Wednesday, May 4, 2011

After a Disaster, Here's What To Do

We were fortunate that the huge string of tornadoes that came through Georgia last week completely missed us. As we watched the news reports for hours, we watched the storm heading our way, but as it go closer, the tornadoes went way north and way south of us, barely even bringing a bit of rain to our place. Many others weren't so lucky. In north Georgia and Alabama, they are still cleaning up from the devastation that the tornadoes caused and this will probably continue for months as some of the areas hardest hit look like they were hit by a bomb or something. If you find yourself on the receiving end of a major disaster, here's what you need to do:

  • Immediately after a disaster ascertain that everyone is OK. Medical care for those who have been injured in the disaster is of prime importance.

  • Figure out where you will stay. Some people have chosen to live in their damaged homes, others are camping out, still others have headed to friends homes, relative's homes, and hotels. The Red Cross can also provide limited shelter if needed.

  • Put together the basics. You need water, food, and clothes for starters. You will also need toiletries, basic survival gear, and transportation (this is what your BOB is for). Eventually you will need the other components of daily life such as a way to shower and clean up, a place to wash laundry, and a "staging area" for getting your life back together (ie: an "office" for collecting and storing needed documents, storage for things that were salvaged after the disaster, etc).

  • Take care of the people who need taking care of. Kids will need to get back to school and if you usually take care of the elderly or your small children, you may want to look into a daycare-type situation for them in order to give you time to focus on the many tasks you will need to do to recover from the disaster.

  • Get the ball rolling by applying for help to fix the mess left from the disaster. You may need to file an insurance claim or apply for FEMA assistance (you do have the needed documents backed up somewhere for this, right?). A home inventory, a list of insurance policy account numbers/contact info, and all other pertinent documents should be backed up on a secure thumb drive/hard drive somewhere other than in your devastated home.

  • Get in contact with those who need to know about your situation. For wide-spread disasters, this may mean going on the Red Cross website to their "people finder" section and listing your whereabouts so that family and friends will know you are OK. You may need to have mail rerouted if you no longer have a home/mailbox. You may want to send out a "we're OK" email to everyone instead of having to repeat your story a hundred times when friends and family call.

  • Stay in contact with local authorities. Generally the local authorities (county sheriff in some cases, county Department of Emergency Management in others) will be able to provide daily updates on what is happening/what you need to do in your area. These are the people who will be providing water and food if needed, pointing you to shelters if needed, escorting you to your devastated home if necessary, directing you to the local FEMA intake center that has been set up, etc.

  • When the all-clear is given, you will need to start the actual clean up process. Depending on the disaster, you may need to wait for inspectors or insurance claims adjusters to come for an inspection. If you are going to undertake the clean up yourself, read this. If you can hire the work done, all the better (but you need to be extra careful for scammers who come out of the woodwork at these types of events, like this).

  • Be sure to document everything! Sometimes things will fall through the cracks so having good documentation of everything--from videos and photos of the disaster area, to lists of supplies purchased for clean up, to lists of items destroyed and taken to the dump, etc--will be more than useful even after all of the clean up has been completed.

There are about a hundred other things that you will have to do after a disaster, these are just the high points (not to mention the actual rebuilding process which could take many months and many thousands of dollars). Depending on the situation you may be responsible for yourself for days or weeks after the disaster (like during Hurricane Katrina), you may be responsible for your own safety and security (chasing off looters is usually par for the course after a disaster), and the red tape you will have to fight through can be everything from marginally annoying to devastatingly complicated. Which is why, even if you live in an area that rarely ever sees a disaster, to get prepared today!

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