Seniors and Caregivers: Establish an Emergency Action Plan

Disaster preparedness supply kit that includes first aid kit, water, flashlight, and important documents.

For seniors and their caregivers, having a plan in place should an emergency strike can provide some peace of mind in a turbulent world. A crisis, such as illness, trauma, natural disaster, or any other unexpected adverse event, may one day require you to act quickly and decisively.

Thinking and adapting can be particularly difficult when you are facing a high-stress situation. This is why disaster experts emphasize the importance of planning and practicing for various types of emergencies.

For example, you might decide to run a fire drill in your own home. If your loved one lives in a residential facility, you want to ensure that the facility has suitable procedures in place. In an emergency, their staff members need to be able to provide adequate care for your loved one.

If you do not have a disaster plan, it's time to start creating one. If you have one, update it yearly and anytime there is a major change in your or your loved one's health care needs.

Sharing Information on Caregiving

Hopefully, you would be able to continue to care for your loved one during and after a crisis. You should still ensure that other trusted individuals know how to care for your loved one, in case you are not with them. The more these helpers know about how to tend to your loved one's needs in emergency situations, the better.

Start with writing a document to share with alternate caregivers. Involve the person who needs care as much as possible in this process. That way, you are making your loved one aware and allowing them to contribute. At the same time, it is also a great way to prompt conversations about what they might like to change in their current situation.

The document should list your loved one's current needs, impairments, medications, and allergies. Describe what a typical day looks like for them, what provides comfort, and what foods they enjoy or avoid. Include crucial identifying information such as a current photo, date of birth, and Social Security number.

A short biography informing providers of your loved one's interests, personality, and background can go a long way, especially if you are often their advocate or need to speak for them. Share this information with other family members, a family lawyer, their care facility, and anyone else who might help during a crisis.

If you do not live with or near the person for whom you are creating the plan, think about who can help care for them until family arrives. Check which organizations or neighbors may supply necessities and check in on your loved one daily.

In the Event of an Emergency

Be sure to keep any relevant medical information as well as your trusted contacts in an accessible place. Emergency responders, for example, you may look for your In Case of Emergency (ICE) contacts in your smartphone. Medical ID bracelets are essential for first responders as well.

In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers a Care Plan that you or your caregiver can print and fill out. In it, you can include detailed information on your medical care and emergency contacts. The CDC suggests storing the completed form in a waterproof bag with your insurance cards and photo ID.

Consider creating a safety profile with Smart911 if it is available in your area. This free service will provide 911 dispatchers with details about your health needs or disability. In an emergency, this information could aid them in locating or assisting you. You can create profile for loved ones as well.

Compile a disaster supplies kit; this may include your medications and any necessary medical supplies for your specific condition. Other items, like N95 masks, matches, and towels can prove useful in an emergency. Visit and the American Red Cross website for lists of recommended items and guides on preparedness.

Planning for Evacuation

Think ahead about how you would evacuate quickly and safely. Consider where you would go, how you would get there, and what you would need to bring.

Does your chosen relocation site have adequate food, water, toiletries, and medication available? In times of emergency, keep in mind that you can check with the pharmacy before leaving, as many will provide early refills. Some major retailers also offer prescription delivery.

Your plans should address specific seasons. For example, it may make sense to have summer plans that differ from winter ones, depending on where you live.

Often, you or the senior needing care has medical needs requiring equipment, medicine, and attention. If they are not mobile, think about how you would relocate them in an emergency. Consider organizing some medical supplies in a bag or box to grab for a quick exit.

Emergency relocation requires addressing the need to move all assistive medical devices and durable medical equipment. Remember batteries and chargers for all necessary devices.

Try to avoid the need to evacuate quickly. A proactive early departure will help you stay calm and think more clearly. It may also help prevent potential difficulties like gas shortages and traffic jams.

A Crisis Plan for Senior Citizens in a Residential Facility

Your plan for a senior living in a facility will look different than it would for one living in their home. Below are some recommendations to ensure aging loved ones in a facility will stay safe in a disaster:

  • Review the facility's backup generator, evacuation routes, and other basic precautions.
  • Make sure the facility has your primary and alternative contact information.
  • Request updates from health administration staff regarding changes in your loved one’s emotional or physical state.
  • Ask for medical records that document all care they are managing.
  • Communicate frequently with your loved one in any way possible to ensure they are as safe as possible.
  • Take detailed notes because it is easy to overlook or forget important details during times of high stress.
  • Share as much information as possible with your loved one to reassure them that their health and safety are a priority.

Start Small – and Soon

It may feel overwhelming to consider all the steps involved in crisis planning and put it off until another day. Unfortunately, you never know when disaster might occur, so there's no time to lose.

To start, jot down the most critical information and share it with your loved ones. You can always update your plan with more details later. These steps can provide organization, protection, and comfort in times of great uncertainty.