When you need more than a flashlight | Page on Age

Being prepared has a different meaning for older adults, and being prepared has a different meaning if you are an older adult living on Mercer Island. Remember the Hanukkah Eve storm of 2006? More recently, after Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast, there were stories about seniors living in high rises, and unable to leave their apartments because the elevators were not working due to power outages. Family, neighbors and nonprofits sometimes had to climb multiple flights of stairs to check on these folks or bring them necessities.

We can remain pretty independent with certain accommodations in place, but when the power is out, what do you do if you need oxygen or need assistance with ambulation and can’t take the stairs to get your medicines or food?

We often have power outages here on Mercer Island due to different wind storms, heavy snow or fallen trees on power lines. There have been times when the power was out for folks on the South end for more than 10 days. If you need electricity for your day-to-day needs such as an oxygen concentrator, what should you do?

There is a lot of press, especially by King County, to be prepared for emergencies for three to seven days with enough food, water and other necessities. But for seniors to be able to maintain a chronic issue at home, they need to do some extra planning. This may involve finding another place to stay that has electricity, or have a generator installed and ready to go when the power goes out. Or discuss this with your family members to help problem solve these issues. Maybe even have a plan in place so that family members take turns checking on their older relatives during a storm or power outage. If you do need regular oxygen, do you have any extra tanks that do not require electricity for your use, and do you know how to use them? Having enough food and water is usually easier than stockpiling medicines. Many insurance companies may only allow 30 days of pills, but some prescriptions could be changed by your physician to read for three months.

Of course, most of our power outages happen when our weather is the coldest, and it can be intolerable to stay in your home when there is no heat. But if it is the best place for you to be and there are no other options, dress in your home like you are living in Alaska. Hats, scarves and gloves really do help to bite the chill. And the city of Mercer Island will open a warming shelter at the Mercer Island Community and Event Center, which is a good option to get out of the cold. And don’t forget to have operating flashlights with extra batteries and a radio to listen to so that you can get updated emergency information.

And then there are safety concerns regarding how to cook when the power is out. It can’t be said enough: Do not use a propane stove, charcoal barbecue or your gas stove inside the house. Without proper venting, this is one of the biggest carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning dangers.

Because of the special needs of seniors, it is important to prepare for contingencies before a power outage or storm hits. There are great resources to get information on how to prepare. Go to or the City of Mercer Island’s website,, and click on “Emergency Information.”

Betsy Zuber is the geriatric specialist for Mercer Island Youth and Family Services. She works with anyone who lives on Mercer Island 55+ and their families.


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