A hurricane can be traumatic for anyone, but two particularly susceptible groups encountering trouble with evacuations and recovery are the youngest and oldest residents in hurricane zones. There are simple steps, however, you can take to limit stress and uncertainty when planning for a hurricane with children or the elderly in mind.
Helping children cope
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has created a list of guidelines families should follow to minimize stress for young kids when a storm hits, including advice to parents for preparing, responding and recovering from a hurricane as a family.
• Develop and practice a family preparedness plan. The plan should include how and where you will meet up if separated, identify an out-of-state telephone contact and make plans for pets as many hurricane shelters will not take animals.
• Give children factual information about hurricanes in simple terms.
• Have a designated hurricane supply list ready, including a child’s favorite toys and entertainment and provisions for rapid evacuation. Keep an emergency kit at the ready.
• Shield children from viewing severe injuries and damage as much as possible.
• Make a point of giving children a small snack or juice to help reassure them their needs will be met.
• Let children help in age-appropriate ways to increase their sense of control.
• Do not underestimate or dismiss the loss children feel for pets or special toys.
• Children will react differently to a hurricane and its aftermath. Common reactions include withdrawing from others and angry outbursts.
• Spend time talking to children after the storm, letting them know it’s OK to ask questions and to share worries. Make extra time to spend with your kids, especially at bedtime, and plan family activities like a game of cards. Honestly and briefly answer questions about their home, friends and community.
• Be a role model. Try to remain calm and hopeful. Be aware of what adults are saying about the hurricane or the damage. Children listen to adults’ conversations and may misinterpret what they hear.
• Replace lost or damaged toys as soon as you are able. Maintain regular daily life. Children feel more secure with structure and routine as much as possible.
• Encourage children to help in the recovery. Children cope better and recover sooner when they help others.
• Seek professional help if your child still has difficulties more than six weeks after the hurricane.
Considerations for the elderly
Dr. Elena Volpi, director of the Sealy Center on Aging at the University of Texas Medical Branch, said seniors may have special needs in case of a hurricane and should plan ahead to be best prepared.
• Before a hurricane hits, create and write down a plan with family, caregivers, a doctor or social worker. The plan should account for transportation, shelter, medications, pet care and any special medical needs.
• Prepare a kit with essential documents, clothes and supplies in case of an evacuation. This may include insurance documents, house deed, car title, photos, and medical records from your doctor.
• Have a cellphone with numbers of family members, out-of-town contacts and caregivers on speed-dial. Also, prepare a written list of contact information for both cellphones and landlines, in case your cellphone is not functioning or cell service is interrupted.
• If you have a disability, ensure your hurricane shelter or hotel is accessible and ask your doctor for advice on evacuating.
• If you have a pet ensure your hurricane shelter or hotel accepts pets or arrange for an alternative solution.
• If you need transportation or special assistance, you can sign up for evacuation transportation through your local emergency management office. Contact the office to sign up before time to ensure you will get a spot.
• When a hurricane is approaching, fill any necessary medications for yourself and your pets. Don’t wait until the last minute to ensure you can continue your treatment uninterrupted. After you have evacuated, a pharmacist may be able to transfer the prescription to another location of your drugstore.
• If your medication requires refrigeration, like insulin, be sure to have a cooler or other method of keeping it cool in an evacuation. Taking refrigerated medications at room temperature can be dangerous.
• If you have an in-home care provider or medical equipment such as an oxygen tank, call the service provider for advice for continued service through an evacuation.
For more help
For help forming a hurricane plan or to connect with other community resources, Volpi recommends visiting the Sealy Center on Aging’s Senior Learning Center housed in the UTMB Health Primary Care Pavilion, 400 Harborside Drive, or calling the center at 409-772-4704.