Older adults are identified as a vulnerable population during and after disaster. As people age, they become more likely to have chronic health problems and disabilities and other functional and access needs, as well as economic limitations, which mean they may have unique needs during and after emergency situations. When disasters immobilize vital community-based supports and services, emergency responders and officials must be prepared to assist adults ages 65 and older and those who care for them.
Before a Disaster
- Locate or create a network to identify community-based resources. Check out the Administration for Community Living’s aging and disability networks to build on the community’s available resources.
- Establish and maintain lists, or registries (PDF | 3.9 MB), of older adults in the community that identify their needs to facilitate emergency response during a disaster. Types of registries (PDF | 13 MB) can include access and functional needs registries, medical needs registries, and transportation registries.
- Communicate with local organizations to plan for shelters that can support older adults, and identify pet-friendly shelters for those with pets.
Community Outreach and Education
- Partner with community-based organizations that serve older adults (such as senior centers, residences, and adult day care programs) to create a preparedness plan for older adults, caregivers, and personnel. Collaborate with these organizations to host emergency preparedness meetings and activities for the community. Some communities may find it appropriate to host emergency drills, in which all members learn how to safely seek shelter and resources.
- Teach older adults and those who care for them about disaster preparedness, and notify them of resources in their community. Distribute pre-printed literature that repeats key information, and host meetings regularly to familiarize them with the content. Consider providing resources written for older adults, such as Disaster Preparedness For Seniors By Seniors (PDF | 2 MB), to ensure older adults receive valuable information in an engaging manner.
- Encourage older adults and caregivers to create emergency plans and go kits, enroll in local registries, and participate in emergency drills and activities.
During a Disaster
Evacuation and Shelter Planning
- Assist older adults in reconnecting with family and loved ones in their community to alleviate stress. For older adults with pets, find community shelters that are pet friendly.
- Ensure older adults who have been displaced from their prior living state are provided supportive and unrestrictive care.
- Use multiple outreach methods to ensure older adults and those who care for them receive information about safety and services available. These methods include radio and television announcements, social media posts, flyers, and community meetings.
- For written and verbal outreach, use plain language, and repeat key messages for easy information gathering. Provide visual aids such as pictures and maps, and use large font in text and captions.
- Encourage partner organizations to raise awareness of resources and services available in your community. Collaborate with partners to distribute materials at their events or through their social media accounts.
After a Disaster
- Continue using multiple outreach methods to notify older adults and those who care for them of available resources and supports.
- Older adults who were relocated to emergency shelters should be safely discharged and transitioned to their prior living state. Arrange for short-term supportive care for older adults struggling with the transition.
- Follow up with older adults and their caregivers to ensure they receive appropriate services and supports. Follow-up methods can include conducting door-to-door outreach, distributing materials at community events, or contacting individuals using information provided during intake at emergency shelters.
- Assure older adults and caregivers that many people experience mental health and substance use-related reactions to disasters and that help is readily available. Be open to questions and concerns from older adults who are hesitant about receiving support.
The following collection of resources will help you in disaster planning:
- Building Older Adults’ Resilience by Bridging Public Health and Aging-in-Place Efforts Toolkit (RAND Corporation)
- Creating A Plan (online information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- Disaster Assistance for Older Adults (online information and resources from the National Council on Aging)
- Disaster Preparedness For Seniors by Senior (PDF | 2 MB) (guide from the American Red Cross)
- Eldercare Locator (searchable database of local resources across the nation from the Administration on Aging)
- Emergency Preparedness (resources and information from the U.S. Administration for Community Living)
- Helping Older Adults After Disasters: A Guide to Providing Support (guide for crisis counselors and outreach workers from SAMHSA)
- How To Prepare for Emergencies: Older Adults (online information from the American Red Cross)
- Identifying Vulnerable Older Adults and Legal Options for Increasing Their Protection During All-Hazards Emergencies (PDF | 3.9 MB) (guide for disaster planners, public health officials, emergency management personnel, and others from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- Planning for an Emergency: Strategies for Identifying and Engaging At-Risk Groups (PDF | 13 MB) (guidance document from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- Working with Older Adults and People with Disabilities: Tips for Treatment and Discharge Planning (web page from the Administration for Strategic Preparedness & Response)