Do you have a plan in place for what to do if an emergency should arise? Thinking about what to do if, say, a fire were to break out isn’t something most of us want to dwell on. Nevertheless, situations arise that are beyond our control. In such cases, emergency preparedness can make a big difference — especially for seniors, who are often more vulnerable than others.
All in all, we’re fortunate here in Washington. We don’t have to worry about hurricanes or tornadoes like so much of the East Coast, South and Midwest do. And generally, we don’t have the threat of wide-ranging wildfires or severe earthquakes like our neighbors to the south do. We’re seldom troubled with harsh winter storms like a lot of the rest of the country is, either.
But there are still emergencies that we can — and should — be prepared for. You can find useful information online from organizations such as the American Red Cross that will come in handy when planning what to do in various types of situations.
To help you get started, we’ve included a basic checklist.
A Little Preparation Now Can (Literally) Save You Later
The following list covers many of the basics to consider when making your emergency preparedness plan.
Know how to evacuate your home.
This might sound like a no-brainer, but in an emergency situation, stress and confusion can make even the simplest of actions challenging. Would you know what to do if you woke up in the middle of the night and discovered that your house was on fire? If the doorway to the room you’re in wasn’t an option, how would you get out? If your mobility is limited, would you have assistance? What about your pets or grandchildren who might be staying with you?
Have a backup plan for power outages.
Having to do without electricity for a few hours is something that most people can manage. But if you have medical devices that rely on power, what then? And what if the outage lasts longer? Do you have medications that need to be kept cold? What if you need to charge your phone?
Make an emergency contact list and keep it handy.
Your list should include not only phone numbers for your local fire and police departments but also poison control and medical professionals you might need to reach. You may also want to add the numbers of at least a few friends and relatives, just in case. Another helpful tip is to have a communication plan. This could be as simple as a group you create for emergency text messages. Or, you could establish a phone call chain in which you would notify one person who would then call the next person on the list, and that person would call the next.
Have a stash of supplies.
At a minimum, you should have a flashlight and batteries, bottled water, a first-aid kit, non-perishable food, a radio that doesn’t rely on electricity, a several-day supply of medications you take, blankets and towels, some cash, an extra phone charger, a change of clothes, personal hygiene items and copies of important documents. If possible, include an extra pair of eyeglasses and/or dentures if you wear them (old ones might suffice for this purpose).
Maintain a file of your medical information.
This should include any information that others might need to know about you if you aren’t able to communicate. If someone needed to take you to the emergency room, they should know about any medical conditions and allergies you have (including allergic reactions to medications), as well as what medicines you are currently taking. They would also need your insurance information. Your file should also include a list of the names and phone numbers of physicians and other medical professionals you see. While we’re on the topic, it’s a good idea to get and wear a medical alert bracelet or pendant so that at least the basic information is readily available.
How We Handle Emergency Preparedness for Seniors at Herons Key
Nothing is more important to us than the health and well-being of those who live and work in our community. To help ensure everyone’s safety, we developed an emergency plan long before Heron’s Key welcomed our first resident, and we update it regularly.
As part of our plan, we have floor captains — volunteer residents — who are trained to help make sure that all residents know what to do in an emergency situation. These floor captains also check during the safety drills we hold to see that everyone is safe and accounted for.
We also have emergency supply kits for every floor in each building that includes many of the items from the checklist above.
The Great Washington ShakeOut
Heron’s Key participates in the Great Washington ShakeOut each October. Many people don’t realize that we frequently experience very minor earthquakes here in Washington. While we hope never to experience a “big one,” it’s always best to play it safe.
During the ShakeOut drill, an alert is sounded throughout the community. Residents are instructed on what to do while the “quake” is taking place. Afterward, they place a red or green tag on their door to indicate whether they are okay.
The floor captains, who communicate with the “incident command center” through radios, then conduct a safety assessment to see if any residents need assistance (i.e., whether there are red or missing door tags) or if anyone is not accounted for. Some residents are instructed ahead of time to put the red tag on their door as part of the drill.
We have a triage area set up as part of the overall plan. Nurses from Penrose Harbor here in the community are available to help assess those who need medical assistance. Penrose Harbor, which is where Heron’s Key residents who require assisted living, memory care or skilled nursing live, conducts its own ShakeOut drill at the same time as the drill for residents in our independent living apartments and cottages.
Emergency Prep Group
“We have a very engaged emergency prep group here,” said Dave Charbonneau, our facilities director. “They’re gung ho and well prepared.”
Dave also pointed out that Heron’s Key has stair chairs to use for emergency evacuations if residents who typically use a walker or wheelchair need to use the stairs instead of the elevators.
“From time to time we’ll incorporate those in our drills for the Great ShakeOut,” he said.
While we’re checking to see that all residents and employees are safe, we also conduct a building and systems assessment for water or gas leaks and to make sure the generator is operating properly.
Clint Blomberg, who’s the resident “floor” captain for the cottages here at Heron’s Key, suggested that homeowners should know where their water, gas and power shutoffs are and should check them after any emergency that might affect them. He is responsible for checking all of the cottages during the Heron’s Key drills.
“Most newer residences nowadays have automatic control valves on the gas. So, if you have an earthquake or something like that, it’ll automatically shut the gas off,” Clint said. “But the older residences don’t have that, so you have to know how to shut the gas off.”
Dave noted that Heron’s Key has added automatic gas shutoffs for the main building on our campus, along with an earthquake valve for each of the cottages.
Semi-annual Fire Drills
Heron’s Key also has fire drills twice a year, which we hold in conjunction with Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One.
“The local fire department is a great asset,” Dave said. “We’re the biggest facility they have, so they bring new people here to train. They’re here quite a few times a year.”
Clint offered a precautionary tip for homeowners: “Check your smoke alarms. Those that are battery-powered should have the batteries replaced once a year, regardless of how good you think those batteries are. Batteries aren’t that expensive.”
October Emergency Fair
This month we’ll be having an emergency fair to coincide with the Great Washington ShakeOut. At the fair, residents can learn more about what to do to stay safe during an emergency and what to have on hand.
Roxanne Castleman-Reffalt, the community and 911 educator for Pierce County Emergency Management, will be here at the fair. She’ll be available to answer questions and provide checklist items.
A Heron’s Key resident who’s part of the Pet Partners animal therapy program will be at the fair, too, to offer recommendations for keeping pets safe during emergencies.
Come See Us!
As a member of our community, you’d be prepared for virtually any emergency. To learn more about Heron’s Key and what all we do to make sure residents and staff here stay safe, we invite you to set up a personal tour.
You can also follow us on Facebook, where we frequently share helpful resources specifically for older adults.
We’re here to answer your questions about Heron’s Key and help you decide whether you’d like to make our community your new home.