With hurricane season fast approaching, a report from AARP finds that in disasters, older adults face challenges different from the rest of the adult population. The searing images of older Americans during Hurricane Katrina made this very clear and revealed significant weaknesses in how prepared we are to protect our most vulnerable citizens.

To help decision makers at all levels understand how to better protect this population, AARP released a report entitled “We Can Do Better: Lessons Learned for Protecting Older Persons in Disasters.” The report focuses on three broad areas, including planning and communications, identifying who needs help and what kind of help, and evacuating older people. The report is being released in conjunction with the start of hurricane season and National Hurricane Preparedness Week.

One of the conclusions of the report is that integrating the needs of vulnerable older people and people with disabilities in existing emergency planning efforts is paramount. The report also identifies critical challenges that need to be overcome.

They include:

  • More clearly defining, “who should do what when” among the array of organizations that have responsibilities during a disaster situation.
  • Providing education and preparedness information to older people, and those with disabilities, appropriate to their needs and in accessible formats.
  • Building relationships among organizations before disaster strikes to improve coordination and communication in emergency situations.
  • Improving identification and tracking methods of both people and health information.

Hurricane Katrina resulted in 1,330 deaths, many of who were elderly. In Louisiana, roughly 71 percent of the victims were older than 60, and 47 percent of those were more than 75 years of age.

A key finding highlighted in the report from a Harris Interactive Survey conducted for AARP states about 13 million persons age 50 and older in the United States say they will need help evacuating in a disaster; with about half of these individuals requiring help from someone outside their household. This proportion increases with age.

The report is the result of an AARP conference of more than 100 government officials at the federal, state, and local levels; emergency preparedness and response experts; relief organizations; and aging and disability advocates. The goal of the conference was to bring together a diverse group of experts to explore strategies to protect older people in both the community and long-term care facilities during disasters.

In addition to “We Can Do Better,” AARP has released a complementary guide, “Dealing with Disasters,” to help those whose lives have been affected by disaster to cope with the aftermath, as well as to provide preparedness best practices for future disasters. The information covers, among other areas, how to create a personal disaster plan, ways to best evacuate when conditions warrant, methods of preventing illness and injury during a natural disaster, and tips for returning home in the aftermath of a disaster.

The reports, “We Can Do Better,” and “Dealing with Disasters Guide” are available online. To view this information and learn more about AARP’s efforts to address the needs of older people in the face of a disaster, please visit www.aarp.org/katrina.