When disaster strikes: preparedness for seniors and people with disabilities

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Niccolò Ubalducci Photographer - Stormchaser/Getty Images

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If there is anything that 2020 taught us, it is the importance of being prepared. From coronavirus and wildfires to hurricanes and civil unrest, there has been a lot going on globally. While things are looking up in 2021, last year’s losses still weigh heavily on our minds.

When disaster strikes, there is often little time to prepare. Losses can come swiftly when danger appears out of nowhere. When you are elderly or have a disability, it can be even more challenging to secure your property and get to safety, which is why preparation is critical.

You can never be too prepared for an emergency. Our disaster preparedness guide can help you and your family prepare today in case of an emergency tomorrow. With a list of centralized resources, assistive technology and disaster safety tips, you can safely and efficiently prevent severe losses and ensure your safety when disaster strikes.

Preparing for extreme weather

When disasters happen, they can occur with little or no warning, seriously hampering your ability to get to safety, especially if you are not prepared. Seniors and those with disabilities can experience mobility issues that can make it more challenging to vacate quickly when there aren’t seconds to spare. Hurricane Katrina was a glaring example of this, with people over the age of 75 comprising half of all storm fatalities.

Seniors and people with disabilities also have greater difficulty maintaining their day-to-day lives without critical resources, such as medication, food, water and a safe place to rest. More vulnerable citizens may experience difficulty reaching resources and may be unable to effectively communicate those needs to others who can help. Other resources like in-home or medical care may be unavailable, or access may be cut off. For the people who depend on these resources, it makes the risks that much more significant. Disaster preparedness pays off in the long run, especially when you are disabled or a senior.

These five natural disasters can all impact your home and life in different ways.

Hurricanes

Hurricanes often create severe winds that can cause widespread, extended power outages. Winds and driving rain can also break windows and damage roofs, causing thousands of dollars in related damage. While there is no homeowners or renters insurance that specifically covers hurricanes, you should consider checking whether your provider offers flood insurance and windstorm insurance if you live in an area where hurricanes are common.

Tornados

A tornado can strike out of nowhere, capturing vehicles and entire homes in its punishing cyclone. Tornado damage is typically covered under a standard homeowners insurance policy through your dwelling, personal property and loss of use coverage.

Earthquakes

California is known for earthquakes, but that is not the only place they can occur. Earthquake insurance is not covered by the standard home insurance policy, instead of requiring a separate policy or endorsement to ensure coverage.

Floods

Flooding can destroy property and even whisk away entire homes, but it is not included in any standard homeowners insurance policies and will require that you purchase a separate policy. Flooding is such an issue in the U.S. the federal government offers its National Flood Insurance Program with a convenient flood zone map that allows you to check your address.

Wildfires

Approximately 4.5 million U.S. homes are at risk of wildfire, highlighting the need to safeguard against fire if you live in these areas. Fire damage is typically included in your home insurance policy. Still, if you live in an area prone to wildfires, it is always a good idea to confirm adequate levels of coverage with your home insurance company.

Preparedness for people with disabilities

When you live with a disability, some simple planning ahead can make all the difference. These safety tips can help you prepare if there is ever an emergency or disaster in your area.

Car safety

If you need to evacuate, there are some extra tools that can help drivers with disabilities stay safe behind the wheel.

  • Siren alert device: Compatible with both your home and vehicle, a siren alert is an easy way to call for help in an emergency, especially for those drivers with hearing loss.
  • Driving glasses: Driving requires you to see in detail, something that isn’t easy for everyone. A pair of glasses can ensure clear vision and also serve as an anti-reflective tool when driving at night.
  • Assist bars or straps: A sturdy assist bar or strap can help you pull yourself in and out of the vehicle.
  • Swivel cushion: A swivel cushion can help you move from a wheelchair to the driver’s seat with far less trouble by turning with you to ensure easier movement.
  • Turny or valet seat: A turny, or valet seat, is another way to transfer from a wheelchair to your car by using a seat that exits the vehicle and lowers itself down to the appropriate height of your wheelchair.
  • Car ramps: A car ramp allows you to simply wheel your chair into the vehicle without any need to leave your wheelchair at all.
  • Reclining seats: Reclining seats ensure comfort and make it easier for you to move in and out of the car.
  • Hands-free navigation: Eliminate one worry by utilizing hands-free navigation that can keep you on track with minimal disruption.
  • Lane-keeping assist: Lane-keeping assist is a newer technology that will sound an alert if you stray from your lane.
  • Pedestrian detection: Pedestrians can dart into traffic without warning, but pedestrian detection can slow or stop your vehicle immediately in response.
  • Forward collision warning: If a car suddenly stops or cuts in front of you, a forward collision warning helps prevent a collision by hitting the brakes.

Home safety

As important as it is to secure yourself outside of the home, you also must secure yourself within your house, and these tips can help.

  • Register for emergency assistance: The federal Disaster Assistance program can help you find an emergency management agency in your state, as well as medical and other disaster relief in your area.
  • Have a plan: Work with the other members of your household to create a plan of action if there is an emergency. Your plan should include everything from evacuation routes and local shelters to communication and preparation for your pets and service animals.
  • Know your support network: Identify what resources are available to help in a crisis, and connect with neighbors, caregivers and out-of-town family members to collaborate on emergency preparedness and evacuation.
  • Have seats in the showers: A seat in the shower can help prevent slips and falls, especially if you are in a hurry. Invest in a mobile version that can be taken with you if you need to leave home.
  • Grab bars and safety rails: Like a shower seat, grab bars and safety railings can help provide stability and balance when moving around the house.
  • Wider hallways: Investing in wider hallways can simplify and improve mobility by providing room for wheelchairs and making it easier to move with bags and belongings.
  • Pillow and bed alarms: These special alarms are designed to wake even the deepest sleeper with optional sound, vibrating and shaking effects.
  • Light alarms: These alarms can also ensure that you wake by using bright lights to signal that it is time to wake up.
  • Alexa and Google Home: These smart home systems use technology to simplify your life, doing everything from turning off the lights to locking doors with just the touch of a button.
  • Set appliance reminders: Many appliances have easy reminders that you can set and use to turn your appliances on and off even if you are away from home.
  • Reduce the risk of falls: Keeping your home tidy and free of clutter can help reduce the risk of trips and falls.

Preparedness for seniors

As we age, our needs begin to change, impacting our ability to evacuate in a hurry safely. Seniors can do some extra things to prepare in case an emergency strikes, and you need to vacate immediately.

Car safety

Every day, we spend a lot of time in our cars, but our vehicles can be an invaluable lifeline if we need to leave quickly. Preparing your vehicle with the right accessories and products can ensure senior driver safety, even in an emergency.

  • Blind spot monitors: Eyesight can weaken with age, but blind-spot monitors will sound an alarm if you attempt to merge when there is a vehicle in your blind spot.
  • Rear view monitors: These monitors can work either as a backup camera or a continuous monitoring system that can help you see around the back of your vehicle.
  • Car lighting: Interior and exterior lighting in your vehicle can help ensure visibility at all times of the day and night, no matter where you are.
    • Adaptive headlights: These headlights are extra convenient because they automatically adjust based on changing conditions on the road.
    • Automatic high beams: Turning your high beams on and off can add stress in traffic, so automatic high beams alleviate that burden by automatically adjusting themselves based on the surrounding lighting.
    • Auto-dimming side-view mirrors: As headlights become even brighter and sharper, they can wreak havoc on your eyes while driving, but auto-dimming side-view mirrors ensure that the reflection of other cars’ headlights doesn’t interfere with your vision while driving.
  • 360-degree camera systems: Instead of just one camera, you can benefit from several that are strategically placed around your vehicle.
  • Driver drowsiness detection: This new technology uses facial recognition and machine learning to recognize and prevent drowsy driving.
  • Automated emergency braking: All it takes is just one second with your eyes off the road, and an accident can happen, but automated emergency braking will activate the brakes if you fail to first.
  • Steering knobs: Also known as a Brodie knob, knuckle buster and wheel or suicide spinner, these steering wheel knobs allow for one-handed steering and easier navigation along curves and turns.
  • Automated crash detection: This app can be used on your smartphone or some vehicles to detect a collision and summon help automatically.
  • First responder access: Services like Onstar allow first responders to summon help and communicate with you directly, receiving potentially life-saving information that can help emergency services when they arrive.
  • Hands-free phone use: Cell phone use is one of the primary causes of distracted driving, but utilizing hands-free phone technologies, whether through your car or via smartphone, can ensure you operate your vehicle safely while enjoying your conversation.
  • Keyless vehicles: Fumbling with keys is an extra headache that can also waste precious seconds in an emergency, but keyless cars can help you get on the road that much faster.
  • Extra wheelchair or walker: If you have to evacuate in an emergency, you may not have time to load your wheelchair or walker, so having an extra set in the car can ensure you still have your mobility even if you need to leave quickly.

Home safety

Seniors can benefit from some minor home modifications and renovations that can make a significant difference in mobility and safety at home.

  • Replace stairs with ramps: Stairs may take more effort or bring more risk than necessary, so installing ramps can ensure safer passage between floors.
  • Install hand railings: Regardless of whether you have stairs or ramps, hand railings can give you better balance, so you don’t fall or trip.
  • Use life alerts: In an emergency, you can use a wearable life alert to summon emergency medical help without having to reach for a phone.
  • Enroll in prescription deliveries: Have your medical prescriptions delivered to you by enrolling in a provider-based or community program that will bring your medicine to your doorstep.
  • Centralize communication: Using a central communication hub, such as an Alexa or Google Home smart home system, can make it easier to communicate with other people or even other devices in your home for simpler living.
  • Use easy-to-navigate computers: The Internet is an incredible resource in an emergency, but some operating systems can be intimidating, so choose a computer and operating system that is easy for you to navigate.
  • Register for disaster assistance: Several local and federal disaster programs can provide emergency disaster support, so take the time to explore what programs may be available to you and register in advance.
  • Set daily and weekly reminders: Several mobile and smart home devices allow for daily and weekly reminders that can help you track prescription reminders and other essential tasks.
  • Use an electric stove:Gas stoves can present a significant fire risk in your home, but replacing your stove with an electric model can not only reduce risk but lower your utilities each month, too.
  • Add extra oxygen tanks: In an emergency, it may be different to get to critical, life-saving supplies, so plan ahead by keeping a few extra oxygen tanks stashed safely within your home.

Every second counts in an emergency, but the challenges are that much greater for seniors and people with disabilities who can experience trouble with mobility. When there is not a second to spare, emergency disaster preparedness can help.

Today’s developments in smart technologies, combined with adequate homeowners or renters insurance, can make an enormous difference not only to your daily living but also when you need to evacuate quickly in an emergency. Some minor adjustments to your home and vehicle can not only simplify your daily routine but may also just save your life if disaster strikes.

Written by
Lena Borrelli
Insurance Contributor
Lena Muhtadi Borrelli has several years of experience in writing for insurance domains such as allconnect, Healthline and Reviews.com. She previously worked for Morgan Stanley.