Preparing citizens for post-disaster: Living in the aftermath

Communities can get ahead of disasters by encouraging post-disaster planning, including developing family escape plans and applying for disaster relief


Natural disasters can be devastating to property and family and traumatizing to overall well-being. While preparation can help mitigate some of the damage, there is no way to predict exactly what will take place in the chaos afterward. That is why it is important for people to have a plan in place for the aftermath of a natural disaster to help individuals and families recover. Citizens can establish post-disaster plans of action, like escape plans. By developing post-disaster plans in advance, they can increase their ability to recover.

Developing a Family Disaster Plan

One of the most important things to do after the disaster is reunite with family members and pets. Since damaged homes may not be safe, it’s important that you plan ahead of time and have a disaster plan in place. Evaluate your region and take note of areas that may be dangerous or have a high concentration of people after a natural disaster, then plan to avoid those areas.

Pick several safe zones for sheltering during the disaster and as regrouping points afterward. The best safe zones have WiFi, food, water, and multiple exits, such as a library, restaurant or the home of a friend or family member. Once you select a list of safe zones, outline the escape routes. During and immediately after a disaster, cellular phone service may be disrupted, so you may not be able to rely on online maps. It is best for individuals and families to commit post-disaster escape routes to memory. If families become separated, disaster plans are key to reuniting quickly and safely.

Never enter a possibly-damaged building without the approval of a public official.

Assessing Post-Disaster Damage and Losses

Victims of earthquakes, floods or tornadoes will need to assess the damage done to their properties safely. This can be more difficult than it seems -- after a disaster, many dangers still linger. Gas leaks, damaged electrical systems and broken water and sewer lines are just a few of the unexpected dangers associated with buildings in areas affected by disasters. Disasters can also cause significant structural damage to homes.

Never enter a water-damaged home until it has been cleared as safe by the fire department. The first thing you should do afterward is contact your insurance company. It will want to do its own damage assessment, and, if you begin remediation before the company has a chance to review the damage, you may compromise your insurance. This process can take a while, so take photos or videos of the damage and keep a log of damaged or missing property.

You can also do a post-disaster perimeter check for cosmetic damage. If your house’s foundation seems to have shifted, pay particular attention to any obvious signs of damage or foreign smells, as well as standing water and debris.

Replacing Damaged Documents

While priceless items like family mementos and photo albums cannot be replaced, many of the essentials are replaceable. You may find that your birth certificate, Social Security card, passport or other important documents were destroyed. The local vital records office can help replace official documents and identification. Report damaged or destroyed passports to the Department of State.

Getting Disaster Relief Support

After the damage has been assessed, you may want to apply for financial assistance. provides a list of helpful links for government disaster relief. To get help in person, seek out your local disaster relief center. You can also download the FEMA App.

Additionally, many communities have disaster relief funds in place and groups that will help rebuild your life post-disaster, if the need arises. Governments also provide tax relief for many different disasters.

Brett Boynton

Contributed by Brett Boynton of

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