Highlighting Honolulu

Make a Plan; Keep Kupuna Safe in a Fire or Other Disaster

Posted on 08/22/23

The wildfires on Maui are a stark reminder that a disaster can happen at any time and that thinking about and planning for a fire, hurricane, tsunami or other disaster is an imperative, especially for kupuna and caregivers of kupuna.

Preparation for a disaster involves preparing and practicing a disaster plan and stocking and maintaining a disaster supply kit. The links in this article will help you create a disaster plan and go bag of essential supplies in case you need to evacuate.

Fires are especially dangerous for kupuna. Older Americans are 2.5 times more likely to die in a fire than the general population. The Hawaii Wildfire Management Association has prepared a Ready, Set, Go! guide to help keep you and your family safe from wildfires. The guide contains tips on hardening your home against fire danger and information on recognizing fire danger and preparing an escape plan. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Fire Administration also have tips for kupuna and organizations that help kupuna on how to reduce your risk of fire death. Those tips include having a working smoke detector and having and practicing an escape plan for fires. The American Red Cross has its Sound the Alarm program to provide smoke detectors at no cost to kupuna and others who need them. The website also has tips on planning an escape route from a fire.

Caregivers and kupuna should have an emergency plan for any natural disaster, including power outages and earthquakes in addition to fires, hurricanes and tsunami. One of the keys to a successful plan involves creating a support network of family, neighbors and friends. Family caregivers may not be able to reach a loved one in an emergency, especially during an evacuation. Caregivers of people with dementia will also need more than one person to watch over a loved one to help keep them calm and to make sure they don’t wander away.
You should also keep an emergency grab bag with medications, important papers like passports and power of attorney, medical instructions, and phone numbers and contact information, phone charger or batteries, ect. A larger bag should contain water and food. FEMA and the Red Cross have recommendations on what your emergency kit should contain.

Hawai`i emergency management officials recommend having a 14-day supply of food and water for each person in a disaster supply kit. That’s significantly increased from what’s suggested for the mainland and previous recommendations in Hawaii of three to seven days of supplies. The concern is that harbors could become unusable in a disaster and Oahu could run out of food before the ports can be reopened.

If you need to evacuate your home, don’t assume that the nearest school will opened as an emergency shelter. Some facilities that had been designated as emergency shelters in the past are now in expanded flood or tsunami zones. See if a relative or friend’s home in a safe area can be used as a back-up shelter and it’s a good idea to line up more than one back-up shelter in case the first one is not available.

Check your home to see if it is engineered to survive a severe storm and to see if it is outside of tsunami and flood zones. If you live in a concrete building on an upper floor, you may be better off to shelter in place during a storm or tsunami.

Here are other disaster preparation tips for kupuna and caregivers.

  • Nursing or Care Homes: People whose loved ones are in a care home or nursing home should ask to see the facility’s disaster plan. Get the phone number of and get to know the person in charge of evacuating residents. If the facility’s disaster plan is not adequate, urge or help them to update it or find another facility that can handle an emergency.
  • Communications: A disaster plan includes communications and an emergency meeting place where families can go for protection or to reunite. It’s a good idea to keep an old analog phone in the house. Those phones sometimes work when digital phones lose power. If the person you care for can use a smart phone, teach them how to text message. During a disaster, text messages can sometimes go through when regular voice lines are jammed. Post to and monitor social media so friends and family members can keep track of you. Bring important contact phone numbers and your cell phone charger if you evacuate.
  • Dementia: During an evacuation, a person with dementia may become anxious. The Alzheimer’s Association offers this advice: Remain as calm and supportive as possible. He or she is likely to respond to the tone you set. Be sensitive to his or her emotions. Stay close, offer your hand, or give the person a reassuring hug. Do not leave him or her alone. Prepare to prevent wandering. Many people with dementia wander, especially under stress. Make sure the person is wearing an identification bracelet and identifying tags are sewn into clothes. Pack familiar, comforting items for the person to help keep them calm. A household pet or favorite music may help. If conditions are noisy or chaotic, prepare to find a quieter place.
  • Essential Medicines: Make sure your emergency kit includes a two-week supply of needed medication and don’t just leave the extra medicine in the kit and forget about it. Medicines have expiration dates and supplies need to be updated. If you require treatments administered by a clinic or hospital or by a service provider in your home, check with them about back-up plans in an emergency. If you use medical equipment in your home that requires electricity, talk to your health care provider about what to do during a power outage. Include extra eyeglasses and hearing aids in your emergency kit, along with extra batteries for hearing aids and chargers for battery-operated medical or assistive technology devices. If you use a motorized wheelchair, consider a light-weight manual chair as part of your kit. Include supplies for a service animal in your kit. Also include medical alert tags, bracelets or written descriptions of a disability and support needs in case you are unable to describe your situation.
  • Essential Documents: Include copies of important documents in your emergency supply kit such as medical records, wills, deeds, power of attorney, family records, names and phone numbers of people in your personal support network, bank account information and tax records. Seal them in a waterproof container. Information relating to operating equipment or life-saving devices you or someone you care for relies on should also be included. Make a copy for a trusted friend or family member. Make sure you also have cash. Even if you do not have a computer, consider putting important information on a thumb drive.
  • Fire Safety/Escape routes: Plan two ways out of every room in case of a fire or other emergency. Check for items like bookcases or overhead lights that could fall and block an escape path. Check hallways, stairwells, doorways and windows for hazards that may keep you from safely leaving a building during an emergency.
  • Create the Good. Help your community prepare: Help your friends and neighbors prepare for a natural disaster. AARP has prepared a guide to help people, organizations, church and community groups create fun, informative workshops such as a document photocopying event to make sure people have copies of vital documents in an emergency; an event to prepare basic emergency supply kits; and a workshop to develop an evacuation plan. Download our plans at https://createthegood.aarp.org/volunteer-guides/operation-hurricane-prepare.html.

More Information:
Senior Emergency Preparedness:

National Institute on Aging Disaster Preparedness:

Emergency Preparedness Checklist for Caregivers:

Alzheimer’s Association Disaster Preparedness:

Ready.Gov Disaster Preparation page: https://www.ready.gov/

Hawaii Emergency Management Agency:

Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization Guide: https://www.hawaiiwildfire.org/fire-resource-library-blog/rsg-your-personal-wildland-fire-action-guide?fbclid=IwAR1KCEUO369ovN62Ixc0lnlaUhHz6PCUZdbxyrit9Pf2EIORzX1scvijm0g

CDC Emergency Preparedness links: https://emergency.cdc.gov/

Quiz: Are you Prepared for a Natural Disaster?: https://www.aarp.org/home-family/personal-technology/info-2023/disaster-tech-quiz.html

Essential Technology to Have During Natural Disasters: https://www.aarp.org/home-family/personal-technology/info-2022/disaster-apps-and-gadgets.html

This story is provided by AARP Hawaii. Visit the AARP Hawaii page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.

More from AARP in Honolulu

Upcoming AARP Events

View All AARP Events

Only $12 your first year with Automatic Renewal
  • Immediate access to your member benefits
  • Discounts on travel and everyday savings
  • Subscription to AARP The Magazine
  • FREE second membership
Already a member? Renew or Print Card

Contact AARP
in Honolulu