4 Steps to Disaster Safety for Seniors in Emergencies

From having an advance plan to preparing for the limitations of a shelter, these steps to ensuring disaster safety for seniors can save lives.


Whether you live in a state more prone to tornadoes, hurricanes, floods or wildfires, disaster preparedness is a must. But certain groups of people, like senior citizens, are more vulnerable to the effects of devastation. Disaster safety for seniors must consider limited mobility, lack of options and increased needs, all which requires additional planning and solutions.

With good planning, disaster safety for seniors can be assured ahead of time. Utilizing resources and staying on top of situations as they change, senior citizens can safely weather any obstacle Mother Nature creates.

#1 Before a Threat Evolves, Tap into Warning Systems

The majority of the people killed during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 were senior citizens, despite only making up 15 percent of the population of New Orleans. Thanks to evolved technology, there are thousands of ways to stay connected to emergency management announcements, both locally and nationally.

  • Invest in a smart phone. Applications can be set up that send alerts directly to your phone in the event of an emergency. They can provide directions to the nearest shelter, display phone numbers to emergency help lines and provide answers to questions many seniors have about evacuation orders.
  • Have a battery-operated weather radio on hand. When a storm interferes with a television service, a weather radio will allow you to hear the latest emergency messages during a disaster. Make sure to purchase a weather radio that operates on batteries, as disaster situations often knock out electricity in many areas.

#2 Don’t Wait, Evacuate As Soon As Possible

With the addition of medical needs many senior citizens have, evacuation plans need to be executed well in advance of other population groups.

  • Take your disability needs into account. Seniors who have large assistive devices, such as wheelchairs, walkers, oxygen tanks or other medical equipment should arrange to get to a shelter or safe place as soon as an evacuation order for their area is received. For seniors who have immediate medical needs that cannot be postponed, such as chemotherapy or dialysis, you should have an emergency plan in place of the nearest medical center that is out of danger you can transfer to in case of a disaster.
  • Contact local authorities and make them aware of your needs. Health departments, hospitals and medical centers in your area should have information on how to transfer to a safe area without disrupting care. Having a back-up plan for medical procedures, as well as a way to get there, is part of safety solutions seniors should seek during a disaster.

#3 Find Special Needs Resources in the Area

Not paying attention to alarms, warnings and evacuations is negligent, and falls under personal responsibility. Even senior citizens who have limited mobility can be proactive when it comes to heeding emergency guidelines. But, for a large swath of the senior citizen community with special needs, such as Alzheimer patients and those suffering mental handicaps, their care givers should be aware of the resources offered.

  • Locate a special needs shelter. Senior citizens who need exceptional care during a disaster should seek out dedicated special needs shelters. Though they often fill up fast, these special needs shelters screen each applicant thoroughly to make sure the applicant needs their services, as well as verify they can accommodate them.

#4 Be Prepared to Leave Everything

Senior citizens are especially prone to homesteading during a disaster because of their attachment to their belongings and a house they may have lived in for a number of years, full of memories with their family and loved ones. Unfortunately, emergency situations don’t discriminate, and safety solutions should be implemented.

  • Photos can be replaced; lives can’t. Before a disaster, work or have someone help to digitize all important photos and documents. Store valuable items in water proof or flame retardant storage containers. During evacuation orders, do not attempt to take bulky items with you, as you will only slow down safety operations.

The unique needs and mobility challenges of the senior citizen population make emergency situations difficult for the elderly, their families and first responders. But by incorporating these four steps to disaster safety for seniors, they can get through natural disaster.

Rachel Engel is an award-winning journalist and the senior editor of FireRescue1.com and EMS1.com. In addition to her regular editing duties, Engel seeks to tell the heroic, human stories of first responders and the importance of their work. She earned her bachelor’s degree in communications from Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma, and began her career as a freelance writer, focusing on government and military issues. Engel joined Lexipol in 2015 and has since reported on issues related to public safety. Engel lives in Wichita, Kansas. She can be reached via email.