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Planning for an emergency while in aged care

Australia experienced the worst bushfires in its history in late 2019 to early 2020, stretching across New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), Victoria and into Queensland, along with widespread spot fires in South Australia, the Northern Territory, Tasmania and Western Australia.

Last updated: November 8th 2022
People in New South Wales evacuating from their homes during raging bushfires. [Source: Shutterstock]

People in New South Wales evacuating from their homes during raging bushfires. [Source: Shutterstock]

Key points:

  • All aged care organisations still need to provide quality care and services to their residents or clients during weather evacuations and emergencies
  • Department of Health will help with emergency accommodation for aged care residents if their alternative accommodation falls through
  • An emergency to-go bag during difficult seasons can be a lifesaver when you are evacuated last minute

When there is flooding or fires, it can be easy to fall into the pattern of believing it won’t impact you or that your town may be safe, but conditions can change quite rapidly and sometimes a small weather event can lead to a massive emergency.

Whether you are living in the country or outer suburbs of cities, there is never an excuse not to have an emergency plan or evacuation plan in place. This includes residential aged care facilities and providers of aged care services.

Your aged care service should be prepared

While there is no national protocol for evacuation or emergency plans, all providers of aged care services are required to undertake emergency management and have an evacuation plan in place based on their State or Territory requirements, whether that be a flood, fire, earthquake, storm event or infrastructure failure emergency.

Under the Aged Care Act 1997 (or their grant or aged care funding agreement), all providers still need to deliver quality care and services to their care recipients.

Since different seasons in Australia can have sporadic and unexpected weather episodes, your aged care should be prepared for all events.

A residential aged care facility would usually have alternative accommodation options ready for emergency evacuations.

And if that emergency accommodation is also affected, the Department of Health will assist aged care providers to find suitable accommodation or facilities.

If an aged care provider intends to evacuate, they will contact your closest family member or guardian to alert them of this action and give them the option to pick you up from the facility if you or your family prefer to handle the emergency themselves.

What you can do to prepare

Throughout the year, your aged care provider might be running emergency tests to prepare everyone for a potential evacuation.

It’s important to pay attention to what staff requires you to do during emergency situations. This can help you keep level headed during a very traumatic and stressful event if it does occur. You already know what to do!

All the staff in your facility should understand what role they need to undertake during an emergency.

Generally, an aged care facility or hospital will evacuate early because removing people to safer areas can take a long time, especially if a resident has difficult health or cognitive issues.

During an evacuation, all care staff need to prepare residents who may be more difficult to transport.

Let your family and friends know what you intend to do during an emergency, such as, following emergency decisions of your aged care facility or wanting to be collected by family.

​Putting together an emergency to-go bag

Having an emergency bag ready to go can cut down on your stress during an emergency.

Make sure to only take the basics you require, you cannot expect to be able to take everything of value to you.

Your provider still needs to be able to provide you ongoing care, however, it can be a good idea to have a survival kit ready to go to lessen the burden on staff.

Your emergency kit could include water, food snacks, small amounts of money, first aid kit, torch, a radio and a battery charger, basic toiletries, protective or warm clothing, and phone and charger.

Generally, an aged care facility should be handling your medication during an emergency, but for some medication, like panadol or even an EpiPen, it can be a good idea to have it prepared.

Important documents to have in your emergency kit could be passports, Will’s, driver’s licences, marriage and birth certificates, land titles, mortgage papers, insurance papers, prescriptions, medical histories, Medicare, pension cards, and other important personal documents such as photographs of valuable household items.

Evacuation can be unsettling and scary. Taking along small but easy things that provide comfort can make you feel a little more at ease during a stressful situation.

This could be personal photographs or videos, or jewellery with important value.

Another good idea is to scan all your important documents, photos and information onto a USB drive/external hard drive.

An emergency bag can prepare you for a disaster event and not hold you up during an evacuation.

Make sure to store your emergency bag in an easy to access place ready to go. And never risk your life by grabbing unnecessary items.

​Keep informed

When the radio, tv, internet or newspapers warn of a large weather event, whether that is a bushfire danger day or a cyclone event, it’s important to take heed.

If you are aware that a fire danger day is arriving, make sure you are alert that day and prepared for whatever may unfold. Additionally, don’t undertake activities that may put you at risk, like using an angle grinder for a personal project or going for a walk in the middle of bushland.

Listening to the radio can give you constant updates on new fires or already burning fires. It is also a good way to find out about road closures or the reopening of highways.

Emergency contacts:

For an immediate emergency, contact 000 and assistance.

Resources for providers

If you are an aged care provider wanting to develop your emergency or evacuation plan, head to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission website for detailed ideas around developing a facility emergency plan here. Or visit the Department of Health and Aged Care website for more information.

What is the first thing you would grab if you had to evacuate? Tell us in the comments below.

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Staying safe during long heatwaves
Tips for moving into a nursing home
How to create a good relationship with your new aged care facility


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