Spring tornado safety tips with recommended precautions to keep older adults safe

By Jason Copsey, American Red Cross volunteer

April 3, 2020- As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves daily, the American Red Cross faces a spring storm season unlike any other in recent memory. Amidst the dramatic changes everyone is experiencing in their day-to- day lives, some things remain the same: Spring will bring storms, and the Red Cross will be ready to help those impacted by them.

Tennessee Tornadoes 2020

As always, preparation is a critical responsibility we all share. April, May and June are the peak months for tornadoes in the United States, with each month bringing hundreds of events across the country. Although tornadoes are most common in Plains states, they can occur anywhere, at any time.

Last year, an EF2 tornado (with wind speeds of 111 to 135 miles per hour) touched down near Shelby, Ohio, traveling 17 miles across Richland County and leveling multiple homes. Red Cross volunteers provided shelter and assistance to those displaced by the storm.

Tennessee Tornadoes 2020

The Red Cross recommends a number of precautions to keep safe during a weather event that could produce a tornado, including:

  • Know your community’s warning system. Many communities use sirens intended for outdoor warning purposes.
  • Identify a safe place in your home to gather — a basement, storm cellar or interior room on the lowest floor with no windows.
  • Move or secure items outside that can be picked up by the wind.

While preparation is critical for everyone, recent research indicates older adults are more vulnerable during weather events compared to other age groups.

Tennessee Tornadoes 2020

A report produced by members of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council and the American Academy of Nursing Policy Expert Round Table on Emergency/Disaster Preparedness for Older Adults identified several factors contributing to the heightened vulnerability of older adults, including:

  • A greater prevalence of chronic conditions, multi-morbidity, cognitive impairment and medication concerns during disasters.
  • A greater dependence on assistive devices (i.e. walkers, glasses) and support requirements, from caregivers and others, during disasters.
  • Likelihood of social isolation.
  • Potential for psychological distress.
  • Gaps in how prepared the caregivers of older persons are, especially those who care for older adults with dementia.

Tennessee Tornadoes 2020

Improving disaster preparedness among older adults, as well as response efforts, is even more important as we move into a 2020 spring storm season dramatically impacted by COVID-19. To help address this need, the report offers recommendations such as:

  • Older adults who are reliant on mobility aids should remove or minimize barriers affecting their ability to evacuate and should take steps to ensure their safety within their surroundings.
  • Programs that provide essential community services and assistance with daily living activities for older people (financial, medical, personal care, food and transportation) should develop plans and protocols related to responding adequately to the needs of their clients during emergencies and disasters.
  • Local governments should leverage data sources, such as registries, that identify at-risk individuals to enable emergency responders to more easily prioritize their search and rescue efforts following an emergency.
  • Healthcare professionals and emergency response personnel should receive training on providing geriatric care relevant to their discipline and how best to assist both older adults and their unpaid caregivers during disasters.

Many more tips to keep yourself and your family and loved ones safe are available at www.redcross.org.

You can also download the Red Cross Emergency App for instant access to emergency alerts, lifesaving information and ways to contact family and friends. Download the app for free in the Apple or Google app stores or at redcross.org/apps

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

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