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Floods and safeguarding older people during crises

Published on 15 November 2019 03:42 PM

Age UK is calling on the Government and essential service providers – energy, insurance, health and social care – to improve their protection of and support for older people most at risk from floods, storms or power cuts.

With more frequent episodes of extreme weather and a growing older population – including substantial numbers living in isolated rural areas – Age UK’s report draws on the experience of older people and local Age UKs to highlight the importance of everyone being fully geared up for this increasing challenge.

The report, called ‘Older people and power loss, floods and storms: reducing risk, building resilience’, highlights the types of extra support that could help older people who are particularly at risk in these crises, including those with dementia, who have difficulties with mobility, are seriously unwell or who rely on electrically powered equipment at home – like oxygen machines and stair lifts.

When disaster strikes local Age UKs have often played a vital role by offering immediate practical help such as providing food and blankets, and supporting older people through the miserable aftermath by contacting insurers and helping to find trustworthy tradespeople to carry out home repairs.

Age UK is also calling on the Government, as well as energy companies, health and care services and insurers, to improve the extra support they provide for people who are especially vulnerable if they lose power or their home is flooded. The charity says this should include better protection for people receiving social care in their homes, and easier ways for people to contact their electricity, gas, water and phone providers.

Age UK is also publishing top tips and advice for older people, communities and service providers to help them build their resilience against future extreme weather events. These include:

-       being aware of older neighbours or relatives who might need help – especially those who live alone

-       Providing flood and weather warnings in a way that is accessible to older people who live alone and who don’t text or use the internet

-       Energy and water companies identifying customers who would benefit from receiving extra help in an emergency, for example, registering them on a priority service register. 

-       Practical tips such as keeping medication in a water proof container where it can easily be found, and planning for a pets safety.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said: “The weather is becoming more extreme and we need to do more in advance and when disasters hit to safeguard older people. While many are able to cope when there are power losses, floods and storms, others, including those who are living alone or who are isolated, seriously unwell or living with dementia, will need extra support. As volatile weather becomes more common, we have to up our game.

“We need to think about a whole host of practical things like how to ensure an older person isn’t stuck half way upstairs on a stair lift if the electricity goes down; or what to do if an older person dependent on a particular drug is unable to get hold of it if local shops are cut off or flooded. The nightmare scenario is that an older person is left marooned upstairs at home and forgotten during a bad storm or flood: the emergency services do a fantastic job and communities often rally round magnificently too, but we can’t leave these things to chance. We need to prepare.”

“We also advise any older person at risk of floods or storms and their families to think about how they can plan for an emergency, just in case; to make sure that home insurance is up to date and to let friends and family know how best they can get in touch if there is an emergency – particularly if you don’t currently use a mobile phone. And don’t forget to plan for your pets too if you have them!”

Drawing on older people’s recent experiences Age UK has produced a set of top tips when preparing to cope with volatile weather.

Top tips to prepare for floods, storms and power loss

1.   Monitor flood risks in your area through TV and (local) radio. The Environment Agency’s Floodline Warnings Direct service or call 0345 988 1188 (0345 602 6340 for a Type Talk service for those with hearing loss). You can also sign-up for personalised flood warnings to be alerted by phone, email or text when flooding is expected. Flood warnings and alerts are not available in all areas.

 2.   Call 105, a free number, to get information and help during a power cut. 

3.   Write down or print emergency contact numbers including family and friends, your fire and rescue service, local authority flood services, local Age UK, energy, water and phone suppliers and distributors, and insurer. Put them somewhere you will remember and can easily access, e.g. by your fridge, phone or door. 

4.      Check in on older neighbours and relatives who live alone, are ill or with mobility problems. 

5.    Older ill and disabled people should register on their energy distributor’s priority services register. Then you will get extra support, including a priority phone number and text updates in a power cut, and practical help like emergency food and heating. Find out who your distributor is online or by calling your energy supplier. Also ask your council if they offer extra support for people with disabilities or health conditions during a flood. 

6.     Create an emergency pack in an easily accessible and waterproof container, including extra essentials like food, drinking water and blankets. Make sure you can easily find any essential medications in the dark by placing them in a memorable place, ideally in a waterproof container. 

7.     Fully charge your mobile phone (if you have one) and keep it on you. Many landline phones don’t work in an emergency, so have a non-electric landline phone to hand and know where to plug it in. Charge batteries and chargers for equipment like radios or hoists. 

8.     Keep a torch in an easy-to-remember place, with spare batteries, and check it is working regularly. Have candles and matches to hand – BUT be sure to use candles safely, for example by using candle holders, keeping them away from animals and children, and putting them out before you go to bed.  

9.   Find out the location of water stopcocks, gas shut-off valves and electrical master switches. If you leave your home during a flood, you should switch these off if it’s safe to do so. Take photos of your property, especially floors, walls and ceilings, before a flood, to help a future insurance claim. Put important documents, including insurer contact details, in a plastic folder and if there is a flood phone your insurance provider as quickly as possible. 

10. Plan for your pet’s safety. Ring your council to see if local shelters allow pets; make sure your pet is wearing ID and contact details; prepare carriers, leashes, bowls, food and bedding in case of evacuation; if relevant, arrange for a trusted neighbour to take in your pet in your absence; leave a notice on external doors saying there is an animal inside and contact the RSPCA if you have to leave without them.  

Notes to Editor

Visit 'Older people and power loss, floods and storms: reducing risk, building resilience’ 

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Last updated: Nov 15 2019

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