Thursday, May 15, 2008

Seniors should plan ahead to have needs met in emergencies

From Pam McGaffin on behalf of the Healthy Aging Partnership:

Seniors should plan ahead to have needs met in emergencies

By Pam McGaffin

If you’re a longtime local, you may remember the Columbus Day Storm of 1962, otherwise known as “The Big Blow,” or recall what you were doing when that 6.5-magnitude earthquake rocked Puget Sound in 1965.

How about the December 2007 floods?

Fact is you don’t have to be an old-timer to know the kind of emergencies we face around here. If you’ve weathered just one Northwest winter, chances are you’ve experienced a power outage, flooding, or worse. Then there are those personal disasters – like fires and falls – that can happen anytime of the year.

Older adults can be particularly vulnerable when disaster strikes because of health and medical needs, limited mobility and reliance on services that may be stretched thin in major emergencies.

That’s why the Healthy Aging Partnership – a coalition of more than 35 Puget Sound-area agencies and organizations – urges seniors and caregivers to make emergency preparedness a priority – even if they hope they’ll never need it.

“Working with others makes emergency preparedness easier,” says Carol Dunn, manager of the community disaster education program for the American Red Cross serving King and Kitsap counties. “I encourage everyone to discuss their individual needs with those around them; and to work with family, neighbors or individual caregivers.”

If planning for every possible emergency still seems too overwhelming, try this simple, three-step approach advocated by the U.S. Administration on Aging in its Aging In Stride guide ( and click on “Just In Case”):

1. Know the basics: Learn the risks facing your community, your emergency phone numbers and where to tune in for Emergency Alert information (In King County, listen to 710-AM KIRO or watch KIRO 7 TV). Get to know your neighbors and make a plan for connecting with loved ones (including two designated meeting places and an out-of-the-area contact if local phone service is down). Finally, know where your gas, electricity and water shut-off valves are and how to use them.

2. Have emergency supplies ready: You will need two sets of supplies, one for home and one to take with you in case you need to evacuate. Your home supplies should include those things you would need to survive in your home until help can arrive, including:

· Water (one gallon per person per day), non-perishable food to last three to six days and a hand-operated can opener;

· Flashlight, light sticks (a safe alternative to candles) and spare batteries;

· A three- to six-day supply of prescription medications, an updated list of your medications, and a first-aid kit;

· Portable radio;

· Cell phone and an emergency contact list of names and phone numbers;

· Some cash or travelers’ checks

Your pre-packed evacuation backpack or travel bag should include:

· Basic personal hygiene items, including toilet paper, alcohol wipes and hand sanitizer;

· An extra pair of prescription glasses;

· Change of clothing, compact rain slicker and walking shoes;

· Blanket or sleeping bag;

· One or two bottles of water, breakfast bars and hard candy;

· Disposable dust masks;

· A copy of your emergency contacts and a current list of medications;

· Room to pack many of the “home” items, including prescription medications.

You can also purchase basic disaster kits, but make sure to include at least a three-day supply of any extra essentials you will need, and update it every six months.

3. Make a personal plan: If you have special needs, plan ahead for meeting those in the event of an emergency. If you have limited mobility or are disabled, you can register with your local fire department or office of emergency services for special help. Employ the buddy system to make sure there is someone to check in on you, and teach that person how to operate any necessary equipment. You can also work through a checklist with a family member or friend that addresses your needs, including mobility equipment for emergency use; back-up power if you depend on home dialysis or infusion equipment; and asking home health care providers or retirement-community staff about emergency planning and procedures.

· Fire: As a population group, seniors are more likely to die in a fire, in part, because they often live alone and may not be able to act quickly enough. To reduce your risk:

· Cook carefully: If you have to leave the kitchen while cooking, take a potholder or utensil to remind you to return to the stove. If something in a pan catches fire, put a lid on it. Never throw water on a grease fire.

· Space heaters: Buy only Underwriter's Laboratory (UL) listed heaters. Place them at least three feet away from combustibles, including wallpaper and bedding, and never leave them on while you’re sleeping or out of the room.

· Smoking: Don’t smoke in bed or leave cigarettes unattended. Use "safety ashtrays" with wide lips and empty them into a toilet or metal container every night before bedtime.

· Smoke alarms: Working smoke alarms in your home will dramatically increase your chances of surviving a fire. Change the batteries when you switch your clocks to Daylight Savings Time.

As older adults prepare for emergencies, they also should take the time to make sure their homes are safe, advises Dunn of the Red Cross. That means removing loose rugs, cords or other items that can cause falls; moving or securing objects that could fall down in an earthquake; and having a clear, unobstructed path to an exit in the event of a fire.

For more information on emergency preparedness, visit the Web site for the American Red Cross serving King and Kitsap counties at

For information on fall and fire prevention and other issues related to healthy aging, call 1-888-4ELDERS (1-888-435-3377) or visit the Healthy Aging Partnership Web site at HAP is a coalition of more than 35 not-for-profit, government and community organizations in King and Pierce counties dedicated to serving older adults and their caregivers in the Puget Sound region.

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Pam McGaffin of Moore Ink. PR, writes articles about important health, family and community issues for non-profit organizations.

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