Being prepared is the first step to endure and recover from disaster

By Tim Poe, American Red Cross volunteer

September 1, 2020- September is National Preparedness Month, and this year’s events have underscored the importance of being prepared for a disaster in Northern Ohio as everywhere. The American Red Cross is also focusing on the needs of seniors in disaster preparation, as new research from the Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council and the American Academy of Nursing  finds that, “Older adults are more vulnerable and experience more casualties after a natural disaster compared to other age groups experiencing similar events.”

While Northern Ohio rarely faces large-scale disasters, we do face home fires, flooding, and tornadoes, among other events. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that all of us need to be ready.

To discuss preparedness for Northern Ohioans and the needs of seniors, I spoke with John Gareis, the Red Cross’s Regional Manager for Individual Community and Disaster Preparedness for Northern Ohio. John has a wealth of experience in preparing for and recovering from disasters of all types.

Preparation and lessons from COVID-19

John emphasized that in any disaster, including a pandemic, the needs remain the same: food, shelter, clothing, information, and emotional support. “Taking steps to prepare, before any emergency event would happen, is key,” he said. This is especially important for seniors.

John said the COVID-19 pandemic taught us to better prepare for emergencies. He pointed out that many were caught off guard, causing shortages of everyday staples. “People began to hoard and stock up on items taken for granted in everyday life,” he said.

We can learn from this, however. John recommended that every household prepare an emergency kit or supplies based on what is used every day. While having enough for at least three days is good, he said, supplies for one to two weeks is better.

August 30, 2020. Cameron, Louisiana Pamela Harris of the American Red Cross looks out on a home destroyed by Hurricane Laura in Cameron Parish, LA, one of the hardest hit areas, on Sunday, August 30, 2020. Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross

Especially consider necessities for seniors, children, and those with special needs. John pointed out that emergency supply kits don’t have to be expensive and can be gathered from items already owned. In addition to daily supplies, have copies of important documents and contact information for doctors, family, and close friends. He also said to think about your home and, if you had to evacuate in under two minutes, could you?

John also said, “Information is key in any disaster. Knowing what could happen and how to keep informed are the main things people need and want.”

Ensuring seniors are prepared

As older adults are more vulnerable during a disaster, the Red Cross especially encourages seniors to prepare, and that everyone ask older adults in their lives if they need help, whether relatives, neighbors, or fellow seniors.

August 24, 2020. Vacaville, California. LNU Complex Fire burn zone on Pleasants Valley Road in Vacaville, California. Red Cross volunteer Jillian Robertson explores the burned area, stepping over discarded fire hoses that had been left behind. Photos by Dennis Drenner/American Red Cross

In addition to preparing supplies, seniors should maintain and grow communications and social networks. “In any emergency,” John said, “having someone to check on you or that you can check on is key. It’s the buddy system.”

For help preparing, please visit Emergency Preparedness for Older Adults, How to Prepare for Emergencies, and COVID-19 Safety Tips. Red Cross apps are available here.

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