Hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters can happen quickly without warning, leaving people scrambling to evacuate or batten down the hatches. Smaller-scale events like building fires and power outages can also seriously disrupt day-to-day living and put people in danger or leave them without a place to stay. Making a plan to keep safe in the face of these hazards is essential. That’s why you should ask about emergency preparedness for seniors when you’re considering an assisted living facility for your loved one.
To ensure there are emergency preparedness plans in place for possible disasters and disruptions, and to understand how they would work, consider asking these key questions as you visit potential communities.
What Is the Assisted Living Fire Evacuation Plan?Building fires are some of the most common disasters. If a fire occurs in a facility with many occupants – like a senior living community – it’s important for a plan to be in place to account for everyone’s safe escape, including those with special needs. Ask about the community’s emergency preparedness plan for seniors. Specifically ask about community’s fire evacuation plan with these questions:
- Is the building fully equipped with smoke alarms, fire alarms and fire extinguishers?
- Who is in charge of notifying the fire department?
- Who will wake or rouse residents who can’t hear the fire alarm?
- What emergency evacuation routes are available? How many emergency exits are there? What emergency routes are suitable for wheelchair-bound or physically impaired residents?
- Do you have fire evacuation training and drills for employees and occupants?
- Where is the nearest medical facility, in case residents have health problems related to smoke inhalation, burns or stress?
What Is the Emergency Evacuation Plan for Natural Disasters?
If a dangerous hurricane is on the way or a wildfire is nearby, state and local governments can declare states of emergency and employ mandatory or non-mandatory evacuations. You should ask the assisted living facility you’re considering if they’re up-to-date on government recommendations and how they’ll monitor these entities’ directions to evacuate. When reviewing the emergency preparedness plan for the assisted living facility, ask them to clarify:
- Who on staff will get in touch with emergency personnel and government officials
- Where the closest emergency shelters are located
- What transportation is in place to take residents to safety
- What nearby roads are assigned as evacuation routes
- Who will bring food and supplies for residents
- How residents’ necessary medications and medical supplies will get to the shelter site
- How and when residents’ families will be notified
- Who will ensure that Memory Care residents are kept safe
- Who will be in charge of ensuring all residents are accounted for
What Happens if the Community Is Advised to Shelter in Place?In some cases, staying inside is the safest bet during an emergency. State and local governments or emergency officials may tell residents to shelter in place for events like a fast-approaching storm, active shooter situation, terrorist attack or release of contaminants into the environment. You can ask about the community’s shelter-in-place procedures, including:
- How residents will be informed to stay indoors
- How doors, windows, vents and fans will be locked, stopped or sealed, if necessary
- What disaster supplies the community has on hand – like nonperishable food, bottled water, flashlights, battery-powered radios, fist-aid kits, batteries, plastic sheeting and duct tape – and in what amounts
- If hard-wired telephones are in place in case cell towers go down
- How the community will be informed of an all-clear announcement or direction to evacuate
- How and when family members will be informed
- What happens if a resident has a medical emergency
Are There Enough Staff to Support Emergency Preparedness Plans?Ask how many staff are assigned to each duty in the event of an evacuation or shelter-in-place order and how often these staff are trained in emergency procedures. It’s a good idea to make sure every staff member in charge has a backup who can fulfill the role if they’re away from the community. You should also ask staff to identify themselves as emergency point-people to residents.
What Is the Role of Residents’ Families in Emergencies?As mentioned above, find out how and when family members will be notified in case of emergency. Ask how you can help if you get the call. Should you attempt to pick up your loved one and transport them to safety? Is there a backup phone number or notification system in case regular phone lines are down? What shelters or safe areas does the community intend to use in case of an evacuation?
How Will Residents Be Identified and Tracked During Evacuations?
Any assisted living community you visit should have a system in place to keep track of residents at all times, including during emergencies. Resident wristbands or name tags and staff assigned to take attendance every step of the way will help keep residents safe.