out to do your shopping early before the rush to avoid the panic and bare shelves. Some must-haves on their shopping list include a three-day supply of the following:
- Bottled water
- Nonperishable, ready-to-eat canned fruits and vegetables
- High-energy foods, such as protein bars
- First aid kit
- Extra prescription medication
- Flashlights (one per person)
- Replacement batteries for each flashlight
Of course, there are other items you may want to add to this list, such as favorite comfort foods. Keep in mind, however, that if you lose power for an extended period of time, you won’t have access to refrigeration or a microwave, so be sure to stock up on mostly nonperishable items.
During Wildfires: Keep a Bag Packed for a Quick Exit
Diane, a caregiver with Right at Home Sonoma County, was caring for a couple with dementia on their winery when wildfires started raging in October 2017. She was staying overnight in the main house on the property when she was awoken by her phone’s text message alerts. The texts were from an employee on the property who smelled smoke. When Diane opened the window to see what was going on, she also smelled smoke and sprang into action to help protect her clients from the fires. She immediately started to help all of them evacuate the home.
“I wasn’t really concerned about anything except keeping my clients comfortable and safe,” said Diane. “We ended up at a neighbor’s house and watched everything burn from the picture window in their living room. It was absolutely surreal—all of us sitting in the dark watching the red sky. It didn’t feel safe.”
Although Diane figured it out, she didn’t really have a plan in place for what to do if the fires caused them to be displaced. Experts with the Department of Homeland Security’s Disasters and Emergencies recommend becoming familiar with your community’s evacuation plans and having several different routes to leave the area should wildfires strike close to home. Additionally, they recommend:
- Keeping emergency supplies, including N95 respirator masks to help you breathe, in a place that is easy to access.
- Placing all important documents in a fireproof place and considering having digital copies made, just in case.
- Creating a plan for any pets or livestock on the property.
- Evacuating as soon as you receive orders to do so. If you are trapped at your location, call 911 and turn your lights on to help rescuers find you.
In order to quickly leave if you have to evacuate, it’s a good idea to have a to-go bag that is prepacked with items you would need should you be unable to return home. This will save you precious minutes—and possibly even your life—should you need to act fast to avoid the flames.
Tornado Warning: Think Fast and Stay Away From Windows
During Hurricane Harvey, parts of Texas were also hit with tornadoes, adding to the chaos and stress of the entire situation. Gloria Blakes and Vickie Doyle, caregivers with a Right at Home in the Houston area, were trapped at a senior care facility with their client during the hurricane, then experienced not one, but two tornado warnings over the course of 72 hours.
“Each time, the staff had to get everyone out into the hallway safely and away from windows, without really explaining what was happening because they didn’t want to scare anyone,” said Gloria. “I’m not going to lie—there were times when I wasn’t sure if we would make it out of the situation.”
The group survived the ordeal, and the seniors who Gloria and Vickie cared for were kept safe and calm throughout. Since tornadoes can come and go pretty quickly, the National Weather Service recommends following the local weather in your neighborhood to stay up to date about any tornado watches and warnings. If you live in an area that is prone to tornadoes, you can do the following to prepare for potential disasters:
- Create a communication plan with your family to agree upon what to do should a tornado hit your area. This could include determining an emergency meeting place, or knowing which shelter is closest to your home should you need it.
- Pick a room in your home that is the safest, such as a basement, storm cellar or interior room on the lowest floor without windows.
- Know what tornadoes look like so you can make a sound decision even if you miss the warning. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, they typically have “a rotating funnel-shaped cloud, an approaching cloud of debris, or a loud roar—similar to a freight train.”
If you are indoors when the tornado warning is issued, stay away from windows and doors (like Gloria and Vickie did in Texas) to avoid potential injuries from broken windows and debris flying through your home. If you are outside or in a vehicle when the tornado warning is issued, get yourself to the nearest shelter as soon as possible.