Preparedness steps taken prior to disaster

are instrumental in recovery after a disaster.

Proceeding cautiously after disaster is key to avoiding

dangerous and sometimes fatal hazards which follow disaster.

Immediately after a disaster and after you’ve checked on family members, loved ones, neighbors, others in your immediate area, and your pets, the next phase of disaster begins… the recovery period after disaster.

Recovery after a major disaster is a process that takes time and occurs gradually moving through different phases of recovery.  Knowing what needs to be done and what assistance is available and how to access it will make the process much easier, quicker, and less stressful.

The above video by the National Preparedness Network specifically describes the CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) training program; however, it also serves as an excellent overview of what types of things to expect following a major disaster.  This video helps us to visualize the possible chaos, destruction, and potential hazards we might face as a result of an unexpected and devastating disaster.




Immediate Recovery After Disaster

Have Emergency Supplies On Hand
Immediately after disaster people need to be aware of the fact that emergency personnel will most likely be unable to respond to calls for help.  It is important to be prepared to take care of yourselves by keeping emergency supplies such as water, food, a first aid kit, and a number of other essential survival items to last for at least three days.

Have First Aid/CPR Training
Be ready for a disaster by taking a first aid and CPR class. The American Red Cross first aid classes are an excellent resource for obtaining first aid training, including classes that are geared toward specific needs such as infant, the elderly, and even first aid for pets.

Keep A Backpack With Emergency Essentials With You While In The Disaster Area
Bring your backpack with you whenever you are in the disaster area.  This backpack should contain a basic first aid kit, at least two bottles of water, and disinfectant wipes or hand sanitizer.

Wear Protective Clothing In The Disaster Area
When entering a disaster area it is important to wear a long sleeve shirt, long pants, work gloves, and sturdy shoes to provide protection from debris.



Danger After Disaster

When a disaster such as a flood, a wildfire, hurricane, or earthquake occurs, the event itself will stop, but very frequently the following hours and even days afterward continue to be as dangerous as the disaster itself.

Before you venture out after disaster or return to the disaster area after evacuation, keep your family in a safe place while you carefully check the area to find out what you’re dealing with.  There is a tendency to become overcome by the overwhelming destruction and to start sightseeing, forgetting the numerous dangers that all too commonly cause serious injury or even death.

Following is a list of the most common dangers faced after disasters; dangers that can often be more devastating and cause more injuries or deaths than the disaster itself:

Downed power lines
Washed out roads
Natural gas leaks
Hazardous materials
Sharp objects
Dangerous debris


Safety Precautions After Disaster
The following general safety measures should be taken after any natural disaster.


  • Stay tuned to local news broadcasts to keep informed on any new developments regarding the disaster, the weather report, or evacuation updates.
  • Wait for the all clear from authorities before returning home if you had to evacuate before the disaster occured.  Do not return until the area has been determined to be safe.
  • Do not use open flames such as candles or matches until it has been officially confirmed there are no gas leaks in the area.
  • Use the buddy system.  Do not go alone when you check for damages around your home.
  • Cautiously walk around the perimeter of your home checking for the following:


  • Downed Power Wires:  Loose or downed power lines.  Keep in mind there could be debris or water on top of live wires, so proceed with extreme caution.  Treat every wire as if it were a live wire.  Look up to check if there are any loose wires that potentially may fall.  Electrocutions are a common fatality after disasters.
  • Check For Gas Leaks:  Gas leaks which will have an odor similar to rotten eggs.
  • If there is a gas leak, leave the door to your house open, shut off the gas valve, and leave immediately.
  • Check Structural Integrity:  Look for any cracks or other structural damage.  Buildings that may look unharmed from the exterior can actually be structurally damaged and unsafe to enter.
  • Check Roof Supports:  Check roofs and overhangs to be sure they still have their supports.
  • Dangerous Debris:  Is there dangerous debris that may cause injury, such as: broken glass, nails, collapsed walkways or stairways, and fallen panels are some of the debris that could be posing a hazard. Debris of all kinds is one of the most dangerous hazards in a disaster area.
  • Look Up:  Be watchful of potential falling debris, so look up for any possible tree branches, utility poles, upper levels of a structure, etc.  Is anything hanging down?
  • Check For Unstable Ground:  Has any ground surrounding your home washed away?


  • Turn off electricity if you suspect a gas leak; however, if there is any standing water in the area DO NOT attempt to shut off the power yourself, contact the power company or an electrician.
  • Hazardous materials and other biochemical spills on roadways and waterways can spread rapidly and produce toxins that can be dangerous for miles around.


Constantly Re-Check For New Hazards
After disaster, conditions can and usually do change.  Things can shift and move and new damages can even occur as a result of the changing environment.  Examples of triggers which cause further change in disaster areas are things like aftershocks following an earthquake, tornadoes after a hurricane, water surge, flood waters that peak, then recede, and on some occasions crest yet again.  Other movement may simply occur as debris settles causing a damaged building to collapse.


If There Is Major Destruction Draw A Map Of Your Neighborhood
After a major disaster the landscape of an area may be radically changed by the destructive force of the event.  Natural disasters can do great damage to the geography of an area causing an area that was very familiar to you before to suddenly become completely alien.

Familiar structures and landmarks may be damaged or destroyed, street signs may be gone, and trees are downed. You can go a block or two from home and be lost and in fact that is what happened in Hurricane Andrew, for example.  People were lost in their own neighborhoods.  Emergency service workers who do this for a living were lost and they couldn’t find out where they were.

When this is the case, before you leave your location, literally draw a map of where you are and what your new neighborhood looks like.  Use whatever descriptive notations you can to help you find your way back.  It’s important to make a map so you can find your way home because you are in an unfamiliar area.


Hazards Related To Specific Disasters
Some hazards after disaster are specifically related to the type of disaster experienced — some occurring within hours and days following a particular disaster and some have a more longterm effect.

Floods, the second most common and widespread disaster, cause well over 100 deaths each year because of electrocution or other accidents which occur before the flood waters recede.  Electrocution in flood water is not uncommon as live electrical wires can be submerged under flood waters and hidden from view.  Moving flood waters cause many deaths simply because people underestimate the power of the water.  Six inches of moving water is enough to knock a person off their feet and it only takes two feet of moving flood water to float a car away.  Contaminated flood waters can occur as a result of debris in the water that often includes raw sewage and toxic waste.
Earthquakes will always produce a number of aftershocks with the most intense aftershocks occurring soon after; however, strong aftershocks can occur even months after a quake.
Hurricanes can produce tornadoes and severe flooding from storm surge after the hurricane has moved past an area often bringing even more death and destruction than the hurricane itself.
Wildfires remove vegetation and dries out the soil leading to dangerous flash flooding months later during the rainy season.  Fires are the leading natural disaster each year.


Dealing With Animals After Disaster
Neighborhood animals may be homeless or traumatized.  Exercise caution around these animals especially if they shy away from you.  If you see an animal displaying hesitation to your presence, you need to understand that that dog or other animal may bite out of fear.  If possible, it may be best to call in a professional with appropriate equipment.

There are often a variety of animal rescue groups that volunteer for emergencies after disaster.  They will care for and place animals in shelters while they wait for their owners to return.  If you need to contact animal control or an animal rescue volunteer, be ready with a description of the animal, its condition, location, and if you know who it belongs to be prepared to provide any contact information you may have as well.

Experts advise using extreme caution if you discover an injured animal.  Your instinct may be to help the animal immediately; however, a frightened animal is in self-preservation mode and may see you as someone who may take advantage of them in the same way a predator would. Consequently they bite or scratch or whatever it takes to defend themselves.

Animal bites of any kind can be very serious.  Any animal carries bacteria in its mouth which is transferred to a person who has been bitten. Seek medical attention immediately.  Another risk after an animal bite is rabies.  If you have been bitten and the animal is unable to be identified you can expect to go through a series of rabies shots.

In addition to stray pets, wildlife such as raccoons, hyenas, mountain lions, and snakes also become a hazard as they have become displaced from their normal habitat. If an animal has taken shelter in your home, if it is safe to do so, open a window, door, or some type of escape route so the animal can leave on its own.  If the animal or snake does not leave your home, then call animal control to take care of the situation.

If you find a dead animal on your property or in your house be mindful that animal carcasses carry serious health risks.  Do not touch or remove the animal until you have contacted the local emergency management office or health department for instructions.




Emergency Response

When disaster strikes, the first responders to those in need of emergency assistance are usually the individuals who just happen to be on location at the time.  After a major disaster the ability of fire and police departments to respond to calls for help is hindered due to the widespread need for assistance, interruption of communication lines, and impassable roads.

When a disaster occurs, the people who find themselves in a situation where immediate first aid must be given or immediate action must be taken to avoid imminent danger, are usually a family member, a friend, co-worker, or even a total stranger.

A large percentage of injuries and deaths occur after the disaster and all too often when inexperienced volunteers rush in to help out.  Some of these individuals will know some first aid and CPR, yet even fewer will have had any emergency response training on what to expect, what to do, and what not to do in the chaotic and continuing dangerous situations that take place after a disaster.


Common Types Of Injuries During & After Disaster
Cuts & lacerations & bruises
Concussions or head injuries
Fractures & sprains
Eye injuries
Back injuries
Step on nails
Heart attacks
Carbon monoxide poisoning
Injury from falling debris or collapsed buildings
Interaction with wild or stray animals/snakes


If You Find Someone Who Is Injured — Do This First…
Before helping an injured person, before rushing in to help, FIRST look at why they got hurt.  For example, if someone was electrocuted and you rush in to help you may also become a victim.  Size up the situation.  A house that looks stable may have a hole in the floor when you walk in.  Pay attention to the smell of natural gas or even the sound of gas escaping through a leaking pipe.  If this occurs indoors, immediately leave and if you are safely able to do so, turn off the utilities.

Perhaps there is someone trapped in a vehicle, but if there’s an electrical power line across the vehicle the individual attempting a rescue will become another victim instead.


CERT – Community Emergency Response Team
The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) is a nationwide program in which professional fire and rescue workers train individuals within communities to be first responders after a disaster when professionals are unable to help.  Volunteers are taught basic disaster response skills such as fire safety, first aid, search and rescue procedures, and team organization.

As explained in the video below, CERT training often helps to minimize casualties and in some cases completely avoid them.  The two examples given during the early stages of the training program are the January 1994 Northridge, California 6.8 earthquake where CERT volunteers shut off potentially hazardous utility connections, light fires were put out, basic first aid was administered, making a huge impact all over the city.  The second example cited where trained CERT volunteers made a difference was a 6.9 quake (with a surface wave magnitude of 7.1) in Oakland, California in October, 1989.

The following key disaster response skills and tips are part of the CERT training and are helpful everyone to know in the event of a disaster:

Expect the unexpected.

Light search and rescue
Fire suppression
Basic first aid

After a disaster occurs the environment may be dramatically changed.  The shock of a major disaster often brings chaos.

The best thing you can do to prepare for disaster is the same thing the professional emergency response workers do; which is to train, train, and then train some more.  If you’re interested in obtaining the 20 hours of basic training contact a local CERT program in your area.



Emergency Shelters

Circumstances of each disaster vary widely and emergency shelters will be geared to the specific needs of each individual event.  Natural disasters which have advance warning, such as hurricanes and certain instances of wildfire or flooding, provide residents with opportunity to evacuate prior to the time the disaster strikes.  When unexpected disasters occur, such as earthquakes, many people lose their homes suddenly and find themselves in the devastating situation of needing emergency shelter.

Emergency shelters are set up by various communities, groups, and organizations. In the video above, a Red Cross volunteer explains how an emergency shelter is set up and how items like cots, blankets, diapers, and food are provided to meet the needs of disaster victims.  The Red Cross maintains storage trailers containing emergency supplies at various locations ready to meet the needs of a disaster.  Shelter locations are also pre-determined, for example in St. Louis there are over 600 designated shelter sites.

The brief video above gives an overview of what a typical Red Cross shelter looks like.  This particular shelter was set up in a gymnasium in the West Warwick Civic Center in Rhode Island.  People affected by flooding in April 2010 are taking shelter here and are being given food, medical attention, and other needed care.

Many emergency shelters do not allow pets; for example, Red Cross shelters are not set up to accommodate pets.  Contact your local emergency management office to find out if there are any pet friendly shelters where your family and your pet would be allowed to stay together.  However, if there isn’t a pet friendly shelter that will house people with their pets, then you can check with the following resources on emergency pet shelters:  local emergency management office; animal control office; and local veterinarians.




Clean-up After A Disaster

The clean-up phase after a major disaster is a long process and there are many aspects involved.   Not only is the clean-up process difficult emotionally and causes financial stress and worry, there are also many hazards involved.  It is vitally important to be aware of the many possible dangers, both seen and unseen such as fire, flooding, unstable buildings, dangerous fumes, downed power lines, contaminated flood water, contaminated tap water, and wildlife.  And many disasters are associated with further affects such as aftershocks after an initial quake, additional tornadoes after an initial tornado or hurricane, and even after flood waters recede there have been times when the water level will crest again at a higher level.

All these dangers must be kept in mind during the clean-up period after a disaster.  Be ready to deal with any further dangers which may occur.  Awareness and preparedness for such hazards can prevent many injuries and deaths.

For more specific information on dealing with each of these hazards after disaster, please refer to the section included earlier on this webpage titled:  Danger After Disaster.

Remember that insurance companies have certain requirements such as scheduling an insurance adjuster to see the damage before any work has been done.  So make sure you contact the insurance company and clarify what tasks can be taken care of now without risking losing part of your reimbursement payment from the insurance company.   After you have contacted your insurance company and have determined that your home can be repaired and restored after the disaster you’re ready to get started with the clean up process.


Begin By Assessing The Damage

Make sure conditions are safe before you leave your safe area and check out the damage which has taken place after the disaster.  It is extremely important to exercise safety precautions after any disaster.  Even though the storm or event is over, dangerous conditions remain.  It is a well known fact that often times more injuries and deaths occur in the aftermath of a disaster than in the actual disaster itself.


Wear Protective Clothing
The following protective clothing items should be worn when in a disaster area:

  • Sturdy clothing such as long sleeve work shirts and trousers, or thick denim pants.
  • Sturdy shoes, preferably work boots.  Hard toed or steel toed boots are best. Among the common injuries following a disaster is cut feet and nails through the feet.
  • Watertight boots, if cleaning up in flooded conditions.
  • Work gloves, and if working in fluids wear rubber gloves underneath the work gloves. Many people get hand lacerations while digging through debris.
  • Hard hat
  • Safety goggles
  • Back support belt
  • Dust mask


Document/Photograph Everything
Take photos and good notes to present to your insurance company to show them the extent of the damage.



Color Coded Tag System Labels Structures Unsafe

After a major disaster, city or county officials/building inspectors will determine if homes are unsafe to occupy.

Most communities utilize a typical system of marking homes with a green, yellow, or red tag after a disaster which designates the safe or unsafe condition of the home.  While the exact definition of each tag can vary, these “tags” typically indicate the following:

Green Tag:    No structural damage, or very minimal damage, occurred and the home is safe to re-enter.
Yellow Tag:    The structure has incurred repairable damage and may or may not be in livable condition.
Red Tag:        The home has suffered structural damage beyond repair and has been condemned.



If Your House Is Deemed Uninhabitable Or Partially Unlivable

Contact your utility companies to notify them of the circumstances and request that services be discontinued.  Provide them with a temporary or new address where the final bill can be sent.


Temporary Housing
If you find yourself in need of temporary housing following a disaster there may be a few options. Many people will simply stay with family members or rent an inexpensive apartment or home while they repair or rebuild.  Information on temporary housing options for your area can be found through some of the following sources:

Local news media
Local Disaster Management Office
Red Cross
United Way
Your City Hall Office
Local Chamber of Commerce
Insurance Agent

Homeowner’s/Renter’s Insurance Coverage For Temporary Housing
If you have homeowner’s or renter’s insurance which covers temporary housing after a disaster, you should contact your insurance agent to find out what procedures and guidelines are required.  The agent will provide you with resources on how to move forward and what type of financial assistance is provided in your policy.


Temporary Housing Grants
Another possibility that may be available, especially if your area has been declared a Federal Disaster Area, you may be able to qualify for a temporary housing grant.


Temporary Housing Aid
There are organizations and humanitarian groups that provide temporary housing of various types to disaster victims.  Some of these programs require a certain income level in order to qualify for their assistance, others do not.


FEMA Temporary Housing

In this video you can see the temporary housing units which were used to help qualified survivors in Texas after Hurricane Ike.  The process used for this disaster is typical for all declared disaster zones in which FEMA provides assistance.

The temporary housing units used by FEMA are not temporary structures but are HUD certified mobile homes used on a temporary basis.  These units are sometimes placed on property location of the individual’s house.  Other units are set up on group sites that include utilities, some of which are existing mobile home parks.



Before Cleaning Up – Contact Your Insurance Company

After an emergency and you and your family are in a safe place the first step is to call you insurance company.


Renter’s Insurance
Renter’s insurance is usually setup to cover damaged and loss of belongings.  Some policies may include coverage which covers future expenses related to continued legal obligation to lease agreements in the event your rental home becomes uninhabitable after a disaster.


Homeowner’s Insurance
Homeowners policies will typically cover contents and rebuild/replacement expenses.  Individual policy choices will determine deductibles, liability coverage, temporary housing coverage, etc.  Specific additional coverage is commonly required for flood damage and earthquake coverage.




The following information on insurance claims in most cases refers to homeowners insurance, not renters insurance policies.


File A Claim ASAP
It is important to file a claim with your insurance company as soon as possible.


Reimbursement Check For Estimated Repair/Replacement Costs
The insurance company will come up with a reimbursement amount and will issue a reimbursement check.  Some of the calculations used by the insurance company can be difficult to understand and you should ask your agent where they came up with the reimbursement amount.  For your protection, deposit the reimbursement check into a construction escrow account at your local bank that will be used only for transactions for the rebuild/repair project.


Leave The Claim Open During Rebuild/Repair (if allowed)
Check with your insurance company to see if they will allow the claim to remain open until the work has been completed.  This way the claim can be amended if necessary.


When To Accept A Final Settlement From Your Insurance Company
Don’t accept a final settlement before the full extent of the damage is determined.


Consider An Independent Insurance Adjuster
Many people feel that dealing with the insurance company is confusing and overwhelming.  Consider hiring a licensed independent insurance adjuster.  While it is an added expense, many people feel it helps reduce the risks of mistakes.  Also, the adjuster may have important information available about grants and loans available for Federal or State disaster areas.





The Clean-Up Process


Get Instructions From Renter’s/Homeowner’s Insurance Company For Filing Claims

Make sure you have contacted your insurance company prior to cleaning up property and belongings.  Insurance companies have specific requirements that include photographs of certain types of damage and certain damaged parts which may need to be submitted by the insurance company to a manufacturer in order to process a claim.  Your insurance company will provide you with complete information on these requirements.


Clean-up Tips & Reminders

  • Wear protective clothing, face masks, safety glasses, gloves, work boots
  • When working in debris frequently sanitize hands
  • Monitor news reports for any emergency updates
  • Be watchful for snakes or other wildlife displaced by the emergency
  • Be watchful for live electrical wires
  • When opening closets or cabinets be watchful for falling objects
  • Keep phone lines open by only making essential calls


Discard Perishable Food & Food Submerged In Floodwater
Throw away all food items that may have spoiled due to power outage or which may have come in contact with floodwaters or have become contaminated in any way.


Salvaging Belongings After Disaster
After most disasters people find that not all of their belongings are destroyed.  Earthquakes may only destroy certain items.  Flood waters typically reach a certain level and belongings above the water line are untouched.  Even some items submerged in water are salvageable.  After fire there may be portions of a structure that did not burn and many items might be salvageable.  Many times people are able to find precious jewelry by sifting through the ashes as seen in the video below after the Texas Wildfires in 2011.

The American Red Cross and other organizations are there to help people move forward into the recovery phase after all types of disasters, as seen in the video above.

When beginning the process of sifting through debris and belongings after a disaster, safety must be of the utmost concern.  Wear protective clothing, sturdy shoes, gloves, and any other protective wear needed in your particular circumstances.  Face masks may be necessary if working around any fumes or mold areas.  Constantly be aware of possible falling debris, dangerous foundation, and any harmful objects or wildlife that may be hidden underneath debris.

Proceed slowly for safety’s sake and simply begin to sort through debris looking for any salvageable items.  Discard items that may pose a health hazard such as electrical items that have been submerged in water, and especially any items which may be susceptible to mold.

Determining which items can be salvaged depends on the type of disaster and whether the clean-up involves smoke damage, water damage, sewage backup, how long items have been submerged, etc.  It also depends on what type of item you’re discussing:  wood, metal, paper, fabric, foam, plastic.  Because there are so many critical factors involved in determining if it is safe or a health hazard to salvage belongings it is best to have a professional advise you.

For some general guidelines a FEMA recovery operations news release provides some helpful tips and information such as how to kill harmful bacteria on clothing and what type of furniture is most likely able to be saved.


Standing Water in Basement
You can hire a professional to come out and remove the standing water in your basement or if you own a sump pump, or choose to rent one, you can pump out the flooded water yourself.  If there is a significant amount of water then the water should be pumped out gradually because the standing water may have weakened the floor and walls causing them to collapse.  It is advisable to pump out approximately one third of the water daily over a three-day period, allowing the walls to at least partially dry out during the process.


Cautions Re: Standing Water
Standing flood water is often contaminated by bacteria, chemicals, and even raw sewage.  It is important to wear the proper protective attire when working in or around standing water.  Sturdy rubber fishing boots or even waders, rubber gloves, and safety glasses are recommended.  Any salvageable items must be disinfected.


Debris Removal
Debris removal is one of the first major tasks in the recovery process.  Be sure to check with your city or county building department to learn about requirements and exceptions made in the aftermath of a disaster.


You will need the following items:

  • Camera or video camera to record damage and property loss.
  • Have a pen and paper on hand.  As a supplement to the photos, make notes regarding any pertinent info about the damages or losses.
  • Proper protective clothing, sturdy shoes, hard hat, work gloves, etc., as described in more detail sub-section above titled: “Assessing The Damage,”




Long Term Recovery After Disaster

Major disasters occur in a matter of minutes; however, the consequences remain long after and as much as we would like it to be otherwise, the recovery period after disaster is simply a slow process.


How To Rebuild After Disaster

The trauma of the actual disaster itself is difficult enough to get through.  After additionally facing the loss of a home or part of a home, most people are anxious to rebuild and must learn how the whole process works.

The video shown above provides excellent tips on rebuilding or repairing your home after a disaster has occurred.


Get Organized
The first thing you want to do is to get organized and stay organized.

  • Set up file folders for the various paperwork you will need to keep track of during the repair/rebuild process.  This is extremely important because there will be a lot of documents which you will need to access throughout the rebuild/repair process.
  • Document everything


Split Up The Duties
If your household has more than one adult, it’s helpful to split up the duties.  For example, one person could assume the financial responsibilities of organizing the checks and what has been paid and that type of paperwork.  While another person in the household takes on the role of communicator, handling things such as materials and finishing touches.  This way the contractor knows who the “go to” person is for each side of things.


Be Flexible
Every homeowner wants quality work, for the least amount of money, and to have the job completed as quickly as possible.  The reality is that you will have to give a little bit here and there.


Call & Keep In Contact With Your Insurance Company
By this point you should have already contacted your insurance company, but if for some reason you haven’t, make sure to call and learn what their requirements are.  Please refer to the information on this webpage located above in the section titled “Contact Your Insurance Company” under the heading “Clean-Up After A Disaster.”


Open A Construction Escrow Account Dedicated To Rebuild/Repair/Replacement Expenses
Open an escrow account at a bank which will be dedicated solely for transactions relating to the rebuild or repair.  This account should be strictly reserved for funds received from your insurance company, grants, and loans; as likewise for payments made by you for any and all related expenses during rebuild process.

A construction escrow account has two unique characteristics which provide a safeguard of a checks and balance system.  One of the safeguards requires multiple signatures for project payment.  The other key requirement of a construction escrow account is that the lender must verify that the work is done before the payment is released.


Put Aside 10% For Unforeseen Expenses
It’s a good idea to put aside ten percent of the total building costs for unexpected expenses, including upgrades you may choose to include as the project progresses.


Determine If You Have A Complete Rebuild Or A Partial Rebuild
One of the first decisions that’s going to need to be made is what type of project you have.
Determine what type of project you have. The building department, insurance agent, and the contractor will all need to know the type of project.  The two types of projects are:

1) Complete Rebuild – which is construction from the ground up.
New home construction has fewer legal protection than home improvements.

2) Partial Rebuild or Home Improvement – An example of a partial rebuild is if your chimney is still standing and a couple of walls, or even part of your foundation.  Partial rebuilds typically cost less.

This is a contractual distinction that needs to be made before moving forward.  Confirm with your contractor whether or not you have a complete or partial rebuild.


Debris Removal / Demolition / Clean-up
There will be a mess during the clean-up process.  Unfortunately with natural disaster comes a lot of debris, demolition, and clean-up.  Your city and county building departments are going to have certain requirements for getting rid of the debris.  However, if there’s been a lot of damage in one neighborhood, local officials may help coordinate the efforts.  Often times there are fees for these services and in times of natural disaster these may be waived.

Debris removal may be something you want to hold off on temporarily and include it with the total rebuild project.  Your general contractor simply include debris removal as part of the overall rebuilding and repair project.


Gather Ideas For The Rebuild/Repair Of Your Home
Create a design you would like to use when you rebuild or repair your home.

Suggestions For Choosing The Design & Replacement Items For Rebuild/Repair
Look on the internet
Home and decorator shows
Drive around and look at houses and what others have done
Walk through design and supply stores

Architectural Plans & Blueprints For Rebuilding Your Home
You will need to meet with an architect to acquire plans for the rebuilding of your home and have the blueprints completed.  Some homeowners may have the original blueprints for the home and if so you will need to make sure these blueprints meet with the current building codes and regulations.  If you are making any upgrades to the original blueprints keep in mind that certain upgrades may require a structural change to be made in the original blueprints as well.  For example, changing to a tile roof means you need to make sure that the structure design can handle the extra weight of the tiles.


Gather Cost Estimates Of Building Materials & Replacement Items
You will need to provide an estimate of the cost of construction and replacement items for your insurance company.  Once you select a licensed contractor, he can assist you with an accurate evaluation and the most current information on construction and replacement item costs. But initially you can gather general information on the types of items you’re interested in.


Control Cost Estimates

  • Make a list for your contractor of your choice of building materials and replacement items, making note of the following important specific information:
    Brand or manufacturer name
    Product/item number (if applicable)
  • Also include backup items on this list in case an item is out of stock or discontinued.
  • Choose brand name products with a good reputation and a long standing history, because if they were to go out of business that could delay the project and cost more money.
  • Check for manufacturing rebates.
  • Check with your local utility companies regarding possible rebate or discount programs for purchasing “green” items which are environmentally friendly.  Examples of energy efficient and water efficient products include solar panels, smart sprinklers (which utilize a programming system based on the current weather conditions), energy efficient refrigerators and freezers, energy and water efficient washer and dryer, etc.  There are endless “green” products ranging from flooring to insulation.


Find A Licensed General Contractor
You need to feel confident in and comfortable with the licensed general contractor you hire.  It is a big job and this is your home and it is important that things are done right.  It’s devastating enough going through a major disaster and the last thing you want is to have to deal with any further problems down the road.


What Does A General Contractor Do?
A general contractor organizes and supervised the entire job for you.  The general contractor hires and oversees the plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and any other needed workers.

  • Organizes & supervises the entire job
  • Hires & schedules plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and any other needed workers
  • Obtains building permits & licenses
  • Arranges and handles all required inspections
  • Takes care of the liability & workers compensation insurance


What Type Of Insurance Do Contractors Carry?
Contractors are insured and bonded on the job.  You may want to call the contractor’s insurance agent to verify that their coverage is up to date and find out what the liability limits are. This is important because if they don’t have that documentation or are not insured then you could be liable for any incident that takes place and there’s very little a state can do to help you.

Following are the two basic types of coverage carried by a licensed contractor:

  • Workman’s Comp, which is required by the state for each general contractor to provide coverage in case anyone gets hurt on the job site.  This protects you and takes care of the worker as well.
  • General Liability Coverage, which is a recommended coverage and is not required.  This coverage is in case someone has an accident on the job, such as backing into your garage door.


How Much Does A General Contractor Get Paid?
A licensed general contractor makes money by adding a negotiated percentage on top of the labor and material cost for the entire project.


Do I Have To Have A Licensed General Contractor?
Most states and insurance companies require the use of a qualified state licensed contractor.  Check with your insurance company and local officials to see if a licensed contractor is required in your circumstances.

If you are not legally required to use a licensed general contractor, and it is not required by your insurance company, then you could opt our of hiring a contractor.  However, this means that you must take on the responsibility of obtaining the permits, hiring workers, carrying the liability of workers compensation, etc.  If you make a mistake it could be costly, so beware.


Finding & Hiring A Licensed General Contractor

  • It is critical that your contractor have a valid state contractor’s license.  Ask to see their valid contractor’s license, as well as their bond and insurance documentation.  A license doesn’t guarantee that a contractor is reliable, but licensed professional contractors have proven competencies and knowledge in their trade and must pass periodic testing to stay current with changing regulations and building codes.
  • Ask neighbors and friends about satisfied jobs that they’ve had done by a licensed contractor
  • Obtain listings of licensed general contractors in your area from your Local Building Association, Builders Exchange, or even the Internet.
  • Get bids from 2 or 3 licensed contractors
  • Keep in mind that the lowest bid is just one element of the decision and should not necessarily be the determining factor.  The lowest bid is not the ultimate goal, you want to take the bid that represents the best value.
  • Find out how much experience each contractor has and try to obtain referrals if possible.
  • Check the contractor’s record with the Contractors State License Board online or call their toll free automated phone lines.  You can look up a contractor by entering their license number, business name, or individual’s or employee’s names to see if any disciplinary action has been
  • Another suggestion for checking out a contractor is to visit two or three of the contractor’s job sites.



Beware of Scams

As unbelievable as it may seem, when disaster strikes, there will be those individuals who are ready to step in and take advantage of the situation.  Exercise caution when hiring people to do work for you at any time, but especially after a disaster.

  • Price gouging is one problem that unfortunately is seen after a natural disaster. It is illegal for businesses to charge more than 10% above normal prices in the region.
  • Another common scam takes place when unscrupulous people go door-to-door offering low prices for what they claim is “surplus material” but to get it at that price you would need to purchase it on the spot.
  • Do not purchase materials from anyone other than a reputable building or construction supplier where items can be returned or exchanged if need be.

As mentioned in the news report above which was recorded after Hurricane Irene in 2011, National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) investigators warn homeowners attempting to hire contractors to repair damage incurred from Hurricane Irene to beware of scammers which they refer to as “storm chasers.”

These “storm chasers” come out and try to solicit business from you and try to get a contract signed by you, and maybe try and get and insurance payment from you, or try and get some kind of money in their pocket from you.   They may do a small amount of the work or none at all and they are gone before you know what hits you.

The NICB urges you to make sure you are dealing with a reputable contractor while first working through your insurance company’s claims adjuster.  If someone comes to your door and you haven’t requested their visit, the best thing to do is to reject their offer.

If you suspect someone is trying to take advantage of you contact the National Insurance Crime Bureau.


Getting Bids
Once you have the plans and blueprints, you’re ready to get some bids.  When getting bids for rebuilding your home, the more detail the better.  Bids can vary greatly not only in price, but also in quality and experience.


What To Look For In A Bid

  • The more detailed a bid is the better.  This keeps misunderstandings and confusion to a minimum.
  • A bid should include the name and license of all sub-contractors who will be used throughout the project.
  • Materials list should include brand names, type, color, etc., because price and quality can vary tremendously.
  • While price is a key factor, keep in mind that it is extremely important to hire someone you know will do the job right or you will be dealing with additional problems and expense down the road.


Do Contractors Charge For A Bid?
Contractors can legally charge for a bid as long as you have agreed in advance on the charge.  Quite often the accepted bid will be applied to the total cost of the project.



After Accepting A Bid A Contract Must Be Agreed Upon
After you accept a bid the contractor will provide you with a contract for your consideration.  The contract needs to contain all of your expectations and all of the contractor’s obligations.

Tips & Pointers Before Signing The Contract

  • Be patient
  • Be a stickler for details
  • Make sure the contract includes:

Project start and completion dates
A payment schedule that pays for work only as it is completed
Planned details of the project
Specific material list
Listing of all sub-contractors
Stipulation that the contractor will obtain all required building permits
Debris removal
Clean-up expectations
The location where materials will be stored and that materials are stored in a secure location

  • Make certain you are not listed as “Owner/Builder” as this could make you liable for severe penalties if the contractor doesn’t obtain permits or adhere to building codes.
  • Clarify the deposit amount with the contractor.

Check the legal maximum deposit amount allowed by your state.  For example, California allows a maximum deposit of $1000 or 10% of the final contract bid, whichever is less.  Remember the deposit and all future payments need to be made from the escrow account in order to maintain an accurate record of all project related payments and transactions.

  • Include a “lien release form” in the contract. (See the following section for more specific information.)
  • It is wise to include an “arbitration clause” in your contract to help resolve any possible conflicts by bringing in a neutral party from the Contractors State License Board free of charge.


Avoid The Possibility Of A Lien On Your Property With A “Lead Release Form”
Another important legal detail is a “Lead Release Form.”  If your contractor, or even a sub-contractor, doesn’t pay his or her employees, sub-contractors, or even material suppliers, the individual or business who hasn’t been paid can place a “mechanic’s lien” on your property.  This lien makes you responsible for the funds owed to them by the contractor or sub-contractor, an amount by the way that you have already paid the contractor or sub-contractor for.

This can be avoided by having all workers sign a “lien release form” to protect you from a “mechanic’s lien.”  Make sure this is in the contract, and make sure to sign the lien release forms at completion of each phase of construction.


Have An Independent Expert Review The Project Plans
At the local Builders Exchange office there are plan check rooms where you can meet with a qualified volunteer that will review the project plans for you to make sure your plans are solid.


Can I Use A “Change Order” To Make A Change Or Upgrade In The Plans?
Let’s say for example you want to change from the planned tile counter to a granite counter top instead.  Changes can be made, even after the insurance company has issued the reimbursement check, and after a bid is accepted and a contract is signed, as long as you obtain a “change order.”

You will also need to notify your lender of any changes as well.

During a rebuild is a good time to make upgrades, but remember to watch the budget because upgrades add up quickly.


Check For New Code Requirements & Possible Exceptions Due To Natural Disaster
New code requirements, such as efficiency standards for heating and air systems will be a factor in determining cost estimates.  Make sure your contractor is up to date on any new code requirements prior to providing the estimated costs to your insurance company.  Special exceptions sometimes exist after a natural disaster so be sure to check with your county or city building department to ensure you have the most up to date information.


Tips To Successfully Working With Your Contractor

  • The key to successfully working with your contractor is good communication.

Talk regularly with your contractor throughout each phase of the project and sometimes daily.

  • Establish expectations at the beginning of the project
  • Visit the construction site frequently during your home rebuilding project and check in with your contractor.   This way you can see if everything looks like you expected and are able to catch any problems or mis-communication on the spot while it’s easier to make corrections.
  • Make every effort to be at the construction site whenever an inspection is scheduled so you will be aware first hand of any potential problems.
  • Take photographs throughout the construction process.  Photograph the wiring and plumbing in the walls before they’re closed up.  This provides a visual record of how the job is done.


Things To Keep In Mind During Typical Construction Projects

  • Expect unexpected circumstances

Sometimes there are simply unavoidable delays or unforeseen circumstances which take place.  So remember that projected completion dates are “estimated dates” and are subject to change (and most likely guaranteed to change).  Accepting and planning for the fact that the project may not finish on the estimated date in the contract will be one less stress factor you will have to deal with.


Typical delays include:
Bad materials
Supply delays
Inspection delays


Post Building Permits On The Job Site
During construction make sure your contractor has the necessary building permits posted in plain site on the job site so the building inspector can identify the project.


Don’t Forget Payments Should Be Made Only From Your Escrow Account
Remember when making payments for each phase of construction, to make those payments solely from your escrow account to keep accurate records and accountability of funds for the project.


If A Disagreement Arises

  • The first step should be to communicate the problem with your contractor.
  • If you have an arbitration clause in your contract then you will follow the agreed upon arrangement of bringing in a neutral party through the contractors state license board at no charge to help settle the disagreement.
  • If you do not have an arbitration clause in your contract, then you have the option of filing a complaint with the contractors state license board.



Before Making The Final Payment To Your Contractor
Final payment should not be made until:

  • The job has been completed to your satisfaction
  • The building department has issued written approval



Financial Recovery After Disaster

Financial recovery after disaster is a long term process and there are many pieces to financial recovery after experiencing a disaster.  Even when financial resources are stable before a disaster strikes, many people find the additional expenses and circumstances create the need for additional resources following a natural disaster.


Mortgage Payments + Rent For Temporary Housing
Many people’s homes are destroyed or are uninhabitable until repairs are made (which can take months), and unless arrangements can be made they are responsible for their mortgage payment plus the added cost of their temporary housing.


How To Handle Finances After Disaster,
           Plus Clean-up,
                     Plus Losses,
                               Plus Rebuilding,

The Overwhelming Task Of Regaining Financial Control
After a major disaster bills can quickly pile up, especially for those who have experienced major losses.  In addition to the everyday bills such as car payments and house payments, there may be new medical bills, temporary housing expenses, rebuild or repair costs, replacement expenses for clothes, automobiles, and other personal property.


Replace Lost ATM/Credit Cards & Checkbooks and Notify Creditors
Depending on the extent and type of damages many people will need to replace their checkbook and ATM/credit cards.  Additionally financial records and contact information is often lost or destroyed after major disasters leaving the task of finding a way to track down phone numbers and account numbers in order to notify creditors and loan companies of the circumstances and make special arrangements.



Professional Financial Resources
It may be very beneficial to contact the following professionals during this financial recovery period. Check with your local community for to see if any free financial recovery services are available.  Local news stations and your Chamber of Commerce are good places to start seeking out these types of resources.

  • Financial counselor – consider seeing a financial counselor who can advise you where you’re currently at financially and discuss a long range plan to help you find the resources needed to get back into housing.
  • Mortgage Lender
    Call your mortgage lender as soon as possible to explain the circumstances as a result of the disaster.
    Discuss possible “workout agreements” with the lender. A “workout” must fit the lender’s requirements and is based on what type of mortgage you have.
    Forbearance is a common type of workout agreement that will basically postpone six months of payments and then add these payments to the end of the loan.  In six months time people will typically know how they are going to come through this phase of the disaster and when they will be able to make a regular mortgage payment.
  • Banker
  • Lawyer


Emergency Grants & Loans
If the government has declared a State or Federal Disaster Area, you may be entitled to emergency grants and loans.


SBA Disaster Loan Program –  Personal Loans For Individuals
The Small Business Association Disaster Loan Program offers low interest personal loans to individuals as well as small businesses.  Most of theses loans offer deferred payment for the first payment due.  Loan applications may be submitted online, by mail, or in person at a field office.  After a disaster the SBA can often be reached at a disasater loan management center.




After Disaster:  How To Cope

While grateful to be alive after disaster has struck, survivors soon begin to face the loss of their home, belongings, and sometimes even their community and must now move on to the next phase of disaster recovery.


After Disaster:  How To Cope

Coping With Disaster
After disaster, survivors must begin to cope with the aftermath.  The impact of a disaster can have lasting affects on those involved.  While each disaster has its own set of circumstances, the overall process of dealing with the destruction, loss, and emotional impact is basically the same after any type of disaster.

Everyone deals with a traumatic experience differently. Some people have immediate emotional reaction when disaster strikes, while others suppress it or simply have no emotional reaction at the time. Common emotional reactions include fear, sadness, moodiness, and anger.  Some fears cause a person to be afraid to be alone, or afraid of certain sounds or locations.

Physical manifestations are also often attributed to stress following a major traumatic event which may affect a person’s appetite, weight loss or weight gain, digestive problems, and even stress induced health issues such as heart problems or cancer.  Recognizing and identifying the point in time when an individual should seek professional counseling is not always easy and is different for each individual; also, not everyone requires professional help.

No matter what the initial emotional reaction is everyone will find that the impact of a major disaster will remain with them long after the event occurred.  Symptoms may come and go but there are always long term effects that may be triggered by a sound, an odor, a picture, a scene in a movie, or it may even appear in a dream or nightmare.

The aftermath of a large natural disaster not only directly affects those within the communities where it took place, but extended family members, friends, and co-workers can also be affected by what is referred to as secondary trauma.  Not to mention the fact that with today’s media coverage of these events people everywhere can be impacted at some level by disasters as well.

First responders and emergency personnel also experience trauma after dealing with the injuries and tragic situations during or immediately after a disastrous event.  Many times those in positions of responsibility and who are used to the role of caring for others find it difficult to face the fact that they are now struggling with the emotional aftermath of a major traumatic emergency.

Although everyone deals with the trauma of a disaster in their own way, it is helpful to encourage people to talk about their feelings and experiences and is a very positive step to emotional recovery.


Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
In the news video below which was recorded after severe tornado, the Director of Emergency Services of the Salvation Army shares insights gained from 22 years of experience of responding to disasters.  He explains how a storm of emotion often hits a while after the disaster.

If someone you know is still experiencing some of the following symptoms months after the disaster it may time to see their doctor.

PTSD Symptoms
Bad dreams
Scary thoughts that cannot be controlled
Trouble sleeping
Angry outbursts


Tips On Coping With Emotional Stress After Disaster

The following tips on coping with stress may be helpful in coping after experiencing a traumatic disaster.

  • Talk about your experience and your feelings, especially with others who have gone through a similar situation.
  • As soon as you can, get back to your normal routine (or as close to it as possible)
  • Don’t neglect your physical health.  Eat healthy and exercise as this will help mentally, emotionally, and physically.  Exercise has been proven to help reduce stress.
  • Take time for fun and relaxation with family and friends.  While talking about your emotions and the experience is healthy, it is also important to relieve stress by simply having a little R & R (rest and relaxation).
  • If experiencing guilt over certain events during the disaster, allow yourself to realize that you did what you could and that second-guessing yourself is not constructive and will only add to your stress.
  • Establish an emergency preparedness plan so you and your loved ones will feel more secure in the event of a future emergency.


Helping Children Cope After Disaster
Children are quite resilient, but some children are afraid to discuss what happened for fear that it may happen again if they talk about it.  Encourage them to share their feelings with you and if they don’t want to talk encourage them to express themselves however they can, for example by drawing a picture.  If you notice a significant change in your child’s behavior, sometimes even months later, it may be wise to seek professional help.

In the video above, author, Cathy Grace, shares insights from the book titled After the Crisis, which helps children deal with crisis.  This book uses a literature based method for teachers and parents to help children deal with trauma after experiencing any crisis, although the book specifically addresses crises in the form of disasters such as earthquakes, floods, severe storms, etc.

Ms. Grace talks about equipping parents and teachers with activities that can be used with 50 children’s books, discussion starters, and art activities that assist children cope with their fears and emotions.  Tips are given on how to talk with children about what has happened because children need to have the opportunity to talk about it in that safety

Another suggestion to help children cope is to allow them to act out some of their traumas.  At the time this video was made, people were dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and Ms. Grace speaks of children acting out scenes which include the “FEMA man,” because he was a new part of their lives.  Children also acted out scenes involving the “weather man”  because weather became very important after the hurricane.  Many times when the weather would become cloudy some of the children would expreince anxiety.




Business Disaster Recovery

Every business large or small should have an Emergency Preparedness Plan and a Disaster Recovery Plan.  Circumstances will vary widely depending on what type of disaster has taken place, but the following are some general guidelines.


Damage Assessment
Assess the Overall Damage
As soon as it is safe to do so assess the damages incurred and arrange for inspectors or contractors to determine the structural safety of the building(s).

Photograph & Document Damages For Insurance Company
Photograph and document damages and contact your insurance company and then proceed with the clean-up process.

Determine Necessary Actions Needed To Begin Recovery
Access backup copies of business records.  These records are not only helpful for operational purposes, but are often a requirement in order to apply for various forms of disaster assistance.


Communicate Damages, Loss, & Future Operational Plans
Once the disaster has passed it is important that a spokesperson from your business begins communication with employees and those you do business with as soon as possible.

Relay the status of the business:
Is the business operational?
Is the business open or when will it re-open?
Has the business relocated?
Should employees report to work?


Disaster Assistance For Small Businesses
If needed, disaster assistance is available to small businesses in various forms, such as FEMA and Small Business Association (SBA) loans.



SBA Disaster Loan Program – For Small Business

The Small Business Association Disaster Loan Program is the primary source of financial assistance from the Federal Government.  For any area within a disaster declaration area the SBA offers low interest disaster loan programs to businesses of all sizes and private non-profit organizations.  In most cases the first loan payment is deferred.

The SBA offers a working capital loan that can help pay for normal operating expenses if a business is shut down or if business has dropped.  This would include normal operating expenses like payroll, the lease for the building, whatever the expenses might be for that business during the recovery period.

Businesses can apply through one of the three following methods:
1) At a field office, perhaps at a disaster recovery center or an SBA run disaster loan outreach center.
2) Mail in the application.
3) Apply electronically online
There is no fee for completing the SBA loan application.