By Kathy Black, Ph.D.
Although it’s hard to imagine having to leave the comfort of our homes for any reason, having an evacuation plan in the face of a pending disaster helps ensure our best bet to faring well throughout the experience.
Being prepared is important for all people and particularly important for those of us – and our family, friends and neighbors – of varied abilities and needs. For example, we know from past experience that people with reduced vision and hearing, decreased mobility and those who use assistive devices require greater assistance in evacuation during weather events.
Because each of our lives differ due to specific health conditions and other circumstances such as where we reside – it is vitally important to make an evacuation plan designed to meet our unique needs. Fortunately, resources such as Red Cross Disaster Preparedness Report: For Seniors by Seniors and the Florida Department of Elder Affairs Disaster Preparedness Guide can help us better plan.
According to the Red Cross, there are three steps to preparedness including:
1) Get a Kit. This involves assembling basic daily supplies such as food and clothing that you will need for a minimum of three days. Note that a week or more supply of medication is recommended as some disasters can impact your access to a refill. You should consider the needs of other household members including pets – and plan accordingly. Because disasters often impact electricity service, your kit should include items such as a flashlight and batteries - and don’t forget your phone and extra batteries as well. Also consider your needs in the course of travel away from your home in your planning such as filling up your gas tank. A complete list of items to consider can be found here.
2) Make a Plan. This step begins with meeting with your family, friends, or significant others. Discussion should focus on clarifying needs and how others can be involved to help and stay informed. In fact, a family communication plan that identifies an out of town contact is critical to put into place as long-distance phone connectivity is more likely to work in disaster areas. And don’t forget handy access to the phone numbers of your loved ones.
Your evacuation plan should include an escape route and a meeting place. You should consider the quickest way out of your home to a safe destination, mindful of your needs and the needs of others traveling with you. For example, do you or any person under your care require wheelchair in transit? Do you need a pet carrier? Plans to evacuate the home should also consider how to manage utilities such as water, gas and electricity before you vacate - and how to get priority restoration upon your return- so be sure to check with your provider for procedures to follow. Other concerns include verifying insurance coverage and securing these and other important documents in a fire-safe box.
3. Be informed. This step requires you to assess hazards in which your area may be prone. For example, do you live in a flood zone? Though we must all make efforts to promote our own health and safety in times of a disaster, it is important to remember that we are not alone. Be sure to familiarize yourself with your local community emergency alerts and notification systems. Inquire about evacuation centers and the services they offer such as the availability of oxygen or the ability to bring your pets. Be sure to register your name and any other application needs prior to an emergency. Many communities have organizations and groups of professionals or citizens who mobilize at the time of a disaster. Reach out to your community programs so they are aware of you and any needs you have “if and when” a disaster occurs. Be sure to connect with and look after your neighbors as well.
As we all know, disasters can occur from a variety of sources – and severe weather has certainly tested Floridians year after year. In some cases, we are fortunate enough to act well before a strike – however in many cases we aren’t so lucky and may need to act fast. Thankfully, we can all develop an evacuation plan while the skies are blue – and knowing what to do before, during and after a disaster will provide us - and our families - with the of peace of mind regarding our next steps.