Caregivers, Kupuna Must Plan Ahead to Survive a Disaster

If you are a kupuna or caregiver, especially if you take care of someone with dementia, the time to prepare for a major storm or disaster is now, before a disaster happens.

Hurricane season started June 1 in Hawaii. But disasters here could also include tsunami, power outages and even an earthquake.

Preparation for a disaster involves preparing and practicing a disaster plan and stocking and maintaining a disaster supply kit.

Caregivers and kupuna need to come up with a detailed disaster plan that involves creating a support network of neighbors and friends. Family caregivers may not be able to reach a loved one in an emergency, especially during an evacuation. Caregivers of people with dementia will also need more than one person to watch over a loved one to help keep them calm and to make sure they don’t wander away during a potentially chaotic evacuation or post-disaster environment.

State Emergency Management officials are recommending you keep a 14-day supply of food for each person in the disaster supply kit. That’s significantly increased from previous recommendations of three to seven days of supplies. The concern is that harbors could become unusable in a disaster and Oahu could run out of food before the ports can be reopened.

If you need to evacuate your home, don’t assume that the nearest school will opened as an emergency shelter. Toby Clairmont, executive officer of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, said that some facilities, especially older sites that had been designated as emergency shelters in the past, are being re-evaluated to see if they would safely survive a disaster. See if a relative or friend’s home in a safe area can be used as a back-up shelter and it’s a good idea to line up more than one back-up shelter in case the first one is not available.

Check your home to see if it is engineered to survive a severe storm and to see if it is outside tsunami and flood zones. If you live in a concrete building on an upper floor, you may be better off to shelter in place during a storm or tsunami.

Here are other disaster preparation tips for kupuna and caregivers.

· Nursing or Care Homes: People whose loved ones are in a care home or nursing home should ask to see the facility’s disaster plan. Get the phone number of and get to know the person in charge of evacuating residents. If the facility’s disaster plan is not adequate, urge or help them to update it or find another facility that can handle an emergency.

· Communications: A disaster plan includes communications and an emergency meeting place where families can go for protection or to reunite. Keep an old analog phone in the house if you have a landline. Those phones sometimes work when digital phones lose power. Learn how to text message. During a disaster, text messages often go through when voice lines are jammed. Post to and monitor social media so friends and family members can keep track of you. Bring important contact phone numbers and your cell phone charger if you evacuate.

· Dementia: During an evacuation, a person with dementia may become anxious. The National Institute on Aging offers this advice: Remain as calm and supportive as possible. He or she is likely to respond to the tone you set. Be sensitive to his or her emotions. Stay close, offer your hand, or give the person a reassuring hug. Do not leave him or her alone. Prepare to prevent wandering. Many people with dementia wander, especially under stress. Make sure the person is wearing an identification bracelet and identifying tags are sewn into clothes. Consider MedicAlert or other safe return programs. Pack familiar, comforting items for the person to help keep them calm. A household pet or favorite music may help. If conditions are noisy or chaotic, prepare to find a quieter place.

· Essential Medicines: Your emergency kit should include a two-week supply of needed medication. Don’t just leave the extra medicine in the kit and forget about it. Medicines have expiration dates and supplies need to be updated. If you require treatments administered by a clinic or hospital or by a service provider in your home, check with them about back-up plans in an emergency. If you use medical equipment in your home that requires electricity, talk to your health care provider about what to do during a power outage. Include extra eyeglasses and hearing aids in your emergency kit, along with extra batteries and chargers for battery-operated medical or assistive technology devices. If you use a motorized wheelchair, consider a light-weight manual chair as part of your kit. Include supplies for a service animal in your kit. Also include medical alert tags, bracelets or written descriptions of a disability and support needs in case you are unable to describe your situation.

· Essential Documents: Include copies of important documents in your emergency supply kit such as medical records, wills, deeds, power of attorney, family records, names and phone numbers of people in your personal support network, bank account information and tax records. Seal them in a waterproof container. Information relating to operating equipment or life-saving devices you or someone you care for relies on should also be included. Make a copy for a trusted friend or family member. Make sure you also have cash. Even if you do not have a computer, consider putting important information on a thumb drive.

· Fire Safety/Escape routes: Plan two ways out of every room in case of a fire or other emergency. Check for items like bookcases or overhead lights that could fall and block an escape path. Check hallways, stairwells, doorways and windows for hazards that may keep you from safely leaving a building during an emergency.

· Create the Good. Help your community prepare: Help your friends and neighbors prepare for a natural disaster. AARP has prepared a guide to help people, organizations, church and community groups create fun, informative workshops such as a document photocopying event to make sure people have copies of vital documents in an emergency; an event to prepare basic emergency supply kits; and a workshop to develop an evacuation plan. If you want to organize your neighbors, church or other groups, download our plans at

More Information:

Emergency Preparedness Checklist for Caregivers:
Five Disaster Prep Tips for Older Americans:
Alzheimer’s Association Disaster Preparedness:
MedicAlert® + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return® program:
Ready.Gov Disaster Preparation page:
CDC Disaster Preparedness links:
FEMA Emergency Preparedness Materials:
Quiz: Do you know How to Prepare for a Disaster:

Diane Ako

Peace of mind By Diane Ako I like to reflect on life. Sometimes it’s philosophically. Sometimes it’s humorously. For all its beauty, life is far too difficult a journey to take alone. You need the support and connection with others to help carry you along the way. Writing brings me that connection– within and without. It clarifies my thoughts and feelings. It helps me reach out to others for advice, wisdom, or feedback. Your thoughts become your actions. Your actions become you. A wise yogi- Patanjali- said, “Speak what is true. Speak what is pleasant.” Let’s speak of things pleasant to one another and seek some peace of mind along the way. ABOUT Diane Ako joined Hawaii: In Real Life in October 2016. She likes being part of a community of local bloggers – people who like writing and sharing, like she does. Ako is an anchor/ reporter at Island News (KITV4 – ABC) in Honolulu. She previously anchored and reported at KHON2 (FOX) and KHNL (NBC), and at stations in California, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania. She freelance writes for NMG Network's magazines. In between news jobs, in 2017, she launched and ran her own p.r. company, Diane Ako PR. From 2010-2014, she headed the public relations department at Halekulani Corporation, which oversees luxury resort Halekulani and boutique hotel Waikiki Parc. She’s been blogging since 2009 – before Hawaii: IRL, she wrote for The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, the state’s largest daily newspaper, where her stories garnered a dozen journalism awards and an Emmy nomination. Ako has a BA in Communications from Menlo College and an MA in Political Science from University of Hawaii at Manoa. She volunteers as a board member of the Honolulu Gay & Lesbian Cultural Foundation, a Shinto shrine maiden at Daijingyu Temple, a citizen-scientist studying shrimp, and a yoga teacher at a senior center.

Diane Ako has 274 posts and counting. See all posts by Diane Ako

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