Florida’s hurricane season ends on Nov. 30, but as we’ve seen with Hurricane Matthew, it’s critical to be prepared.
Matthew caused millions of dollars in damage, left more than 1 million people without power, led to flash-flooding and caused four deaths throughout the state.
Unfortunately, some residents do not take hurricane warnings as seriously as they should, doing little to prepare or staying in their homes even when they’re told to evacuate. Seniors are especially at risk when there are weather emergencies because they may not have the resources or the physical ability to get themselves to a safer location. In some cases, they might not even know what resources are available to keep them safe. Both Orange County and the State of Florida offer assistance to seniors who need help during these events. Here’s what you can do to stay safe and prepare for the next emergency.
Register with the Florida’s Special Needs Registry
Florida’s Division of Emergency Management has worked with Orange County’s emergency management agency to create a special needs registry for residents who need assistance during a weather emergency or disaster. Those who register receive information with important updates about evacuation and locations that offer shelter. To register, go to the division’s website and enter your name, address, phone number and email, then complete the survey and provide information for your emergency point of contact, assistance required, pet information (if applicable) and additional details.
If you don’t have internet access, contact the Orange County People with Special Needs Program at (407) 836-9319 or the Orange County Office of Emergency Management at (407) 836-9140 to request a registration form. Many documents are available in Spanish on Orange County’s website.
Pay Attention to the News
When there’s a weather emergency, your local new outlets are the best source for up-to-date information. They may provide information on evacuation advisories, possible service disruptions in your area, business closings and options for shelter. If you aren’t registered with the county, you still can be placed in a special needs shelter if you call the county (407-836-3111) after these announcements are made on the television or radio. The county will then prioritize you based on your level of need and determine what special needs sheltering may be available.
Orange County has three special needs shelter sites (the Red Cross also provides shelter). If you go to a shelter site, remember to bring all your medications, personal care items, special dietary foods and any special medical equipment or supplies you’ll need, like a nebulizer, oxygen or wheelchair.
Prepare an Emergency Kit
It’s also important to stock an emergency or disaster kit in your home, just in case you can’t reach a shelter in time. Your disaster kit should include:
- A first aid kit
- Flashlights, batteries
- A portable, battery-powered radio, solar charger
- Extra blankets, pillows and rain gear
- Personal hygiene items
- Cash and coins (ATMs may not work after a power outage)
- Over-the-counter medications and any necessary prescriptions (refill these ahead of time)
- A manual can opener and a one-week supply of non-perishable food, including bread, peanut butter, jelly, bottled water, juice, cereal, canned goods like beans, evaporated milk and pet food (if applicable).
In addition, make sure you have copies of your photo ID, passport, credit cards and other important documents. Ask your caregiver or closest family member to create a family emergency plan that includes your medical information, the names and phone numbers of your doctors and contact information for other family members or friends who you should contact during an emergency.
Seniors are very vulnerable during weather disasters. As we’ve unfortunately seen, power outages can lead to medical device failures that put the elderly in jeopardy or the homebound may not be able to evacuate to a safer place in time. Work with your caregivers to come up with a plan before the next hurricane hits and contact Orange County to sign up for its special needs registry. Taking these steps now could keep you safe during an emergency.