Emergency Preparedness: Even More Important During COVID-19

By Kathleen Votava, Aging Services Program Specialist at ACL

What’s the plan?

That’s the question we ask ourselves every September as we observe National Preparedness Month. Having an emergency plan is important at any time, but especially during a pandemic. The challenges of COVID-19 make thinking about preparedness and planning more complex—and more critical.

Fortunately, good resources are available to help. FEMA’s Ready.gov provides guidance and tips on preparing for a variety of situations. ACL preparedness resources and links focus on older adults, people with disabilities, and caregivers. The American Red Cross has a useful disaster-planning page especially for COVID-19.

Two key parts of preparation are:

  • Make a plan of actions to take before, during, and after an emergency
  • Build a kit of supplies you may need at home or away during an emergency

Review the following steps to make sure your plan and kit reflect your situation and needs.

Step 1: Consider emergencies likely to occur in your area.

Do you live in a hurricane zone? Does your area have a fire or drought season? Are earthquakes common? What about tornadoes? Depending on your area, you may need to plan for a few different scenarios and build a kit for multiple situations.

Step 2: Factor in COVID-19.

A pandemic introduces new issues, including the possibility that you might have to quarantine in place for two weeks. For that reason, it’s a good idea to build two emergency kits: one for staying home— including food, water, medicine, personal care items, and cleaning products—and another (commonly called a “go kit”) in case of evacuation (or other travel) with extra items needed for being away from home for possibly several weeks. Both should include face coverings, but especially the one for evacuation. Pack two cloth face coverings for everyone age two and older, hand sanitizer and bar or liquid soap, and disinfecting wipes to use on surfaces.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a hub covering different disasters and what to consider for these situations during the pandemic. Remember to always listen to local emergency channels and government authorities for guidance about what to do during an emergency in your community.

Step 3: Consider your personal situation.

Your personal situation affects your emergency plan. Here are some questions to ask yourself when designing your plan.

  • Could you stay at home safely, even during a power outage?
  • Where would you go if you have to evacuate?
  • Are you or others in your household at higher risk for complications from COVID-19?
  • Do you require assistive or life-supporting devices that rely on power? How will you charge them if you lose power or if you have to leave home?
  • Do you have paper or electronic copies of your health records, or passwords to access your health providers’ patient portals?
  • How will you receive emergency alerts?
  • Are there people nearby who could come and help?
  • Do you have friends or family that you could visit for evacuation? Is their home accessible or able to accommodate your needs?
  • Could you go to a public shelter and would they be able to meet your health and accessibility needs?
  • How would you maintain physical/social distancing?
  • Can you wear a mask? Do you require other personal protection equipment?
  • What transportation is available?
  • What is your workplace’s emergency plan?
  • What is your residential facility or building’s emergency plan?
  • If you have children, what is their school’s emergency plan?
  • Have you created emergency kits for work, vehicle, or other locations to help ensure you are safe where you are or evacuate from?

The answers to these questions will influence your decisions, your plan, and your preparations.

Step 4: Take control.

Take time to prepare before you’re in an emergency. Review and update insurance coverage. Think about money on hand, and gather important financial, personal, and medical documents. Make sure you have necessary supplies and take care of any maintenance tasks to secure your home.

You should also talk to neighbors or friends who might be able to help in an emergency and plan to stay in touch.

When doing your planning, take a minute and fill out ACL’s form to print and post in a prominent place (like the refrigerator door or attached to your wheelchair). It gives first responders critical information about you and your needs.

Nobody likes to think about emergencies. But taking time now to plan and prepare can save you precious time later and help you stay safe.