Emergency Preparedness: Keep Seniors Safe During the Hottest Months

older person drinking water in front of a fan, thermometer showing high temperatures

According to the Canadian Red Cross, seniors are most at risk during emergencies. Natural events, such as wildfires, heat waves and other disasters can severely affect older adults as they are more likely to have issues with heating and air conditioning equipment, accessing food and less optimal housing conditions. These all affect both the mental and physical health of vulnerable adults. There are a few steps to prepare for the unexpected that will make things easier for them and their family members or caregivers.

 Often disasters or emergencies happen without warning so it’s critical to have a plan in place before an emergency happens. The United Way of BC encourages seniors to know the risks, make a plan and assemble an emergency kit. We’ve written about these topics in the past, but know that with seasonal changes, it’s important to review safety and keep resources handy. 

Assess Potential Risks for Vulnerable People

Make a list of potential risks. Start with weather events that usually happen each summer. These may include flooding, extreme heat and wildfires. Consider each person in the household and how these weather-related events may affect them. 

  • Food supply may be impacted.
  • Frail or disabled people may not be able to shop or attend appointments.
  • Medical services may be interrupted.
  • Housing may be poorly insulated, have poor windows, lack air conditioning or fans, or be close to a river or high water table. Conversely, drought may cause a lack of water or result in flooding after a heavy rainfall.
  • Cognitive impairment or a substance use disorder may affect the person’s ability to understand the negative effects of hot weather, inadequate housing or other adverse conditions.

Extreme Heat is Becoming the Norm

Summer heatwaves are soaring higher and lasting longer. Planning and preparing for stretches of extreme heat is essential as higher temperatures can lead to serious health risks and side-effects with some medications. 

Read our post on preparing for extreme heat for information and resources.

Wildfire Smoke: Health Effects and Prevention

Wildfire smoke can travel great distances and seriously affect our mental and physical health. Here are some tips and resources to protect yourself by improving your indoor air quality from wildfire pollution. 

Read our post on improving indoor air quality during wildfire season for information and resources.

Develop a Plan

  • Contact and list community support workers, neighbours, family members and other people who can be relied upon to assist in an emergency. This includes professionals such as the physician, pharmacist and insurance broker who provides services to the individual.
  • Create an emergency contact list. This will include the support network, but also family members, physicians, veterinarians, utility services, fire and ambulance, and so on.
  • Access a list of resources that provide community services listed above under “alerts.”
  • Plan when to stay and when to leave. Evacuation is only one option, so decide what would trigger that action. Designate one or two contacts who will know when the person evacuates. When possible, have one person who is in another community who likely won’t lose services from the same conditions.

Read our story on emergency planning, find templates and access other resources.

Assemble an Emergency Kit

Build an emergency kit of essentials in a lightweight bag or backpack. Hopefully, a support person will be there to carry it for them, but they may have to carry it themselves, so start with the essentials, such as medications and contact lists. Things to include:

  • Prescription and over-the-counter medications
  • Medical devices and batteries or chargers (don’t forget hearing aid batteries)
  • Extra prescription or reading glasses
  • The emergency plan with personal contacts and community resources
  • Important documents, including a BC Services Card, social insurance number, permanent residence card, status card, financial and credit accounts and a personal will
  • Cell phone and powerbank
  • Portable radio
  • Small first aid kit (bandaids, alcohol wipes, antibiotic cream)
  • Lightweight, nourishing food such as protein bars and dried fruit; self-opening tins for canned food
  • Drinking water
  • Emergency blanket
  • Small pad of paper and a pen  
  • Flashlight and batteries
  • Whistle
  • Change of clothes and sturdy shoes
  • Pet food

Tips for Caregivers and Support Persons

You may have to assist the vulnerable adult in making decisions such as evacuating from their home, leaving the street and entering a cooling centre, or leaving a beloved pet in another person’s care. Remember that no two people are alike and when dealing with a person with dementia, active mental health issues, or a physical or cognitive disability, you may have to provide additional emotional or physical support.

Hopefully, the person has an emergency plan that spells out your role and their wishes for the next steps. If not, some negotiation may take place. Be sure to communicate clearly and allow for any cognitive or hearing impairment or other challenges that may affect communication. If you take the person to a service provider, be sure to let them know the person’s needs.


Planning and Preparation Guides

Many of these tips were summarized from the Emergency Preparedness for Older Adults guide (Canadian Red Cross) and the Emergency Preparedness Guide: What Seniors Need to Know (United Way British Columbia). Both guides contain templates for developing emergency plans, more tips on wildfires and earthquakes, and links to local resources.

Provincial Resources

In BC, emergency alerts are broadcast on TV, radio, and cell phones to provide urgent public safety information during life-threatening emergencies.

Emergency Info BC is active during partial and full-scale provincial emergencies, both on its website and Twitter. They share verified event information during emergencies, as well as official response and recovery resources.

Wildfire in British Columbia:  1 800 663-5555 or (*5555 from a cell phone)

Regional Districts

The local government system in British Columbia is unique in Canada. In addition to municipalities, the province is divided into 27 regional districts.  Smaller communities have the benefit of joining with others on projects including emergency services. For information about the regional district you live in, search: civicinfo.bc.ca/regionaldistricts or  call 1-800-663-7867.


Explore our website to learn more about BC CRN or connect with your local CRN for more information or resources. 



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