Recovering from a disaster is a gradual process. Safety is a priority as well as mental and physical well-being. Your first concern is your family’s health and safety. If family members are injured, do not attempt to move them unless they are in immediate danger of death or further injury. Be sure to stabilize neck and back first and then call for help. Keep the victim warm with blankets, but don’t let him get overheated.
Be aware of exhaustion. Don’t try to do too much at once. Set priorities and pace yourself. Get enough rest. Drink plenty of water and take time to eat. Wear protective clothing like sturdy work boots and gloves. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and clean water often when working in debris. Be aware of safety issues created by the disaster. Inform local authorities if you find a dangerous situation.
If you have never been in a disaster before, it is hard to imagine how you will react. Coping with human suffering and the stress involved requires inner strength. The emotional effects may be slow in appearing. Remember, people can and do recover from disasters, but be aware that there is a natural grieving process and everyone will handle it differently.
Normal reactions, including shock, fear, disbelief, and difficulty making decisions, may occur right after a disaster. These feelings may expand over time to include anger or moodiness, depression and even domestic violence. Children may respond by thumb sucking (self comforting), bed-wetting, clinginess, tantrums and problems at school. If your reactions to a disaster lasts for a long time, consider seeking professional counseling for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Ask for help.
When communications have been restored, local TV and radio will announce where to get emergency housing, food, first aid, clothing and financial assistance after a disaster. The Red Cross and Salvation Army as well as church groups often set up at the scene of a disaster to offer help to victims. If the President of the USA declares a major disaster, FEMA steps in and provides temporary housing, counseling, low interest loans and grants for repair and business and farm aid. Disaster Recovery Centers (DRC) will be set up at local schools and municipal buildings where people can meet face-to-face with agencies and manually process applications. Or victims can apply by calling 1-800-621-FEMA or on the website: www.DisasterAssistance.gov. Together with the Red Cross victims may get some assistance for long term shelter if homes are damages or destroyed and rendered unsafe to live in.
When allowed back into your home, check for serious damage to roof, foundation and chimneys first. Check utilities for leaks, sparks or broken wires. Clean and disinfect everything that got wet. Wear gloves and sturdy shoes, masks and eye protection. If basement is flooded, pump it out slowly to avoid wall collapse. Remove valuables, try to make temporary repairs, and notify your insurance company right away. Conduct an inventory to make sure you can get financial recovery for lost items. Hopefully, you already have an inventory and copies of your important documents in your vital records notebook. Notify all creditors and employers what has happened. File an insurance claim (you will need policy numbers).
Then begin the process of applying for local loans and grants for repair. Get several estimates to avoid getting ripped off. Be sure to ask for proof of licenses, permits and contractor’s insurance. Get a contract in writing; never prepay; check out contractors with local Better Business Bureau. Make sure all construction complies with local building codes. Make sure roof is firmly secured to the main frame of the house. Make sure they follow the code and that construction is inspected by a local building inspector. Be sure to include repairs that will allow ways to avoid or reduce the impact of a disaster, if it happens again.
For additional information, download a copy of the FEMA “Recovering from a Disaster”.
2. W. L. Liebsch, Janet Liebsch, It’s a Disaster! … and what are you gonna’ do about it? (Texas: Fedhealth, 2011), 142-149.
Billie Nicholson, Editor