A Caregiver’s Emergency Guide

It’s important for everyone to be prepared for an emergency, but if you’re caring for someone with limited ability to see to their own needs, it’s especially important for you to have an emergency plan in place—caregivers need to think beyond grabbing a flashlight and bottles of water. Here are tips to give caregivers the peace of mind that being prepared can offer.

If you had just a few minutes to leave your home, would you be able to go as calmly as possible, confident that you have the supplies that you and your loved one need?

Assemble a Kit or Two

The supplies you need for an unexpected trip to the emergency room differ from those you’d need for a house fire or power failure. Be prepared to either evacuate by packing an emergency travel bag or stay at home by putting together an emergency supply kit.

What to pack for evacuating:

The packed bag should include back-up medical supplies, cash, and copies of important documents, such as insurance cards, emergency phone numbers, and a list of prescriptions or medications. (Tip: It’s a good idea to give copies of these to another person in case you’re not able to access them.)

What to keep on hand for emergencies:

The emergency supply kit should have sufficient food, water, and medical necessities to enable your loved one to survive at least three days at home on his or her own. Keep in mind that some medicines, such as insulin, may need refrigeration.

In addition, make sure you have supplies such as flashlights and extra batteries, and hand-crank or solar-powered radio, and first aid supplies. And don’t forget to pack supplies for pets!

Register with the Power Company and Fire Department

This way your utility company can contact you in case of an emergency, and if your loved one is on oxygen or depends on life-saving equipment that uses electricity, emergency personnel and rescuers will know to prioritize your loved one’s evacuation accordingly. Be sure to register even if utilities are included in your rent and you are not billed directly by the power company.

Make a Plan—and Practice It

Be sure everyone knows what to do in a disaster or crisis, and knows where the emergency kits are located. Your emergency plan should include knowing your hurricane evacuation zone and nearby shelter centers, deciding where to meet network members and how to get there, and how you will communicate if normal methods become unavailable. Your plan should also address prescriptions (and refills), maintaining any special medical equipment (wheelchair, etc.) or treatment (dialysis, etc.), and the well-being of pets (who are rarely permitted in shelters) or service animals. If your loved one lives in a care facility, discuss emergency plans and means of contact with staff.

Find out where your nearest evacuation center or shelter is located:

This might be a municipally designated location, or it could simply be a central place where your family members can meet in the event that you are separated.

Establish a Personal Network

This is a group of people who agree to help one another during emergencies, and should include at least one out-of-town contact who can be a point person for communication if local service is down. Network members exchange keys, important phone numbers, and copies of important documents and medical information so that they can effectively monitor and assist each other when problems arise. Tip: It’s a good idea for seniors, and anyone who lives alone, to have such a network even in the best of times.

Identify an emergency contact: 

Your contact should live far enough away that they aren’t affected by the same natural disaster, and should be a person that everyone (including children) feels comfortable calling. Provide your contact with phone numbers for your neighbors or local emergency personnel, and ask him or her to call the numbers to check on you in the event that you do not contact him or her.

All of this preparation can seem overwhelming, but there are lots of resources to help you out. For more information, including complete lists of suggested supplies and a customizable emergency plan, check out New York City’s Office of Emergency Management, the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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