Recovering from a disaster is usually a gradual process.
Safety is a primary issue, as are mental and physical well-being. If assistance
is available, knowing how to access it makes the process faster and less
Returning home can be both physically and mentally
challenging. Above all, use caution. You may be anxious to see your property
but do not return to your home before the area is declared to be safe by local
Inspect your home carefully before entering.
Walk carefully around the outside and check for loose power
lines, gas leaks and structural damage. If you have any doubts about safety,
have your residence inspected by a qualified building inspector or structural
engineer before entering.
Be cautious when entering your home after a disaster.
When you go inside your home, there are certain things you
should and should not do. Enter the home carefully and check for damage. Be
aware of loose boards and slippery floors. The following items are other things
to check inside your home:
- Natural gas. If you smell gas or hear a hissing or blowing
sound, open a window and leave immediately. Turn off the main gas valve from
the outside, if you can. Call the gas company from a neighbor’s residence. If
you shut off the gas supply at the main valve, you will need a professional to
turn it back on. Do not smoke or use oil, gas lanterns, candles or torches for
lighting inside a damaged home until you are sure there is no leaking gas or
other flammable materials present.
- Sparks, broken or frayed wires. Check the electrical system
unless you are wet, standing in water or unsure of your safety. If possible,
turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If the
situation is unsafe, leave the building and call for help. Do not turn on the
lights until you are sure they’re safe to use. You may want to have an
electrician inspect your wiring.
- Roof, foundation and chimney cracks. If it looks like the
building may collapse, leave immediately.
- Appliances. If appliances are wet, turn off the electricity
at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. Then, unplug appliances and let them
dry out. Have appliances checked by a professional before using them again.
Also, have the electrical system checked by an electrician before turning the
power back on.
- Water and sewage systems. If pipes are damaged, turn off the
main water valve. Check with local authorities before using any water; the
water could be contaminated. Pump out wells and have the water tested by
authorities before drinking. Do not flush toilets until you know that sewage
lines are intact.
- Food and other supplies. Throw out all food and other
supplies that you suspect may have become contaminated or come in to contact
- Open cabinets. Be alert for objects that may fall.
- Clean up household chemical spills. Disinfect items that may
have been contaminated by raw sewage, bacteria, or chemicals. Also clean
- Call your insurance agent. Take pictures of damages. Keep
good records of repair and cleaning costs.
Direct assistance to individuals and families may come from
any number of organizations, including:
- American Red Cross
- Salvation Army
- Local volunteer organizations
These organizations provide food, shelter, supplies and
assist in clean-up efforts.
In the most severe disasters, the federal government is also
called in to help individuals and families with temporary housing, counseling
(for post-disaster trauma), low-interest loans and grants, and other
assistance. The federal government also has programs that help small businesses
Most federal assistance becomes available when the President
of the United States declares a “Major Disaster” for the affected area at the
request of a state governor. FEMA will provide information through the media
and community outreach about federal assistance and how to apply.
Coping With Disaster
Disasters are upsetting experiences for everyone involved.
The emotional toll that disaster brings can sometimes be even more devastating
than the financial strains of damage and loss of home, business or personal
Children, senior citizens, people with access or functional
needs, and people for whom English is not their first language are especially
at risk. Children may become afraid and some elderly people may seem
disoriented at first. People with access or functional needs may require
Seek crisis counseling if you or someone in your family is
experiencing issues with disaster-related stress.
Understand the individual effects of a disaster:
- Everyone who sees or experiences a disaster is affected by
it in some way.
- It is normal to feel anxious about your own safety and that
of your family and close friends.
- Profound sadness, grief and anger are normal reactions to an
- Acknowledging your feelings helps you recover.
- Focusing on your strengths and abilities helps you heal.
- Accepting help from community programs and resources is
- Everyone has different needs and different ways of coping.
- It is common to want to strike back at people who have
caused great pain.
- Children and older adults are of special concern in the
aftermath of disasters. Even individuals who experience a disaster “second
hand” through exposure to extensive media coverage can be affected.
- Talk to someone and seek professional help for disaster-related
- The following are ways to ease disaster-related stress:
- Talk with someone about your feelings - anger, sorrow and
other emotions - even though it may be difficult.
- Seek help from professional counselors who deal with
- Do not hold yourself responsible for the disastrous event or
be frustrated because you feel you cannot help directly in the rescue work.
- Take steps to promote your own physical and emotional
healing by healthy eating, rest, exercise, relaxation and meditation.
- Maintain a normal family and daily routine, limiting
demanding responsibilities on yourself and your family.
- Spend time with family and friends.
- Participate in memorials.
- Use existing support groups of family, friends and religious