Prehospital and Disaster Medicine

Original Research

Frail Elderly as Disaster Victims: Emergency Management Strategies

Lauren S. Fernandeza1a2 c1, Deana Byarda1, Chien-Chih Lina1, Samuel Bensona3 and Joseph A. Barberaa4

a1 Graduate Student (Crisis and Emergency Management), Department of Engineering Management and Systems Engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Science, The George Washington University, Washington, DC

a2 Senior Member of the Professional Staff, SRA International

a3 Director of Health and Medical Preparedness, New York City Office of Emergency Management, New York City, New York

a4 Associate Professor of Engineering Management (Crisis and Emergency Management), Clinical Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine, and Co-Director, The Institute for Crisis, Disaster, and Risk Management, The George Washington University, Washington, DC


Purpose: To identify the vulnerabilities of elderly to disasters, and to develop strategies to address these vulnerabilities.

Methods: A relevant literature search of journal articles, government training materials, news reports, and materials from senior organizations was conducted.

Results: The vulnerability of the elderly to disasters is related to their impaired physical mobility, diminished sensory awareness, chronic health conditions, and social and economic limitations that prevent adequate preparation for disasters, and hinder their adaptability during disasters. Frail elderly, those with serious physical, cognitive, economic, and psycho-social problems, are at especially high risk.

Conclusions: This segment of the population is growing rapidly. Therefore, it is important that emergency management recognize the frail elderly as a special needs population, and develop targeted strategies that meet their needs. Several management strategies are presented and recommendations for further action are proposed.

(Received March 26 2002)

(Accepted June 03 2002)


c1 230 N Wakefield St., Arlington, VA 22203 USA e-mail:

Fernandez LS, Byard D, Lin CC, Benson S, Barbera JA:Frail elderly as disaster victims: emergency management strategies. Prehosp Disast Med 2002;17(2):67–74.