Most people of a certain age will say being elderly is 10 years older than they are. This doesn't work in preparing for disasters.

Both seniors and people with any kind of activity limitations must be realistic about how they might cope or even survive a situation that is extraordinarily difficult. The disaster can be anything from a sewer backup to a fire, flood, blizzard, hazardous spill or tornado.

Planning is the key whether the person has arthritis, hearing loss, vision loss, or physical or mental limitations. The list of things to do and think about can be daunting. There are more questions than answers. However, not everything has to be done at once. Any task broken down into small pieces is less of a challenge.

There is a chance that rescue might not happen immediately, and you might have to stay in your home for a period of time. Are you prepared? If you must evacuate to a shelter, will you be able to get necessary medications or find a battery for your wheelchair? Are you able to fill out forms or stand in line for long periods of time? You must plan according to your own situation. Avoid the common tendency not to think about planning for emergencies. This is not the time to procrastinate.

Before you do anything else

If you are on any kind of medical device like oxygen that requires electricity and don't have a back-up generator, call Midwest Energy at (785) 625-3437 to be placed on its medical alert list. If you have any kind of physical or mental limitations, call Addie Homburg, the Ellis County emergency management coordinator, at (785) 625-1060 to register. She needs to know what kind of help you might need.

If you have further questions about preparing for a disaster, call Bill Ring, executive director of the Ellis County Chapter of the American Red Cross, at (785) 625-2617. For assistance installing a smoke alarm or changing the batteries, call Hays firefighter Ross Meder at (785) 628-7330.

Do a self-assessment

Be honest. Here are some questions to get you started. Can you work a fire extinguisher? Do you know where the gas, electricity and water shut-offs are at your house? Can you turn them off? Are you aware of two exits from every room in your residence? How will you evacuate if you can't use or don't have a vehicle?

How will you communicate if you have vision or hearing problems or can't speak? Do you have a weather radio or some kind of warning device? Are you able to walk and climb stairs? Where can you be self-sufficient and where do you need assistance?

Establish a support team

It's important to build a support team of people who will help you in an emergency. They should be people who are regularly in the same area as you. The first people to assist are often neighbors, family, friends and co-workers. These people, not professional first responders, make 70 percent of rescues in disasters.

Be frank with your support team. Tell them exactly what you need and how to assist you. By mastering the skill of quick information, you will save valuable time.

Keep a list of out-of-state friends or relatives that your support team and household members can call. Give each one a copy. It is often easier to call outside the affected area than locally.

Packing your disaster kits -- yes, kits

As you go about your daily tasks, think about what you use each day. What would you need if you stay in your home? What would you take if you were evacuated to a shelter? In your home kit, you can pack away a larger number of items. A good-sized plastic container with wheels is a good choice. To evacuate, your grab-and-go kit should be something more portable, perhaps a bag with a drawstring you can attach to your wheelchair. If you are mobile, a tote or duffel bag or a backpack will do.

In both kits, you should have copies of important papers secured in a watertight freezer bag. Examples are Social Security cards; medical cards including Medicare or Medicaid and any other medical insurance cards; copies of all medical prescriptions including eye glasses; birth certificate; will and medical directive; disability card; list of allergies and sensitivities; list of people to contact and a list of your doctors; model and serial numbers of your equipment -- pacemakers, hearing aids, scooter, wheelchair, batteries; health records for your service dog and a picture of you with your dog.

Your home kit should contain supplies for at least three days, or better yet a week.

You'll need medications, a gallon of water a day, nonperishable food in bags or cans, can opener, scissors, plastic bags and paper towels, sanitation supplies, a change of clothes, first-aid supplies, flashlight and extra batteries, disability-specific items including extra batteries and a sealant to patch scooter or wheelchair tires, sturdy gloves, a whistle or other communication device, battery-operated radio, bedding and towels, and cash.

Your grab-and-go kit is a scaled-down version of your home kit. It should contain medications for a week, any necessary health-related items, a change of clothing, a flashlight and batteries, cash, and anything else you can't do without.

One great thing to remember is that, according to a study by the University of Wisconsin Prehospital and Disaster Department, handicapped and elderly people are better able to cope with disasters than younger people. It seems to be because activity-limited people live daily with difficult physical and mental problems, or, if they are older, they've had more experience through the years in adapting to hardships.

More information available

There is a great deal of information available through the American Red Cross, the Ellis County Emergency Management Office, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Northwest Kansas Area Agency on Aging or any public library. Web sites that are useful are ready.gov, redcross.org, accessiblesociety.org and disasternews.net. A Web site, disabilitypreparedness.org, has a number of valuable links. One, "Emergency Preparedness: Taking Responsibility for Your Safety -- Tips for People with Activity Limitations and Disabilities," by the Los Angeles County Emergency Survival Program, has extensive checklists for all kinds of disabilities.

Marilyn Marshall is from Hays.