Without proper preparation for disasters, our lives can change instantly. According to Baldassare, Lopes, Bonner, and Shrestha (2014) of Public Policy Institute of California, only 33% of Californians claim to be “very knowledgeable” about how to prepare for a major disaster such as an earthquake. Many Californians—despite being at risk for earthquakes—do not take the steps necessary to prepare themselves mentally and physically for disaster. Older adults and individuals with illnesses or disabilities are especially disadvantaged when it comes to dealing with and recovering from emergencies. As such, it is important to take extra precaution to protect yourself and your loved ones.
A general rule of thumb for emergencies is to have supply kits with enough backup items to last you at minimum 3 days. In addition to having backup water, non-perishable foods, protective clothing, and electronics there are other things to have handy in case of emergencies (Emergency Preparedness for Older Adults, 2018; Sollitto, n.d.; U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency, & American Red Cross; 2004):
For individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia, there are some additional things you might consider for your kit (Disaster Preparedness for Alzheimer’s Caregivers, 2017; World Health Organization, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, United Nations Children’s Fund, & World Food Programme, 2004):
Furthermore, you should enroll the individual in the MedicAlert® + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return® Program—a 24-hour nationwide emergency response service for individuals who may wander or be reported missing.
For individuals who require insulin in emergency situations, it is crucial to monitor your blood sugar regularly. If your blood sugar gets too high or low, contact medical personnel immediately (InDependent Diabetes Trust, n.d.; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019).
In addition to supplies, you should also have copies of important documents sealed and stored somewhere that is easily accessible, such as in a waterproof bag or folder. It is important to also laminate these files so that they are protected from wear and tear. If possible, take photos of these pieces of information with your phone or digital camera in case you lose access to the hardcopies. Here are some documents that are important to have at the ready should you ever have to evacuate on short notice (24 Hour Home Care, n.d.; Huntsberry-Lett, n.d.):
It would also be a wise decision to elect to receive your benefits and pay your bills electronically, as a disaster can disrupt mail service. According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, signing up to receive federal benefits via direct deposit to a checking or savings account or a Direct Express® prepaid debit card are two safe methods (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, n.d.).
During an earthquake, it is most important to protect your head and heck. Generally, you will want to drop onto your hands and knees to avoid being knocked over, cover your head and heck with one arm and hand, and hold onto something sturdy until the earthquake ceases. However, there may be extra precaution you need to take. Here are steps provided by Earthquake Country Alliance (n.d.a.) on how to “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” depending on where you are during an earthquake.
If Using a Wheelchair or Walker with a Seat
In a Store
During an emergency, it is of utmost importance that we know how to safely assist and evacuate individuals with hearing, vision, or mobility impairment. Do not use elevators, and remember that other hazards (such as debris or loss of electricity) may affect the safety route. Furthermore, should service animals be present during an evacuation, ensure that they are not separated from their masters (University of California, San Diego, 2014; Vanderbilt University, n.d.).
Assisting Individuals with Low Vision or Blindness
Assisting Individuals who are Hard of Hearing or Deaf
Assisting Individuals with Limited Mobility
Assisting Individuals who Use Wheelchairs
If you receive personal care assistance, your assistant should remain with you during any evacuation. If your personal care assistant works with a home care agency, check if there are any special provisions for emergencies such as providing services at another location (like an emergency shelter) (West, 2012; U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency, & American Red Cross, 2004). Nancy West (2012) of Muscular Dystrophy Association says that if you are unable to receive such provisions, local, state, and federally funded programs may be able to offer assistance. As an extra measure, find and contact alternative providers as backup (Sollitto, n.d.).
Furthermore, it is largely possible that phone lines may be unavailable due to surges in calls which can take normally serviced regions offline. Remember to only use your cellphone or phone line to call 9-1-1 for life-threatening emergencies; text messages or even email may be better to use to let your loved ones know how you are doing (Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, n.d.).
Although it is unknown when the next big quake will hit Southern California, living near the San Andreas Fault Line poses a great risk to us all. Discuss having an emergency preparedness plan with your loved ones so that everyone knows what to do and how to contact each other in case of unplanned disasters. Reference the lists provided above to know what to keep in your supply kit and how to protect yourself and loved ones in the face of danger. Cover all bases, whether they are financial, legal, or medical. Emergencies can affect entire communities, and as such it is our duty to not only prepare ourselves but also our friends and family with the right resources and tools to face such unforeseeable events.
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