Plan Ahead to Survive Emergencies

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) indicates that how well you survive
or if you survive an emergency is based upon if you prepare ahead of time.  It seems to me snow-0019then that it only makes sense to prepare ahead of time.  It’s not being pessimistic, it’s just being practical.

In the Washington DC area, the past few years have brought big storms in February; which is unfortunate for me because by February I’m looking past winter and on to spring!  But it’s important to buckle down and prepare ahead for winter and emergencies.

The first step is to evaluate your needs and then make a plan.  Older adults should already have a list of their emergency contacts, doctors, diagnoses and medications in an easy to access place.  Most counties have “File of Life” forms that can be kept on the refrigerator, in the car and in your purse or wallet.  Also, make sure your Power of Attorneys for both health care and finances have this information.

Prepare an emergency kit that includes adequate supplies of water, non-perishable food, and medications.  Supply yourself with spare batteries for equipment you may need from flashlights to hearing aids to scooters, etc.  Here is a complete list suggested for an evacuation or staying put for two weeks during an emergency:

Older adults are not able to keep up with changes in temperature as quickly as adults and children because they do not make as much body heat.  For this reason they are often the victims of hypothermia.   (Interestingly enough so are those adults drinking alcohol!  Keep in mind, alcohol makes you feel as though you are warm, but as we were reminded at a recent Seabury CEU event by Dr. Simmons. You’re not as warm as you feel while under the influence!) Keep an eye on the temperature in the home and for those that live near an older adult, check in on them and make sure that they are okay.  The Centers for Disease Control reminds us that space heaters and fireplaces may increase the risk of carbon monoxide.  It’s also not a good idea to heat your home by leaving the oven on and opening the door!  Make sure you have a carbon monoxide monitor for your home.  Replace the batteries annually and remember that these monitors usually need to be replaced every 7 years.

It may be that during these winter months the best option is to head for another place to stay.  We have often found that hotel rooms fill up quickly.  Be willing to make the decision to move early and don’t be afraid to cross the river!  You may find a cheaper (or available) hotel just over the Potomac in Virginia.  It may be easier and more comfortable to plan ahead of time to stay with a family member or friend when bad weather is predicted; especially if your home loses power frequently and for long periods.  View it as a good old fashioned way to spend time with family and friends.  During the latest hurricane back in the late summer, my husband and I ended up having a good time playing games with each other and neighbors in the lobby of our condo building.  The lobby was the only place with bright enough emergency lighting.  It turned out to be a great time to catch up with neighbors and not be distracted by the electronics in our life!

As someone who works with older adults, I am well aware of the confusion and anxiety that older adults might feel if things change suddenly.  This is particularly true for people with dementia or memory issues.  For this reason, it is all the more important to plan ahead and as a caregiver, it’s also important to be patient.

Christine Bitzer, LICSW, is the Assistant Director of Seabury Resources for Aging’s Care Management service.   Care managers work with older adults on an individual basis to advise them on a variety of issues and services; such as home care, transportation, medical/legal assistance and housing. Families are put at ease having a knowledgeable guide to provide recommendations and resources to meet their unique needs. This expertise can save families money and reduce stress and time away from work. Christine can be reached at (202) 364-0020 or email her at



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