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Preparing for a Disaster: Strategies for Older Adults

Carolyn S. Wilken and Martie Gillen

Natural disasters such as tornadoes, floods, and hurricanes create special challenges for older adults, their caregivers, and their families. Older adults need to have the same basic disaster supply kit as everyone else. Basic supply lists are available from a number of sources, but the list available at the American Red Cross website serves as the model ( The elderly may have special needs that go beyond the basic supplies list. The following tips were recommended by the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency for people with disabilities and can apply to many older adults.

The suggestions in this factsheet are for older adults who may have age or health related disabilities yet are able to independently prepare for a disaster. If you are making preparations for someone else see Tips for Caregivers of the Elderly and People with Disabilities (

Make Your Lists

  • Emergency Information List

  • Medical Information List

  • List of doctors, relatives, or friends who should be notified if you are hurt (include phone numbers and addresses)

  • Disability Related Supply List

  • List of the style and serial number of medical devices

  • Emergency Document List

See the publication titled Disaster Planning Tips for Senior Adults for additional suggestions of items to add to your supply list.

Put Your Needs in Writing

Create a detailed description of your specific needs including:

  • Daily routine

  • Special instructions about medications (i.e., must be crushed, cut tablets in half, place crushed tablet in applesauce, what to do if you've missed a dose, what time you typically take your medication, etc.)

  • Actions that cause extra pain, nervousness, or distress (i.e., lying flat on your back without a pillow under your knees, loud noises, etc.)

Your Service Animal

Make plans for your service animal to remain with you. Prepare written instructions for how to handle and care for your service animal. Your service animal will be allowed to stay with you in an emergency shelter. Check with your county's emergency management office for more information.

  • Prepare written instructions for how to handle and care for your service animal

  • Set aside a 2-week supply of food for your service animal

  • Medical/vaccine records and vet contact information

  • Include related documents with emergency information

Your Pet

  • Plan for your pet's evacuation

  • Contact your county's government emergency management office to identify pet friendly shelters

  • Medical/vaccine records and vet contact information

  • Pet carrier, toys, blankets, leashes, collars, ID tags, proof of ownership, etc.

  • Extra food in plastic containers

Let Family and Friends Know What You Need

  • Create a support network to help you in an emergency.

  • Tell your support network where you keep your emergency supplies.

  • Give one member of your support network a key to your house or apartment.

  • Contact your city or county government's emergency information management office. Many local offices keep lists of people with disabilities so they can be located quickly in case of an emergency.

  • Let your utility company know of your needs, especially if you depend on electricity to operate medical equipment. They can let you know if the electricity will be disconnected for routine service and may also make your home a priority to get you reconnected as soon as possible.

  • Wear medical alert tags or bracelets to help identify your disability.

  • If you are dependent on dialysis or other life sustaining treatment, know the location and availability of more than one facility where you can receive treatment.

  • Find out the location of the special needs evacuation centers nearest you. Know how to get there from your home.

  • Show others how to operate your medical equipment such as your oxygen or your wheelchair.

  • Know the size and weight of your wheelchair and whether or not it is collapsible, in case it has to be transported.

Keep Extra Supplies on Hand

  • Prescription medicines, list of medications including dosage, list of any allergies

      • Prescription medication refills and hurricanes

      • Florida's emergency prescription refill law permits individuals who are insured or are subscribers of prescription medication plans to refill prescriptions in advance of a hurricane. The law authorizes payment to pharmacies for at least a 30 day supply of prescription medications.

      • Medicare beneficiaries can call 1-800-MEDICARE for more information.

  • Extra eyeglasses and hearing-aid batteries

  • Extra wheelchair batteries, oxygen, etc. ...

  • Medical insurance and Medicare cards

Act at the First Sign of Trouble

Prepare well in advance for potential disasters or emergencies. Are they tracking a hurricane way out in the ocean? Are there warnings of tornados or flooding? If so, then it's time to put your personal disaster plan into action. As you know, it may take extra time for you to move to a safe location or to get your things together so do not hesitate.


FEMA: Disaster Preparedness for people with disabilities. Retrieved August 14, 2012, from

Homeland Security. ReadyAmerica: Get a kit. Retrieved July 9, 2012, from

Red Cross Disaster Supplies Kit. Retrieved July 9, 2012, from

Wilken, Carolyn. Disaster Tips for Caregivers of the Elderly and People with Disabilities. Retrieved August 8, 2005, from http:/

Wilken, Carolyn. Disaster Planning Tips for Senior Adults. Retrieved August 8, 2005, from

Publication #FCS9215

Release Date:December 18, 2018

Reviewed At:July 14, 2022

Related Experts

Wilken, Carolyn


University of Florida

Gillen, Martie


University of Florida

Fact Sheet

About this Publication

This document is FCS9215, one of a series of the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date August 2005. Revised July 2012. Visit the EDIS website at for the currently supported version of this publication.

About the Authors

Carolyn S. Wilken, Ph.D., M.P.H., former associate professor; and Martie Gillen, assistant professor and Family and Consumer Economics for Older Adults specialist, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.


  • Martie Gillen