Evacuating Elderly Loved Ones Under Mandatory Orders

How can you convince them to evacuate if they have decided otherwise?

By Leah Felderman BA MA  

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What do you do when under an evacuation order? Managing a household with multiple adults, kids, and pets can be difficult even under the best conditions. Add in an elderly person (or 2) and the situation can become extremely excruciating.

Evacuation orders range from very precautionary to mandatory, necessary to avoid life threatening situations. Yet, experience shows us that many people including the elderly (and especially the elderly) choose not to evacuate.

Evacuating From a Facility

First, let’s be clear that a mandatory evacuation is ordered either by the municipality (city, town, county) or the state. This means that the threat to safety is great enough to order everybody, young and old alike, out of their homes and away to safety. If your elderly loved one is in a facility they, both the facility and the residents, should follow any mandatory evacuation orders. Hospitals, rehab facilities, nursing homes, retirement homes, and any other commercial or government run facility that houses short term and/or long-term residents should be following the mandatory evacuation orders. Yet, there are caveats to this "mandatory" order. Some will have to stay behind because leaving is not an option-even under the direst of conditions. Some elderly will have to shelter in place due to a variety of reasons such as severe illness, extreme medical needs, and frailty. Yet, when the mandatory evacuation order is issued most facilities and their residents will heed the recommendation. Not surprisingly some want to stay behind out of stubbornness, habit, and/or fear of the unknown. Yet, at the right facilities with the proper training, a very adept staff will be able to evacuate most or all of the residents. Government and community assistance are often available to assist in the evacuation of elderly citizens and facilities that house our most vulnerable residents. Not only does evacuation help the individual residents but it also helps the rest of the community that cannot evacuate, such as first responders and other necessary medical and government personnel that stay behind in potential disasters. Having the most people possible out of harm's way is beneficial to all involved, not the least of which includes the aging citizens!

Evacuating From a Residence

If your elderly loved one has decided to age in place, either at their own home or yours, the obligation to heed a mandatory evacuation isn’t as clear cut. In a facility there are contracts, plan of care obligations, facility and regional protocol that dictates the actions to be taken during an emergency situation. In one’s own home there is more autonomy over the course of action to take during an emergency. This is a double-edged sword. On the one side is the freedom that aging in place offers; on the flip side are the decisions that must be made that can be difficult on the best of days.

Full Disclosure

We write this article as Florence is bearing down on our Carolina coast line. We are nestled on our home, house lights blazing, appliances humming, and surprisingly reasonable internet access. Yes, we are under a mandatory evacuation order. No, we did not leave. In fact, our entire neighborhood of 30 homes has elected to stay. Half the households in our neighborhood are senior residents and in a handful of homes reside septuagenarians and older.

We are not an anomaly; many neighborhoods along the Outer Banks are in a similar situation. As a former Floridian I can attest that many elderly aging in place citizens in Florida don’t evacuate either, except in extreme situations. We chose not to evacuate due to our family member’s job as a first responder in addition to the lack of viable options once said family member was relieved from duty just prior to the storm. We realize we may be without power or running water for a while-we are prepared to muck through our inevitably flooded out yard in waders. Suddenly 3 flights of stairs to climb to the top floor seems like a benefit instead of a drawback.

Will we choose not to leave later in our lives? No. As we age the "conveniences" of life, such as electricity and clean water from the tap, become essentials. Surviving without our modern conveniences are not worth it as we ease into our golden years. And the threat of danger increases as our physical prowess of our comparative youth fades.

The Decision to Stay or Go

The reasons for evacuating and not evacuating vary so widely. Those that choose not to evacuate do so as mentioned earlier out of stubbornness, habit, and/or fear of the unknown. Others choose not to leave because of family, friends, pets, and/or possessions. Still others don’t leave because they believe they have no place to go, or no better option to evacuate to.

What can you do to help your older loved one, aging in place, that is left to their own devices (and own decisions) when it comes to an evacuation order? Will your aging parent, who tends to give plenty of advice but not take much, heed the advisement of the evacuation order? Or will they choose, for whatever reason(s), to try to stay behind and shelter in place? What is their reasoning? How can you convince them to evacuate if they have decided otherwise?

Reasons for Staying and Possible Solutions

"I don’t want to leave my home."

Send your Mom on a vacation, anywhere she desires out of the danger zone. Better yet, make it a family vacation and join her.

"I don’t want to leave or lose my possessions."

Have her take a suitcase full of her most valued, sentimental possessions such as pictures, jewelry, and important documents. Other items can easily be replaced if needed. It is surprising how many of our most important items are easily transported.

"I don’t have any place to go."

Again, look at an evacuation order as a vacation order. Yes, there are plenty of shelters and many of those that can accommodate elderly and disabled evacuees. Yet not even the most adventurous octogenarian really wants to sleep on a cot in a school. So instead take a trip-the further outside of the evacuation zone the more options that will be available both in terms of accommodations and weather!

"I have to bring my pet(s)."

Yes, you do! Pets are family and should, without question, be evacuated too. There are plenty of pet friendly accommodations. If your aging loved one’s animals are too difficult for them to handle alone consider engaging a transport company or reachout to the many animal welfare groups that work tirelessly, especially when in need during a catastrophic event.

"I might lose my job and benefits."

If your elderly parent is still employed and their employer doesn’t excuse their absence from work, then they should be reported as far up the chain as possible. In such a litigious society any business would be remiss to require an elderly employee to risk their safety-your parent would make more money winning their case then they would make working for such an inconsiderate employer anyways!

"I am going to miss all my appointments."

Yes, your aging parent will miss all their appointments if there is an evacuation order because most reputable places that make and take appointments will be evacuating as well. If there is any group, club, organization, etc. that does not encourage their elderly members or participants to evacuate your parent should reconsider their involvement with them. If there is any business, office, etc. that penalizes your aging parent for missing an appointment during an evacuation order they should be reported to the appropriate oversight. Certain essential appointments such as dialysis, chemotherapy, etc. are handled differently-some places will send patients to an outside facility, others will offer transport, still others will shelter in place depending on the severity of the medical need, impending weather event, etc.

"If I leave what will happen to my home and my possessions."

While it may be beyond your aging parent’s capacity to hurricane prep their home, try to hire a company or a willing neighbor to undertake the task. Sometimes this isn’t a viable option so your parent will need to decide what most important valuables and keep sakes get packed for the journey and what gets put in the best available, most secure, and best sheltered from the elements storage space for when they return.

"I am safer here than where they are sending me."

No, likely you’re not. Furthermore, if your aging adult really believes they are going out of the frying pan and into the fire they can choose their evacuation location. But staying put in a mandatory evacuation zone puts not only their life at risk but also those of the first responders who have no choice to evacuate.

"You can’t make me."

Actually, yes you can. Of course, nobody wants to force an aging individual out of their home. Taking away somebody’s free will is an awful contemplation; but, if it comes down to it yes “they” can make you. From rarely enforced laws requiring people to obey the directives of police and first responders, to an involuntary mental health hold there are ways-although confrontational, combative, and cruel-to extricate people from a dangerous situation even if they are unwilling. But taking a nice vacation sounds so much better!

Leah Felderman BA MA

About the Author

Leah Felderman is a proud alumnus of University of Central Florida (BA) and San Diego State University (MA). She has worn many occupational hats including teaching, hospitality management, government contractor and non-profit organizer. She is an intrepid international traveler having visited over 60 countries before happily settling down into her new life chapter of domesticity as a mom and Coast Guard wife.

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