Keeping Seniors Safe in Weather Emergencies
LESLIE: Well, more than 60 million families have members that include children, seniors or someone who is disabled. And when weather-related emergencies strike, getting help to those families is crucial. But as we saw here on the East Coast during Hurricane Sandy, the most vulnerable are often the most difficult to reach.
TOM: Well, that’s right. We saw seniors get stuck in high-rise buildings in New York City and on the Jersey Shore. And many older residents had no way to leave their homes. So what can you do to make sure the families who need help most during a weather disaster are actually getting that help? Let’s find out as we welcome Kevin O’Connor, the host of TV’s This Old House.
KEVIN: Hi, guys. Great to be here.
TOM: Kevin, this is a problem that we see time and time again. It happened during Hurricane Katrina, as well as Hurricane Sandy. Why is it so often overlooked?
KEVIN: Well, I think it’s because people try to avoid the things that they don’t want to do and they’re hoping that it’s not going to affect them.
KEVIN: But the reality is that millions of Americans are going to be affected by a weather event at some point; they are going to occur. Whether it’s a tornado or a hurricane, lots of us end up getting affected by these events at some point in our lives.
LESLIE: Now, what should be included in your plan? Is it an escape route? Is it extra materials? Is there a checklist for this?
KEVIN: There is a checklist. And what you really want to do is you want to start off thinking about what are you potentially going to be affected by. What are the threats in your area? Because they’re different across the country. Are you subject to tornados or is it wildfires? Could it be flooding or hurricanes? Obviously, the threats along the coast are going to be different than the threats in, say, the middle of the country, in Kansas, where they’re subjected to tornados.
But the plan that you want – the checklist that you’re talking about, Leslie – there are some great ones out there. And if you go to the FEMA website – where you can actually download one of those plans. And it’ll give you that checklist so that you can look at all the things that you should be thinking about.
TOM: And that’s at Ready.gov, which has all of that sort of information on it. It’s really a great resource.
KEVIN: It’s a great resource. You can look at it, download it, keep it with you and refer back to it before the big event happens.
TOM: Now, one of the things you probably should consider is where exactly you’re going to go if you’ve got to get out.
KEVIN: I mean chances are, you are going to have to get out or someone you love is going to have to get out. And as soon as you get out, you may have lack of access to communication, so you want to know that in advance. Pick a loved one’s house, pick a friend’s house. Let your family members know that this is where we’ll go if we’re not going to be at home. “This is how you’ll reach me if you can’t reach me through the usual sources.”
LESLIE: Yeah. And I think a lot of things that people tend to overlook are your pets. Because if you have to sort of locate to a shelter for a temporary stay, some shelters don’t allow animals. You’ve got to consider those things.
KEVIN: When the hurricane comes to my house, my wife is packing up the dog before me. There’s no doubt about it.
TOM: You know where you sit.
KEVIN: She is not leaving Trapper behind.
So, yes, absolutely, pets are part of our families. They’re going to probably come with us. How are we going to care for them? Where are they going to go in one of those emergencies?
TOM: And part of getting out, also, is making sure you have those essential things, which in your wife’s case is the dog. But it could be medicine, eyeglasses, things that you don’t think about.
KEVIN: Well, prescriptions are very important. Obviously, documents that are very important. Social-security numbers for your kids; I don’t have those memorized. Insurance documents. The types of things that you might need. If you have to file a claim when you’re not at the house, you may not have access to them. Bring them with you if you can.
LESLIE: Yeah. And I think you really need to build a good support network. Because say you’re all alone in an area without family members nearby, you’ve got to make plans of where to go. So you’d better start making friends.
KEVIN: Definitely. Talk about it with your friends. Think about family members that are close. But then, as you say, if they’re not close, you have to rely on friends. Think about people around the church that you might be involved with or other groups that you might be involved with. All of these people are going to be the folks who you might have to rely on, so you should be talking about it with them, thinking about who you’re going to call, who you’re going to contact.
And also, think about who you’re going to check on. You might be the able-bodied person in the neighborhood but there might be elderly people on your street. Think about – “Should I go down and knock on their doors, see if they’re OK, if they’re prepared?” And if the disaster does hit, how are you going to contact them and make sure that they’ve got access to either communication or the things that they’re going to need.
TOM: It’s like we say in construction: “Plan your work and work your plan.” Right?
KEVIN: Plan your work and work your plan.
You know, the other thing to think about it, too, is in an emergency, communications may go down or they’re going to be stressed.
KEVIN: And so, making a phone call may not be possible. So texting is a great idea. It’s a lot easier for a text to get through. And I know my parents prefer to call me. I prefer to text my wife. But get them prepared to say, “Hey, Dad, listen, this is how you text. This is what we’re going to need to do.” Get them familiar with it beforehand.
TOM: Hey, that’s great advice. Kevin O’Connor from TV’s This Old House, thank you so much for stopping by The Money Pit.
KEVIN: Pleasure, guys.
LESLIE: Alright. Catch the current season of This Old House and Ask This Old House on PBS. For local listings and step-by-step videos of many common home improvement projects, visit ThisOldHouse.com.
TOM: And This Old House is brought to you on PBS by Lumber Liquidators. Hardwood floors for less.