Crucial Disaster Prepping Tips for the Elderly

When you think of a “prepper” or “survivalist,” what image comes to your mind?  Probably the image which is reinforced by virtually every prepping blog and media report: a youngish man in good health who has a Bug Out Bag packed and is ready to flee into the wilderness at the first sign of trouble.

But my image of a prepper is a bit different.  I think of my grandma.

My grandmother is one of the most important people in my life.  She grew up in a time where self-reliance was valued trait, and people cherished what they had.

While I am not yet elderly and can't personally attest to how emotionally trying it must be to lose your independence, I have spent a lot of time thinking about how prepping is different for the elderly.

I’ve also talked to my grandma a lot, as well as many other older members of my prepping community, to see what their concerns are.

Based on that, here are some prepping tips for the elderly.  Everyone – regardless of age – has the right and obligation to be prepared!

1. Take Stock of Your Health

One of the biggest factors that makes disaster prepping for the elderly different is special medical needs.  Now, a lot of prepping websites – such as this one – harp on about how you should work on improving your health right now.

Yes, it is very important that you take steps to get healthy.  But, I personally find the advice of “get healthy” very condescending.  It’s not like you can reverse all the symptoms of aging just by walking more and eating healthier food!

The elderly are particularly susceptible to disaster conditions.  Just consider how 71% of the people who died during hurricane Katrina were over 60. So let’s focus on more practical tips for prepping for any medical issues you might have:

Medications:

Medical Supplies/Equipment:

  • Keep spare batteries for your equipment charged and ready to go.
  • Get an emergency generator for any powered medical equipment.
  • Have backups of essential medical equipment.
  • Consider using a Faraday cage to protect medical devices against EMP.

2. Be Ready to Flee

elderly people waiting out a disaster

With the most common types of disasters – such as hurricanes and tornadoes – we have advanced warning.  The problem is that people don’t heed the warning and wait too long to evacuate.  By the time they’ve made the decision, it may be too late.  They’ll face obstacles like roadblocks and traffic jams.

As an elderly person, you can’t afford to get stuck in your vehicle while a hurricane is approaching, nor can you push through crowds of people at bus stations for a seat on the last departing bus.

Here’s how to make sure you get out on time.

Stay Informed:

Leave before the Event Becomes a Disaster:

  • Leave even if the disaster level is still at “watch” and not yet “warning.”
  • Decide in advance under what conditions you will leave so you don’t let emotions/indecision take control. It is better to flee now (even if the disaster never occurs) rather than take the risk of staying.

Have a Place to Go:

  • Plan a place to go which is outside of the likely disaster zone, such as a relative’s home that you can go to without advanced notice.
  • Make sure you know directions to the location.

Be Ready to Leave Immediately:

Stay Mobile:

  • Keep your vehicle filled with at least a half tank of gas at all times
  • If you use a battery-powered wheelchair or scooter, make sure you have a backup battery charged at all times.
  • Have spare walkers and other mobility-assisting equipment readily available.
  • Consider getting specialized wheels for your wheelchair so it can go over rubble.
elderly woman being carried out of earthquake zone
A woman carries her elderly mother out of the city after the deadly earthquake in Japan. This would have been easier for everyone had they planned for evacuation in advance.

3. Plan to Bug In

Even though you should be prepared to flee at the first moment’s notice of a disaster (even if the disaster never occurs), the reality is that many elderly people will be staying put during a disaster.  They might not be able to leave because of physical conditions, or there may simply not be enough advance warning of the disaster.

So, one of the best disaster prepping tips for the elderly is to be ready to bug in.

In many ways, bugging in is the same for the elderly as the rest of the population.  But there are some additional factors the elderly need to prep for.

Stockpile 30 Days’ Worth of Emergency Supplies:

Other Bug-In Priorities:

*Want to see how prepared you are? Use this Emergency Preparedness Checklist.  The checklist will show you where your preparedness strengths and weaknesses are.

4. It Is Okay to Rely on FEMA (to a point)

elderly person in FEMA shelterI know that I’m going to get a lot of stick for this one.  Especially considering how much FEMA has failed us in past disasters.  Hurricane Katrina is the prime example of this: people were crowded into emergency shelters without food, water, or toilets for days.

However, just because our goal is self-reliance, it doesn’t mean we should dismiss the resources that the government provides us in times of crises.

Consider Special Needs Shelters:

As the CDC talks about here, many states set up Special Needs Shelters for medically dependent residents. These shelters are typically staffed by medical personnel.  You are still expected to bring your own medications, equipment, and caregiver, but there will be more support than in your typical shelter.

Create Signs to Signal for Help:

Pre-make large signs to put in your windows in case you need to be rescued.

Don’t let the bravado self-reliance talk in prepper communities get to you. There is no shame in asking for help when you need it!

Register for Evacuation Assistance:

As Elder Affairs talks about here, some states (such as Florida) have laws which say that individuals with special needs are eligible for evacuation assistance.  Your friends and family might not be able to help you, so these services could save your life during an emergency.  Register with your local emergency management agency before a disaster hits!

Army and Air Force assisting elderly evacuees from hurricane
Heroes in the Air Force and Army wait to assist elderly people who had been evacuated from New Orleans.

5. Forget Most Traditional Prepping Advice

Unfortunately, as an elderly person, a lot of the traditional prepping advice doesn’t apply to you.  For example:

Advice: Stock up on items that can be used for bartering.
Reality: If elderly people try to barter, they'll expose their stash and get mugged.

Advice: Learn wilderness survival skills.
Reality: Elderly people with medical conditions won’t be able to withstand the elements and do many of the survival tasks which require physical strength.

Instead, focus on your unique situation and the strengths you have.  You might be surprised – like how being elderly could actually work to your benefit since people will perceive you as weak and not worthwhile as a target.

6. Safety In Numbers!

wheelchair assistance for evacuating elderly from hurricane

The Red Cross has some good prepping tips for the elderly about building a “personal support network.”   These are the people who will help you during an emergency.  It could be your family, neighbors, or a prepping community that you join.  Here are some things to do:

  • Arrange for someone check in on you in an emergency.
  • Make sure people in your network have copies of your keys.
  • Make a communication plan (and don’t count on the telephone to be working)
  • Notify each other when going out of town.
  • Make sure the relationship is mutual. What do you have to offer?

7. Arm Yourself

No one knows what will happen in a disaster scenario, but we can predict that people might be target the elderly for looting or mugging because of their perceived weakness.

The obvious solution to this is to arm yourself but, in reality, that could backfire.

If you are going to use a firearm to defend yourself, you better be prepared to use it.  The backfire can also be a big problem for many senior citizens.

Pepper spray is a good option for self defense.

Instead of a firearm, you might consider using alternative weapons such as pepper spray.  And don’t forget about defense – looking like you have nothing worth stealing will prevent you from being a target!

8. Don’t Forget the Little Things

The little things can make a big difference towards your disaster preparedness.  Here are just some of the things for elderly preppers to keep in mind.  Let me know if you have anything to add to this!

  • Pack extra glasses
  • Have extra batteries for hearing aids
  • Be sure to include copies of your medical insurance, medications, and doctors in your emergency documents
  • Have an emergency contact list
  • Have an emergency plan for your pets
  • Improve your home security
  • Educate yourself about disasters

Are you an elderly prepper? What ways are you taking disaster prep into your own hands? We'd love to hear from you!


Image credits:

Leaving The City, Tohoku” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by 路上写真家 [overworked and catching up!]
Hollygrve taxi wheelchair” by Infrogmation (CC BY 2.5) via Wikimedia Commons

8 thoughts on “Crucial Disaster Prepping Tips for the Elderly

  1. Absolute commonsense. I am 85 years old This has given me the idea to set up an organisation here. I am the Chairman of the local Seniors Forum. At the next meeting I will talk about this..

  2. I love your advice regarding prepping for the elderly. I am a 71 year old male living in a ground floor residence. My windows, six of them, are easily accessible for intruders. I welcome advice and how to secure them from the inside to allow light and air to circulate during a disaster. I am a carpenter and have ideas using plywood Etc. Also I am armed and not adverse to using Force to deter Intruders. Lastly, I am somewhat disabled with the very bad left leg.

  3. What the heck am I doing and what’s wrong with me?

    I can’t seem to walk into Sam’s these days without throwing a 20 pound bag of Basmati rice and 12 pounds of dried pinto beans into my cart. I get numerous emails advertising great deals on water filters … I have half a dozen now …. but will buy more just because they are a good deal. Walmart … forget it …. I always walk out with two more 12 packs of toilet paper and 6 boxes of pasta! I have now put away 600 pounds of rice in vacuum sealed bags, unknown bags of dried and dehydrated beans … and more hot sauce than should be legal to own.

    So what’s wrong with that? Well for starters, my kids are grown, have their own families, and live many hundreds of miles from me. I have a small rescue farm and raise chickens, ducks, goats and the usual smattering of dogs, cats and wild critters. It’s just my wife and I right now. The driveway is ¾ mile long and we have maybe a dozen neighbors spread out over several miles. Still no problem? Well … it came to me one night in a vision ….. I’ll be 70 years old next year. I have enough toilet paper to last a lifetime … for a 20 year old with bowel dysfunction. Maybe they can line my coffin with it instead of that expensive fake silky stuff they use. At least when TEOTWAWKI arrives, I’ll be able to take comfort in knowing the bathroom is properly outfitted. Never mind that the septic tank is full and I forgot to have it pumped out … I forget a lot these days.

    I cannot stop putting stuff away. They call it “hoarding” on one of those TV shows made to embarrass people who are frugal and save stuff to be fixed one day. Maybe it’s wishful thinking to buy freeze dried canned food with a 30 year shelf life at my age. I like to think I’ll eventually eat it in peace, in the brightness and comfort of electric lights and the warmth of the propane heater while watching reruns of Red Skelton on the wide screen TV.

    I can no longer lift the ammo cans full of 5.56 and .45 and 12 ga. 00 and my grand kids aren’t around to help. So the cans sit where I left them 5 years ago and I just live my life around them. I love to shoot and have a wonderful open range with a terrific backstop for any caliber … but find it harder everyday to walk down and back up the hill from the shooting position. Gunfire doesn’t bother me much these days since my hearing is so bad!

    Today I finally cut that annoying dead pine tree that I’ve been staring at for a year. Hauled the 20 foot trunk up in the yard with the tractor and chainsawed and split it into 18 pieces for a friends camping fire. Won’t he be surprised that somebody 15 years his senior is doing the work. No neighborhood kid with a man bun and LL Bean woodsman shirt came over to help … I know they could hear the chainsaw or…. maybe it’s the dozen or so “no trespassing” signs – but I’m guessing. Nonetheless, a youngster missed a great opportunity to learn something.

    I used to make my own laundry soap and spend 35 cents to make 2 gallons … but the wife didn’t like it because it didn’t smell right. So now it’s back to a $15 jug of chemical laden goop that smells pretty. OK, I didn’t win that one, but got some bargaining chips for when I see a “can’t pass up” deal on water filters. I know I don’t have enough filters. So 6 filters, each of which will last for 11 million gallons is a good deal for a guy who needs (according to the experts) a gallon of water a day … the same guy has a prostate the size of a grapefruit and only pees a teaspoon at a time… so 11 million days of water is probably enough. How much is 11 million days in dog years, anyway?

    I’ve tried to share my limited wisdom gained over 70 years of life with some of my neighbors. The idea was (I naively thought) that if the S did hit the F one day and the local gas station raised gas from a respectable $2.25 to $15 a gallon … that the neighbors might participate in a ‘let’s all get together and save ourselves’ party. When I found out that most of these folks could name all the Khardashian family members out to 3rd cousins, and didn’t know the each state has some Senators … my idea of community unity fizzled. Probably just as well in the long run since mouth-breathers talk an awful lot of trash and I only have enough toilet paper for the immediate family … and not enough of anything to share.

    Have to stop now … there’s a big sale on at Walmart.

  4. I’m 71. Appreciate that you took the time to address our age group. Old Boomer Kids. I have food for a year or so. And raise some more to eat and can each year. We have chickens, ducks, and rabbits. I love all my critters as both pets and a few on the table. Have a cat and two half grown kittens. All good hunters. A little dog the raises the alarm if any dog, larger amimal or person comes around.
    I just bought a new to me replied mobile home. It will be skirted and a dirt berm raised all around. Many skirting panels will be storage are doors and repair entrances to get under the trailer. All will open above the berm. The South end will have a dirt/ rock/ glass panel to gather warm air the can be sent under the trailer to keep Waterlines from freezing or sent into the greenhouse. We heat with a mix of LP gas , and a rocket stove that burns wood and pellets. I can also cook on top of it and keep three gallons of water warming there most of the winter.
    I’m building a tiny building that has a shower, tub, hand basin, and toilet. It is near my outdoor kitchen. Water there will be solar heated. My well at the new home and shower room will have a solar powered water pump.
    I don’t put bleach in my septic tanks. That keeps a good bacteria action going and keeps the tanks working without pumping for years.
    My best friends live rent free in an older mobile home here and help me with everything I can’t do anymore. It works for all of us. If I see he needs a tool I take him shopping at my favorite toy store- Harbor Freight. It pays off in more help when I need it.
    My second son has fixed up the tiny home I’d built in the 1980s for my parents. When he returns stateside it is home for his family also. He has helped me here a lot.
    I appreciate what they do for me and I do what I can for them.
    My youngest son still has a mobile home here but is living in town to have a good job in a Vets Hospital.
    We always plan to work together. We call this family of the heart.
    I share survival and old time skills while my Native American friends teach local area foods and medicines and I share ones I know in addition to theirs.
    All our grandkids are learning and we live ok here.

  5. Hey ClergyLady,

    What a great write up. You have a lot of common sense prepping worked into your daily life. We could all learn a lot from this approach. Appreciate you taking the time to share your knowledge.

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