Mature adults and people with disabilities are often more vulnerable when disaster strikes, and this vulnerability translates into a higher rate of injury and trauma and greater loss of life for this population in the wake of a disaster.

This home was part of Rebuilding Union Beach, a project focused on building back better following Hurricane Sandy. Photo credit: Kevin Chu + Jessica Paul LLP 14 (

According to the Center for Disease Control, half of the victims from Superstorm Sandy were older adults, and a staggering 70% of the people who died from Hurricane Katrina were older adults.

  • Hearing and visual impairments, chronic health conditions, and mobility challenges place mature adults and people with disabilities at a greater risk for being impacted by a disaster.
  • Social and economic limitations also hinder the response and adaptability of older or disabled individuals.
  • This population finds it more difficult to adequately prepare for responding to a disaster and is slower to evacuate.
  • Older adults and individuals with disabilities are also more isolated than the general population and might not be aware of evacuation orders.
  • As the population over the age of 65 increases and more and more individuals require special assistance, transportation and relocation efforts will be increasingly difficult.
  • Following a disaster, access to prescription medications, daily-living assistance, home-delivered meals, basic hygiene, mental health services, and healthcare for chronic conditions may be interrupted.
  • For this vulnerable population, disasters are more likely to result in medical emergencies, and/or necessitate transitional housing, home modification, and mental health services and counseling.
Photo credit: Kevin Chu + Jessica Paul LLP 14 (

These homes, for families with special needs, were rebuilt with an eye on resilient, sustainable, energy-efficient mechanisms that will allow them to weather the next disaster. Photo credit: Kevin Chu + Jessica Paul LLP 14 (

Innovative Practices

Provide leadership and help nonprofits and agencies who serve older adults and disabled populations as they prepare for and respond to disasters by

  • supporting coordination and communication efforts regarding preparation and evacuation;
  • supporting evacuation transportation methods;
  • supporting workshops and educational seminars that assist the elderly and disabled community in accessing benefits and other assistance in the aftermath of a disaster;
  • supporting advocacy to ensure rebuilding efforts are in accordance with ADAAmericans With Disabilities Act laws and building codes;
  • establishing funds that address immediate needs and long-term assistance.


Key Takeaways

  1. Preparedness is essential for older adults and individuals with disabilities.
  2. Philanthropic organizations can draw attention to and support aggressive and comprehensive preparedness and communications plans.
  3. Plans should be established in cooperation with nonprofit organizations and government agencies whose missions are to serve older and vulnerable populations.
  4. Because older adults and individuals with disabilities tend to be more isolated and invisible, it is important to support strong advocacy and education initiatives for their safety and well-being.
  5. Advance planning, coordination, communication, evacuation protocols, and education on disaster mitigation and response for this special population is critical in order to reduce life-threatening illness and morbidity rates.