Severe storms, freezing temperatures, hurricanes and heat waves are becoming more common throughout the world. In 2020, there were 457 weather-related fatalities in the United States. The leading cause of weather fatalities in the U.S. was extreme heat, followed by floods and tornadoes. 

Seniors are at an especially high risk of experiencing injuries and illnesses related to natural disasters. An estimated 85% of older adults live with one or more chronic health conditions and reduced mobility  These factors make dealing with power outages, extreme temperatures and emergency evacuations difficult. 

Although we can’t prevent weather-related natural disasters, being prepared can make all the difference during an emergency. Being prepared means knowing what your personal risks are and the types of natural disasters that are likely to occur where you live. 

In this guide, you’ll learn what you can do to stay safe during a disaster. You’ll discover helpful tips on preparing your home for extreme weather events and how to assess the risks in your region. You’ll also find disaster preparedness checklists for seniors and caregivers, as well as pet owners. 

Identify Disaster Risks in Your Region

The likelihood of experiencing a weather-related disaster depends largely on where you live. For example, residents of Florida and the neighboring states need to prepare for hurricane season each year, while those in the New England states are susceptible to blizzards, ice storms and freezing temperatures in the winter.   

You can use FEMA’s National Risk Index to identify what kinds of weather-related risks are most common in your area. There are also several other government-run resources designed to help seniors and their caregivers prepare for natural disasters, including the website

Universal Disaster Readiness Tips for Seniors

There are many universal steps that seniors and their caregivers can take to prepare for a natural disaster, regardless of where they live:

  • Create an emergency plan. This should include who the senior will contact during an emergency and what the senior should do if phone service is disrupted. 
  • Enroll in local disaster readiness registries offered through local police departments, fire services and senior centers. 
  • Pack an emergency ready kit with medications, essential medical supplies, non perishable snacks,  bottled water, local maps, flashlight with extra batteries, cell phone with charger and backup battery and important documents such as identification, insurance cards and financial information. 
  • Know where the nearest emergency shelter is, and plan how the senior can safely access that shelter.
  • If the senior relies on routine medical treatments, such as dialysis, contact the treatment provider to learn about their emergency plan.
  • Identify medications and medical supplies needed daily, such as prescription drugs, catheters or ostomy bags. Aim to always have a one-month supply of essential items on-hand at all times, as supply chains may be disrupted following a natural disaster. 
  • Power outages are common during many types of severe weather, so make sure the senior has several battery-powered flashlights readily available.
  • Seniors who use CPAP machines should have a backup battery unit charged and ready to use.
  • Keep ice packs on hand to store insulin and other medications that need to be kept cool.
  • Ensure portable oxygen canisters are on hand and filled for use.

How To Prepare for the Most Common Natural Disasters

How To Prepare for the Most Common Natural Disasters

In the U.S., extreme heat events have become one of the most common weather-related natural disasters. Unlike isolated, short-term events, such as storms and earthquakes, high temperatures can persist for days or weeks at a time. This makes it especially important to prepare for the possibility of a prolonged heatwave, regardless of where you live. Below, we’ve outlined essential information to prepare for the most common natural disasters.

Natural Disaster


High-Risk Regions

Potential Impacts on Seniors

Risk of Evacuation Order

Extreme Heat



  • Heatstroke
  • Heat-related edema
  • Disorientation due to dehydration

No, but vulnerable seniors may need to relocate to an emergency cooling center

Extreme Cold 


More common in northern states, but extreme cold events have occurred as far south as Texas

  • Hypothermia
  • Dehydration
  • Frostbite
  • Fires caused by the use of space heaters 
  • Burns from portable heating pads

Low risk of evacuation unless power outages occur

Forest and Grass Fires



  • Respiratory distress
  • Loss of power and telecommunications

High risk of needing to evacuate at short notice


Year-round; higher risk during spring

Nationwide, greater near rivers and on flood plains

  • No access to safe drinking water
  • Exposure to dangerous pathogens in floodwaters
  • Loss of power 

High risk of needing to evacuate at short notice

Hurricanes and Tsunamis

Year-round for tsunamis; June-November for hurricanes

Coastal regions

  • Little notice of flooding from tsunamis 
  • Flooding, loss of utility services
  • Lack of access to essential services due to damaged roads 

High risk of needing to evacuate at short notice



Nationwide; higher along West Coast

  • Homes may be rendered unsafe

  • Damaged water, electrical and gas services
  • May be cut off from support services

Low to moderate risk of evacuation



Risk is highest throughout Midwest

  • Damage to home, including broken windows, roof damage and downed power lines
  • Loss of utility services

May need to evacuate if home is rendered unsafe 

Ice Storms and Blizzards


Highest risk in traditional snow belt areas, but ice and snow storms can affect states as far south as Texas

  • Extreme cold
  • Loss of utility services, including water and power
  • Risk of hypothermia
  • Fires from unsafe space heaters

Usually safest to shelter in place unless home becomes dangerously cold

Extreme Heat

Seniors aged 65 and older and many individuals with chronic health conditions are susceptible  to heat-related health issues. As we age,  our bodies lose their natural ability to adapt to temperature changes. Seniors who are exposed to high temperatures may suffer from heat-related health problems, such as:

  • Heat exhaustion
  • nausea and vomiting
  • Sudden dizziness and disorientation
  • Heat cramps and diarrhea
  • Heat-related edema in the ankles and legs
  • Heatstroke is characterized by dry skin, high temperature, slow pulse rate and changes in mood and behavior 
  • Exacerbation of preexisting cardiac, respiratory and cerebral illnesses.

Preparing for Extreme Heat Events

Seniors and their caregivers can reduce the risk of heat-related illness by: 

  •  Utilize air conditioning, portable air conditioner and fans to create a designated cooling room
  • Maintain proper hydration by drinking water throughout the day and tracking water consumption
  • Wearing light-colored, loose-fitting clothes made from natural fibers, such as cotton
  • Taking frequent cool showers and keeping a cool, damp cloth on the back of the neck
  • Blocking UV heat gain by using blackout curtains, especially on all south and east-facing windows
  • Staying in the shade and using a strong sunblock when outside
  • Keeping electrolyte drinks or electrolyte powder mixes on hand for use at the first signs of dehydration
  • Having an emergency plan in place in case of power outages

Extreme Cold

Older adults have a higher risk of severe health problems due to extreme cold than children and adults. Even a relatively mild case of hypothermia can trigger heart, kidney and liver damage in seniors, particularly if they’ve experienced  hypothermia or low body temperature in the past. 

Preparing for Extreme Cold Weather

Seniors and their caregivers can reduce the risk of hypothermia by: 

  • Keeping the heating system well-maintained and having it inspected annually. 
  • Having a backup heat source available, such as a space heater that meets state and federal safety regulations
  • Adding weatherstripping to all exterior windows and doors
  • Having temperature-appropriate clothing readily available, such as thermal underwear, heavy jackets and insulated hats
  • Rescheduling any non-urgent errands or appointments during freezing temperatures 
  • Knowing the location of the closest emergency warming center in case the furnace fails

Forest and Grass Fires

Each year there are more than 58,000 wildfires in the United States, and shifting global weather patterns have extended the wildfire season from late spring to late autumn. The risk of wildfires is highest in Western and Southern states, such as California, Texas and Colorado, although major wildfires have also occurred in Florida. 

Preparing for Forest and Grass Fires

Reducing the risk of injury and illness during wildfire season involves   preparing your home against fire damage, stocking up on life-sustaining essentials and preparing for emergency evacuation. To prepare for forest and grass fires, you should:

  • Clear all combustibles, such as hedges, from the exterior of your home.
  • Consider installing fire-resistant landscaping features, such as pavers and natural stone.
  • Keep an emergency stock of food, water and medications on-hand in case supply chains are disrupted.
  • Have an emergency ready kit on hand. 
  • Purchase a HEPA air purifier for your home to reduce your exposure to airborne irritants.
  • Maintain a stock of high-quality N95 disposable or elastomeric respirators to wear when the air quality is poor due to smoke. 
  • Know where your nearest emergency fire shelter is, and plan at least two routes from your home to the shelter.


Regardless of where you live in the United States, there’s a chance your home is at risk of being flooded. Localized flooding can occur during the winter due to frozen municipal water pipes, while areas near rivers and waterways are vulnerable to flooding during the spring. 

You can find your property’s flood risk by searching for your address on the FEMA Flood Map

Preparing for Flood Events

Flooding presents several unique challenges and risks, especially for seniors. As an older adult, you may have some mobility issues that could make evacuation during a flood difficult, and you could be at an increased   sensitivity of waterborne illness and disease. 

Here are some things you can do to prepare for flood events in your area: 

  • Keep at least a 3-day supply of bottled water on hand.
  • Store photos, documents and keepsakes in water-tight containers on the upper floor of your home.
  • Have a commode,camping toilet or bucket designated for bathroom waste ready in case your sewage system floods or your water is cut off. 
  • Be physically and emotionally prepared  to evacuate your home on short notice. 

Hurricanes and Tsunamis

Hurricane season lasts from mid-May through to the end of November in many coastal regions, making hurricane preparedness a must for anyone living in these areas. Thankfully, meteorologists are able to track hurricanes, so you’ll likely have  advance notice of any hurricanes that might impact your community. 

Preparing for Hurricanes and Tsunamis

You can prepare for hurricanes and tsunamis by:

  • Knowing where your nearest emergency shelter is located and planning how you’ll get there during an emergency
  • Monitoring weather tracking stations during hurricane season
  • Keeping trees trimmed of dead branches that could cause damage during high winds


Earthquakes can strike at any time. Some areas along the Pacific Coast, as well as the southern and central U.S., are at an especially high risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the “key to surviving an earthquake and reducing your risk of injury lies in planning, preparing and practicing what you and your loved ones will do if it happens.” 

Preparing for Earthquakes

Take the following steps to prepare for an earthquake:

  • Secure bookshelves and other heavy or high furniture to the wall using earthquake straps. 
  • Remove any pictures and artwork from the wall above your bed.
  • Keep a pair of sturdy, closed-toe shoes handy, as you may have to walk through broken glass to exit your home. 
  • Know the safest place to shelter in your home during an earthquake. 


Tornadoes are violent weather events that can cause widespread property damage. In the U.S., the risk of tornados is highest in what’s commonly known as Tornado Alley, a wide area spanning from northern Texas through Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Oklahoma and Louisiana. However, tornadoes have also impacted other states, including Florida, New York and Ohio. 

Preparing for Tornadoes

You and your loved ones can prepare for a tornado by:

  • Knowing where you can shelter in place in your home
  • Store and secure all patio furniture and other outdoor objects that could become projectiles in high winds.

Ice Storms and Blizzards

Ice storms and blizzards are relatively common throughout the northeastern region of the country, but these extreme weather events can strike areas as far south as Texas and northern Florida. It’s usually far safer to shelter in place in your home than it is to evacuate during a cold-weather event.

Preparing for Ice Storms and Blizzards

Taking these steps can help you prepare for ice storms and blizzards:

  • Have a CSA-approved space heater equipped with an automatic shut-off switch and an enclosed heater element on hand. 
  • Ensure that all your doors and windows are sealed with weatherstripping to reduce heat loss. 
  • If you have a wood-burning fireplace or stove, have it inspected and cleaned each year. 
  •  Keep heavy blankets, sleeping bags and warm clothing on hand. 
  • Ask for help with snow removal, and be sure that at least one exterior door to your home is accessible at all times. 
  • Keep a bag of ice-melting salt or sand on hand to de-ice your walkway. 
  • Be aware of ice buildup on power lines that could cause the lines to snap and transformer fires. 

What to Do During and After a Disaster

What to Do During and After a Disaster

It’s important to know what to do during a disaster, so you can keep yourself and your loved ones safe. Here are the two most important things to do when disaster strikes:

Stay Informed

  • Keep up-to-date with conditions in your area by watching your local news, listening to your regional radio station and monitoring websites. 
  • If you have access to a weather alert radio, tune in to your local frequency.

Ask for Help

  • If you need assistance, don’t wait to ask for help — call your emergency contacts, neighbors or local emergency services right away.

After a Disaster

While it’s important to prepare for a disaster, it’s also important to know what to do after a disaster. The most important things to do after a disaster are:

Stay Safe

  • If there’s a chance your water supply has been contaminated, don’t use it. Drink only bottled water until you know your tap water is safe to use. 
  • Don’t leave your home unless absolutely necessary.
  • Never use a grill or propane-powered barbecue or camping stove as a source of heat. 

Connecting With Loved Ones

  • If the phone lines are working, call your loved ones to let them know where you are and what condition you’re in. 

How to Get Help Preparing Your Home for a Disaster

There are steps you can take to get help with preparing your home and financing any modifications or upgrades your home may need.

Home Modifications and Upgrades

The following home modifications and upgrades can help you prepare your home for a disaster:

  • Have a natural gas or propane-powered backup generator installed.
  • Get battery-powered, motion-activated lights installed throughout your home to reduce the risk of trip-and-fall injuries during a power outage.
  • Have anti-backflow valves added to your sewer drains and pipes.
  • Get quick shut-off valves installed on water and gas lines.

Financing Disaster Readiness Home Modifications

Seniors and their caregivers can check with the local branch of Habitat for Humanity or their state Area Agency on Aging office regarding resources and providers to assist with home modifications. Many branches have programs that help low and moderate-income seniors complete safety-critical home repairs and home maintenance projects that can make the home safer during a severe weather event. 

Some counties sponsor interest-free loans and grants that seniors can use toward disaster-readiness home modifications and repairs. Homeowners who need help financing disaster-related home repairs can also contact FEMA for assistance

Checklists to Help You Prepare for Natural Disasters

We created two checklists that can help you prepare for emergencies and keep you and your loved ones safe in the event of a natural disaster. Download the checklists below to understand your risks during a natural disaster and learn how to best prepare to keep you, your loved ones, and pets safe. 

A Checklist for Caregivers of Seniors and Individuals With Disabilities

Download a PDF of our checklist below.

A Checklist for Caregivers of Seniors and Individuals With Disabilities

A Pet Owner’s Disaster Preparedness Checklist

Download a PDF of our checklist below.

A Pet Owner’s Disaster Preparedness Checklist