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Preparing for disaster

Before a natural disaster: Planning and preparing tips for older adults

Minnell L. Tralle, Extension Educator — Family Resiliency

March 2010; reviewed March 2016 by Lori A. Hendrickson, Extension Educator — Family Resiliency.

Older adults may have faced planning and preparing for a natural disaster such as a flood earlier in their lives. They can certainly call upon their resilience, experience, and wisdom to help them through yet another flood. However, the aging process can make many older adults particularly vulnerable during a disaster, especially if they have one or more chronic illnesses, functional limitations, or dementia. Family members may need to be involved in helping their older family members to develop a plan and have the necessary items on hand should a disaster strike.

Medical Needs

In addition to a basic disaster emergency kit, there are additional preparation concerns for older adults. They need to make sure the kit includes items specific to their medical needs, such as medications, medical devices, oxygen, batteries for hearing aids, and lists of medications, doctors, and pharmacies complete with phone numbers. The kit should also contain any special instructions for care or comfort should the older person not be able to provide that information themselves. It’s also advisable to wear medical alert tags to assist emergency personnel. This information should also be shared with a family member or another trusted person.

Health issues such as dialysis or other life sustaining treatment require special attention. Older adults or family members will need to identify alternative facilities should such treatments be needed. Some communities may have special needs shelters for those who need medical assistance and have no other place to go. They may require advance registration. Identify these and have information on how to contact them readily available.

If an older family member is in a care facility in the disaster area, ask the facility about their disaster plans.

Communication Planning

All families should make a communication plan.

Evacuation Planning

Create a plan to evacuate. Where will older adults go and how will they get there? Learning the locations of emergency shelters and directions is important. It may be hard for older adults to leave their homes and their possessions and go to a strange place. Ignoring an evacuation order may be dangerous. It may be better to evacuate while there is still time to accommodate mobility issues and getting needed equipment with the person. Otherwise, you may face an emergency evacuation that could be traumatic and chaotic.

If there are pets in the home, alternate shelter may need to be arranged. Shelters do not normally take in pets unless they are service animals. If a service animal is in use, be sure to include food for the animal as part of an evacuation bag.

Stress Management

With a disaster such as a flood, there is typically advance warning and days to prepare. There is also plenty of time to worry. Try these strategies to minimize stress:

Older adults may also want to provide assistance to others and finding ways for them to contribute to the efforts may ease some of the stress and helpless feelings.

Experiencing a natural disaster can be a traumatic event. Making plans and preparing for the worst can help to alleviate some of the stress involved and insure the health and safety of the older adult involved.


American Red Cross. (2016). Be Red Cross Ready: Seniors.

Benson, W. F. (n.d.) Disaster planning tips for older adults and their families. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Healthy Aging Program.

Federal Emergency Management Agency. (2013, March 26). Elderly Need Special Plans to Be Ready for A Disaster [Press Release].

Wilken, C. S. (2005). Preparing for a disaster: Strategies for older adults. Publication #FCS9215. Gainesville, FL: University of Florida, IFAS Extension.

Wilken, C. S. (2005). Disaster planning tips for caregivers of the elderly and people with disabilities. Publication #FCS9216. Gainesville, FL: University of Florida, IFAS Extension.

Related resources

After a Natural Disaster: Tips for Older Adults Living Alone — Tips for older adults to reduce stress and regain control.

Red File: Your Grab & Go Case for Emergency Situations — Helps you put together a "grab and go" case of important information in case of emergencies.

Extreme Weather — Extension resources for floods, wind damage, winter impacts, and more.

Dealing with stress — Online courses and resources for understanding and coping with stress.

Prepare your Home and FamilyAmerican Red Cross — Guides families through the three steps (get a kit, make a plan, and be informed) needed to be ready for disasters and other emergencies.

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