Flirting with disaster

By Dr. Jamie Huysman

Recent events across our great country have proven once again that lack of planning and not being prepared can have terrible consequences. A pre-arranged plan of action for fires, floods, and other natural disasters can go along way to keeping you and those you love out of harm’s way until help arrives.

Natural disasters and other unforeseen events add yet another layer to the role of caregiving. Preparing is part of caring.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that older adults prepare for those events that are likely to occur where they live.

For example, seniors living in Florida need to know how to prepare for a hurricane, while older adults in the Midwest should stock up for blizzards and floods. In California, people should prepare for earthquakes and wildfires while those living near a chemical or nuclear plant or along a highway where hazardous materials are frequently transported need to prepare for disasters in these settings. New York City advises its residents to keep plastic sheeting and duct tape to seal out toxins from a chemical attack.

The emphasis on personal responsibility is not intended to replace the role of rescuers and government agencies to help during and after a disaster. However, in the initial stages of a disaster, especially a powerful hurricane or other wide-scale event, people are typically on their own, at least for a while. It takes time for emergency responders to organize and reach the scene of a disaster even under the best circumstances. Elders should assume that they might not be able to reach their doctors or pharmacies, receive home-delivered meals, or obtain their usual home health services during the initial days of a severe disaster.

Those who care for loved ones with memory disorders can find excellent information at

People with pets should arrange to take them along during an evacuation or leave them in a safe place. Most shelters do not allow pets due to health, safety, and noise concerns. FEMA recommends that pet owners contact a local animal shelter or talk to a veterinarian to learn about emergency options for pets.

If you have a loved one in assisted living, ask what emergency measures they have in place. Talk to your local Area on Aging about conducting disaster preparedness events. Let the fire department know if you are not able to evacuate, but need to shelter in place, particularly if cumbersome, but necessary medical equipment is in use.

Some disasters give some window of warning while others do not. Knowing what to do before the onset of an emergency situation will ease any sense of panic that naturally comes with these events. The overwhelming nature of circumstances beyond our control is best managed with a cool head and calm manner. Yes, easier said than done. Panic can be contagious. You can prepare for power outages and supply shortages.

Doing what you can do does help. As a caregiver, you are the first responder before the first responders. You can prevent a disaster from becoming a catastrophe. That’s taking your oxygen first!

For more information consider:

Dr. Jamie co-authored the acclaimed Take Your Oxygen First: Protecting Your Health & Happiness While Caring for a Loved One with Memory Loss and was featured in The 100 Mile Walk: A Father and Son on a Quest to Find the Essence of Leadership, Voices of Caregiving and Voices of Alcoholism. Dr. Huysman writes for Caregiver SOS, Florida MD and Today’s Caregiver magazines and blogs on