Healthy You - Every Day

Preparing for Disasters and Emergencies

Tips and advice for older adults and those with chronic conditions who may encounter an unexpected emergency

Preparing for Disasters and Emergencies

Preparing for emergencies and disasters doesn’t make you look like Chicken Little. It makes you smart.

September is National Preparedness Month, a time when focus is renewed on being ready for disruptions related to anything from floods and fires to winter storms and power outages. Depending on where you live, some emergencies and disasters may be more likely than others. Regardless, planning in key areas can make any disruption easier to manage.

Did you know?

Natural disasters forced an estimated 3.4 million people in the U.S. to leave their homes in 2022. Source: Census Bureau

National Preparedness Month’s focus this year is on older adults (there are about 56 million of you of the 65+ vintage in the U.S.). As your health care partner, we’ll also be sharing information on managing chronic illnesses during an emergency or disaster because 85% of Americans 65 and older have at least one chronic health condition and 60% have at least two.

We checked out and, both maintained by the Department of Homeland Security, and they have tons of great advice. Crunched for time? Here are some highlights.

Make a plan

Being ready goes far beyond stocking up on bottled water and nonperishable food items. Emergencies can force you from your home or strand you there. Have a plan for both.

Paying attention to your health can’t wait because of an emergency. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist about creating an emergency supply of medications or medical supplies.

Getting prepared doesn’t have to be expensive. You can:

Create an emergency communications plan that contains important contact and medical information which you can share with others and store copies both digitally and on paper. Store important phone numbers somewhere other than just in your cellphone.

Sign up for emergency alerts in your area.

Build your emergency supply kit (enough for three days) over time, and include things such as a flashlight, extra batteries and copies of important documents in addition to food and water. Store your documents in a water-tight plastic bag in a flood-safe location. Don’t forget to include your pets in your planning.

Talk with family and friends about where you’ll go in an emergency if you must evacuate and how you’ll get there.

If you are living in a retirement or assisted living community, learn what procedures are in place in case of emergencies. Keep a copy of exit routes and meeting places in an easy-to-reach place.

Download the Federal Emergency Management Agency app to receive weather alerts, along with safety tips and reminders.

Health considerations

Paying attention to your health can’t wait because of an emergency. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist about creating an emergency supply of medications or medical supplies.

Pennsylvania has a law on the books regarding prescription refills in emergencies. As of 2018, if a pharmacist tries but can’t get authorization for a refill, they can dispense up to a 30-day emergency supply if the drug is not dispensed or sold in a 72-hour supply, is not a controlled substance, and is essential for life. Emergency refills also can be made if they are “essential to the continuation of therapy in chronic conditions, and, in the pharmacist’s professional judgment, the interruption of the therapy reasonably might produce an undesirable health consequence, be detrimental to the patient’s welfare or cause physical or mental discomfort,” the statute says.

If you have trouble getting around, think about how you’ll address that in an emergency.

For all conditions, including diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cancer, kidney disease and epilepsy, consult with your doctor about including related medications, such as insulin, in your emergency kit. Keep a cooler on hand and use ice to help keep medicines cold in the short term. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an informative website on managing chronic health conditions during a disaster.

If you use a home medical device that requires electricity, be prepared to know what to do in a power outage and plan for an alternative source of power, such as a generator. Some devices may be able to run on backup battery power for a time. Be sure to check to see if your power company maintains a list of critical-care customers and what being on that list might mean for you.

National Preparedness Month

Elder care

Create an emergency plan

Learn how

Go to

Explore More Articles