For many people, no matter how much preparation has gone into stocking food, developing emergency plans and monitoring severe weather as it develops, the moments after the storm present a major challenge. Often, the unpredictability of a storm and the stress that comes with a disaster’s aftermath will leave most people at a loss for exactly how to begin rebuilding their homes, their lives and their communities.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has developed guidelines for how to take the first steps in the long road toward recovery. Much as with planning for severe weather in the first place, reacting to a storm once it has passed is greatly helped by advance preparation and coordination with family and neighbors.
Pace and prepare yourself: The most immediate concern after a hurricane, as with other disasters, is usually for the safety and well-being of family. When checking an area for people with injuries or other potential threats such as broken utility lines, victims should be wary of exhaustion, making sure not to try and do too many things at once. Those assessing a scene should wear sturdy boots and gloves, drink plenty of water and eat well from disaster kits prepared before the storm.
In addition to avoiding contaminated water and damaged electric and gas lines, victims should avoid trying to maneuver on any washed-out roads as well.
Contacting loved ones: Both FEMA, through its National Emergency Family Registry and Locator System (NEFRLS), and the American Red Cross host emergency databases with which families can register and input information on their location and well-being after a disaster. This way, victims can access information on their loved ones through FEMA if they are not able to make direct contact after a storm.
To register with NEFRLS or find out about someone’s status, call (800) 588-9822. To learn more about the Red Cross database, visit https://safeandwell.communityos.org/cms/.
Short-term housing: If a victim’s home is damaged or destroyed during a disaster, the American Red Cross and other volunteer agencies will offer temporary shelters for those in need. Local media and radio reports should include the location and availability of nearby emergency shelters. Because of health and space concerns, family pets are usually not allowed in shelters. In some areas, the local humane society or an animal shelter will take in pets during this time.
Long-term housing needs: Beyond staying in an emergency shelter, victims will need to address rehabilitating their homes and finding a place to stay while conducting that work. To be eligible for FEMA assistance, including grants, a home must be the applicant’s primary residence; must have been destroyed or have become uninhabitable or inaccessible because of a disaster; and must not be fully covered by insurance to the point where victims face additional living and home repair expenses.
For more information, visit www.fema.gov/assistance.
Returning home: Once victims have been cleared by local officials to return home, they should be vigilant for signs that a home is too dangerous to re-inhabit. A home that emits the smell of gas or is still surrounded by floodwaters is not safe to visit. If the home is dry, turn off the electricity at the circuit breaker; in most cases, an electrician should inspect the system to ensure its safety before lights are turned back on.
Check for cracks around the foundation, in the roof and around the chimney; these are all signs of a possible structural collapse, meaning victims should leave the home. Do not flush toilets or consume any water until it is clear the water is safe and sewer lines are intact. Throw out any food that may have been in contact with floodwater – emergency kits should have been stored high enough so that food supplies do not have any contact.
File an insurance claim: Contacting insurance representatives about homeowner’s, flood and/or wind and hail insurance is an important step in determining what they cost of rebuilding will be, and will assist federal authorities in determining a victims’ aid eligibility. Record what is damaged in photos or video for use later in the process.
Coping with what happened: A major step in the rebuilding process is talking about how a disaster has changed lives. In many communities, counseling is among the regular services offered for storm victims months after the event. Often, victims will experience several disruptions to daily life, including difficulty sleeping and eating, physical afflictions such as headaches and stomach problems and unease with crowds or strangers. Information on counseling should be made available along with shelter information in the aftermath of a storm.
Begin rebuilding: After rebuilding aid is determined, victims may then begin to reassemble their homes. The goal to rebuilding a structure should not to simply replace the damaged pieces, but to build with structures that are more resistant to wind and floodwaters in event of another disaster. Generally, lowering the humidity is the most important step in cleaning a home, slowing the growth of mold and mildew. Sort objects in the home that can be saved from those that cannot, creating a realistic scope for repairs.
Those rebuilding are encouraged to contact FEMA for any rebuilding questions and to learn about agencies available to help with the process.
Photo courtesy of yovia.com/blogs/hurricaneawareness.