Public Safety

Support Networks Help People with Special Needs Survive Disasters

It’s been months since Superstorm Sandy slammed into New York City and New Jersey. But frequent news reports remind us that hundreds of thousands of residents whose homes or businesses were destroyed are still dealing with the historic storm’s aftermath.

As in other disasters, seniors who are homebound, disabled or who have special medical needs faced some of the greatest challenges during the storm—and for many of these folks, the road to recovery looks particularly daunting.

With Sandy’s aftermath still in the news, and local disasters like earthquakes or wildfires always a real possibility in San Diego County, it’s a good time to make sure you’re prepared for a catastrophic disaster.  If you have special medical needs, physical limitations or depend on caretakers at home, your disaster preparations should anticipate exactly what you would need to make it through.

“Older adults with unique needs should establish a formal support network of family, friends, neighbors or caretakers who have agreed in advance to check on you in an emergency and help you afterwards,” Holly Crawford, County Office of Emergency Services director says. 

Here are a few more tips that older adults with physical or medical needs can use to prepare:

  • Make arrangements with a support network that includes at least three family members, friends or neighbors who agree to immediately check on you after a disaster. Give at least one of these people a key to your house.
  • Create a disaster supply kit with items such as food, water and medications you would need to survive for at least 72 hours and share the location of this kit with members of your support network.
  • Develop and practice a disaster plan with members of your support network. This plan should include evacuation routes and methods, a plan for communicating with each other if phones are not working, meeting locations outside the home, and a plan for evacuating and sheltering any pets.
  • Create directions for any essential medical or assistive equipment you use and keep these instructions with the equipment.
  • Know and discuss with your network how you will replace any devices that assist you in your daily routines in case yours are damaged or lost.
  • Find alternate sites for regular medical treatments, in case your normal site is not available.
  •  Consider setting up electronic payments of any benefits you receive.

Absent a major disaster, aging or homebound adults may be vulnerable at any time to ordinary medical emergencies or other issues. A few free local programs provide day-to-day piece of mind and safety. Many local police departments and the San Diego Sheriff’s Departments’ You Are Not Alone programs provide a weekly visit and daily phone call from a senior patrol volunteer. Contact the Sheriff’s Department at (858) 565-5200 or your local police department to find out more.

Likewise, Project CARE volunteers will give you a daily phone call to make sure you’re OK. Locate the closest Project CARE site by calling the County’s Aging and Independence Services Call Center at 800-510-2020.

You are Not Alone and Project Care are appropriate resources for day-to-day safety and wellbeing. But you’ll still need a personal support network and a plan to be ready for a major disaster.

For more information on disaster preparedness, visit or contact the Office of Emergency Services at 858 565-3490 to request a Family Disaster Plan or a magnetic card with tips for preparing for emergencies that you can stick on your refrigerator. Tip cards for people with special needs and their caretakers are available. 

View and print the tip cards (PDF)