Nature is pummeling the United States this year with natural disasters – deadly tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, blizzards, wildfires, flooding, heat waves and the list goes on.

When disaster strikes, long-term care facilities must ensure the safety of hundreds of frail elderly people on-site or in some cases, evacuate and transport them to another care facility. The logistics involved with securing the safety of frail elders, many of whom are unable to walk on their own, are connected to life-sustaining medical equipment, or have severe cognitive impairments due to Alzheimer's disease is a huge undertaking.

Amy Schuster, Director of Public Relations for Atria Senior Living, a nationwide network of assisted living, independent living and retirement communities that is home to more than 13,000 elderly people in 27 states, says caring for frail elders during an emergency is not something that can be planned overnight. "Each Atria Senior Living community has developed a disaster preparedness plan that includes processes for both building evacuation and sheltering in place," Ms. Schuster told "Community management teams begin preparations well in advance of any potential evacuation."

She recommends that family members who have a relative in a nursing home, assisted living facility, or retirement community inquire about the facility's disaster planning.

Questions to Ask About the Long-Term Care Facility's Disaster Plan

Using information from Atria Senior Living, the National Citizens' Coalition for Nursing Home Reform and OneStorm, a website created by National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield and CBS News Hurricane Analyst Bryan Norcross, has compiled a list of questions to ask about disaster preparation.

These questions are also summarized in our Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Planning Checklist, which you can download, print and take it with you when discussing these important issues with your senior living facility:

General Emergency Planning

  • What is the facility's emergency plan for evacuation and for "sheltering in place?" (Plans will be different for hurricanes, tornadoes, and terrorist attacks.)
  • How is the plan coordinated with community resources, the city, county, and state emergency management?

Staff Training

  • What are the training procedures for staff related to emergency evacuations?
  • Are evacuation drills practiced with staff and residents?
  • Are there enough staff to carry out the emergency plan during all shifts? For example, if a fire breaks out in the middle of the night, will the skeleton staff be able to handle the emergency?

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Family Communication

  • How does the facility discuss the emergency plan with the residents?
  • How and when will family members be notified about their loved one's status and whereabouts?
  • Is there a phone number for out-of-town family members to call for information?
  • Do family members have the right to evacuate their loved-one on their own and move them to a special needs shelter if they choose?

On-site Resources

  • Does the facility have an emergency backup power system or generators? How long will it provide power, and what parts of the facility will have power?
  • Are extra supplies of medications (at least a two-week supply for each resident) stored on-site?
  • How much emergency oxygen is available in portable cylinders?
  • If the building is multi-level and the elevators cannot be used, what is the procedure for evacuating physically impaired residents quickly and safely down the stairs?
  • Do residents have emergency and first aid kits in their rooms? (Kits should contains clothing, toiletries, a flashlight, ID and other critical supplies.)

Evacuation Procedures

  • Are there contracts in place with transportation and other facilities to provide housing for displaced residents?
  • Will the transportation company have enough vehicles to transport the residents, especially if the transportation is contracted with other facilities?
  • How are elders who are on life-support or receiving hospice care transported?
  • If the building must be evacuated quickly, what procedures are in place to insure that no resident wanders away while caregivers are rounding up and helping other residents?
  • How will residents be identified in an evacuation?
  • If the residence is evacuated, how are residents' charts, medical information and supplies transported?
  • Can family members meet residents at a designated location? Can they assist loved ones at the facility to prepare for evacuation?
  • How and to where will residents be moved?
  • Will a trained employee ride with residents on each vehicle to administer medications as necessary?
  • What permanent identification will residents wear?

If your parents live in a long-term care facility, or if you are considering moving them to one, ask the administrator of the facility these questions, to ensure the safety of your loved one during an emergency.

Download our Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Planning Checklist »