The truth of the matter is age is a factor that puts many at high risk during a disaster. Older adults account for a disproportionate number of fatalities in disasters.

For instance, many killed in California’s Camp Fire last year were elderly and/or disabled and unable to evacuate. Wildfires in northern California in 2017 had a similar story when Sonoma County Sheriff reported the average age of the deceased was 79.

Many community emergency plans assume people are able to respond to emergencies. However, some people have conditions that put them in a vulnerable situation even before an emergency. They may have mobility problems, or chronic health conditions, or may not have family or friends nearby for support.

Services that are usually available, such as help from caregivers or in-home health care and meal delivery services, may be unavailable for a period of time. Older adults may experience challenges such as hearing or vision problems making it difficult to access, understand and respond to emergency instructions.

Here in west-central Minnesota, tornadoes and blizzards may force you to evacuate your home or to shelter-in-place. It is important to know what to do in case of an emergency long before disaster strikes. While emergency planning is important for everyone, it is especially important for older adults.

To prepare for an emergency, make a plan:

  • First, choose a person who will check on you during a disaster.
  • Second, make a list of contact information of (and for) family and friends.
  • Third, plan where you will go during an evacuation and how you will get there. Consider signing up for CodeRed through your county sheriff’s office.
  • Finally, put together an emergency supply kit. Remember, after an emergency you may not have access to clean water or electricity. Make sure you are prepared with your own supply of food, water, medicine and other items to last for at least 72 hours.

Visit for a list of basic items to gather for your disaster supply kit and other important tips about being prepared for emergencies. You can also get information by calling Horizon Public Health at 320-208-6672.

Marcia Schroeder is a registered nurse with Horizon Public Health, which serves five counties, including Douglas County. Contact her at

The information in this column was provided by the Minnesota Department of Health and Brandon Klein, Horizon Public Health’s environmental health specialist.