Recovery & Restoration…
The Survival Recovery Phase After a Disaster
The following basic steps for most disaster recoveries and initial restoration efforts are highly dependent on the nature of the disaster. The aftermaths for most crises are dictated by the extent of the devastation which will define the effort, resources, and time to recover and restore things to their original state.
For example, a tornado could have been fairly small and only touched down in a small area with limited damage to your property and your survival risk was minimum. Or, it could have been a F5 tornado that stayed on the ground for a number of minutes in a dense metropolitan area in which you live. The public survival risk would be VERY HIGH! And, this would be a totally different set of problems to deal with and a substantial difference in cost to resurrect the area from the damage for all survivors impacted.
With many types of crises, even in residential areas, damage can be very selective—-one property can remain untouched and right next door, another home is totally destroyed! This is the same for hurricanes, mudslides, and earthquakes just to name a few.
(Some of this information below will apply to certain kinds of terrorist events and some types of military attacks but not to financial disasters that result from economic cycles, catastrophic business failures, or massive government defaults at various levels. These create longer term impacts and do not directly cause the destruction of property or life--just the destruction of financial investments, energy and food availability, housing costs, and jobs.)
So, the only way to really address what steps survivors should take for all natural disasters and some man-made ones, would be to establish a list of recommended steps for the worst case scenario. Then each individual impacted by a disaster in an area would need to choose which of the comprehensive steps below would make sense for their situation.
Here is a worst case survival scenario of recovery and restoration steps to consider as a model for all survivors:
The Survival Restoration Phase After a Disaster
- Execute the family survival re-grouping and assessment plan.
Families need to ensure their headcounts and physical condition if at all possible once they are able to rendezvous or get in contact with each other as pre-planned.
- Get help for injured or trapped family members and then help others if able.
Attend first to yourself and family members with first aid and help and possibly hospitalization.
Then help your neighbor survivors who may require special assistance such as infants, the elderly, and people with disabilities. Give first aid where appropriate. Do not move seriously injured survivors if they are in immediate danger of further injury. Call for help if available and possible. In really dire situations think triage concepts.
Take care of your pets and constrain and control dogs at large as well as other types of animals.
- Listen to a radio station or television for information as soon as possible.
You need to get some understanding of the scope and impact of the disaster and to achieve accurate situational awareness.
Listen for the latest emergency information using local utilities if operational or use hand-cranked, solar, or battery operated radios. Tune to emergency channels first.
A Thought on Communication Equipment--
If you are lucky enough to have acquired a 2-way radio you’ll have even better communication options and knowledge even in the worse case scenarios.
Today we have tablets and smartphones available that can download special weather disaster maps even in color with your GPS cordinates and that of the storm center. We would highly recommend the free application at:
This software actually saved a fellow's life who was rushing to his home and family where a large tornado was in the area demolishing homes. He could see his location and that he was headed right into the center of the tornado.
- Determine need to go to a survival shelter if your area is totally devastated.
If a centralized or regional shelter exists try to reach them.
- Assess survival shelter transportation availability and utilize the safest, most logical form.
Determine survival shelter transportation means or methods. In some cases you may need to attract attention to get transported to a shelter. If in a flood, you may need to get to the rooftop and stay until help arrives. Earthquakes, hurricanes, winter storms, and tornadoes, in particular, can prevent easy shelter access because of infrastructure damage.
- If staying on your property, retool for the initial property assessments and recovery tasks.
Put on long pants and shirt, good shoes, and work gloves to avoid injury while dealing with the areas of damage.
Make an assessment of damage and establish a plan and priority to deal with each.
- Expect aftershocks or additional eruptions when experiencing earthquakes and volcanoes)
Secondary shockwaves are usually less violent than the main quake but can be strong enough to do additional damage to weakened structures and can occur in the first hours, days, weeks, or even months after the quake. Volcano eruptions can occur multiple times, generally getting more violent in a successive fashion until a final eruption occurs.
Both earthquakes and volcanoes can trigger wide-ranging tsunamis that get progressively larger in size stretching 7-8,000 miles away racing at over 700 miles per hour to shore lines with waves exceeding 100 feet in height.
- Beware of possible tsunamis if you live in coastal areas.
(Requires an earthquakes or volcano to trigger them somewhere in the world)
These are also known as seismic sea waves (mistakenly called "tidal waves"). When local authorities issue a tsunami warning, assume that a series of dangerous waves are on the way.
Be watchful of animals like dogs or elephants. They seem to be able to sense a coming tsunami. Also, if on the beach and the water suddenly recedes a significant distance from its usual placement, this is your sign to head for higher ground as fast as you can! You’ll only have a few minutes before the tsunami waves arrive.
- Use the telephone only for emergency calls.
Land phones may be unusable. If cell phone towers haven't been destroyed, cell phones may work better than land phones but traffic volume may prohibit easy access. But keep trying.
- Stay away from really damaged areas around the home or other areas.
Stay away unless your assistance has been specifically requested by police, fire, or relief organizations. Return home only when authorities say it is safe.
Be on alert for down power lines, broken gas lines, water lines, and open faults in the ground.
- When in your home or facility, open home cabinets cautiously.
Beware of objects that can fall out of cabinets or off shelves.
- Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, gasoline or other flammable liquids immediately.
Leave the area if you smell gas or fumes from other chemicals and contact the appropriate utility company or the police or fire department as soon as possible.
- Inspect the entire length of chimneys for damage.
Unnoticed damage could lead to a fire.
- Inspect all types of utilities as follows:
Check for gas leaks.
If you smell gas or hear blowing or a hissing noise, open a window and quickly leave the building. Turn off the gas at the outside main valve if you can and call the gas company from a neighbor's home. If you turn off the gas for any reason, it must be turned back on by a professional.
Look for electrical system damage.
If you see sparks or broken or frayed wires, or if you smell hot insulation, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If you have to step in water or over moist surfaces to get to the fuse box or circuit breaker, call an electrician first for advice if possible, else provide a non-conductor bridge surface to the circuit box. If you were able to purchase a generator and inverter and have it installed and your systems will support the usage, restore your electrical power as soon as possible to preserve your short-term food supplies.
Check for sewage and water line damage.
If you suspect sewage lines are damaged, avoid using the toilets and call a plumber. If water pipes are damaged, contact the water company and avoid using water from the tap. You can obtain safe water by melting ice cubes, use your bottled water supplies, or specialized filtration devices such as a Berkley Water System.
Now that you’ve survived your particular disaster and you’ve dealt with the recovery steps above what’s next? Well, it involves the arduous task of rebuilding what was lost, if possible or desired.
You may have been flooded out due to a coastal hurricane like Katrina’s impact on New Orleans or maybe you built a home on the Mississippi River in a flood plain. In these cases, you may decide to rebuild somewhere else or build in a different fashion that will better protect you from a subsequent event.
Or, you may have been devastated by an earthquake in a Californian city or a volcanic eruption similar to Longview, Washington near the volcanic explosion of Mt. St. Helens. A lot of survivors simple choose to pick up what’s left and leave the area behind. I’ve met a number of people over the years that did just that. The fear they suffered surviving their disaster was just too much to overcome mentally and emotionally in the future. They never wanted to experience such an event again and chose to leave their home area.
Once you’ve determined your course of action of where and when to rebuild,you will want to take care of some of the following:
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- Property and Car Insurances
Contact your agencies and file damage claims to collect for your damages and losses. You’ll need this money to rebuild or start over where you’re at or some other location.
- Near Term Government Aid
Typically most disaster events bring government help for the survivors in some fashion to an area if the government declares an area a “disaster emergency area”. Find this information by news reports and inquiring at government offices in person or by phone. (Good to have a list of that information handy as part of your survival plans.)
- FEMA—Federal Emergency Management Administration
This is the government department apex for getting emergency help and aid from the Federal government.
- CDC—Center for Disease Control
Contact the Center for Disease Control if this was a disaster where diseases like cholera might result because of widespread sewage releases and unfound dead bodies as was the case with the recent Haiti earthquake. Or, if diseases might spread due to an existing pandemic, then you may want to get status information and assistance through this agency.
- HUD—Department of Housing and Urban Development
If your home was destroyed by a disaster or emergency, you may need to discuss with House Urban Development assistance for shelter alternatives.
- State Unemployment Agencies
If your disaster caused you to lose your job, you may want to apply for unemployment funds and seek employment.
- State Welfare Agencies
If the devastation caused you to lose your job you may also want to request food stamps and medical assistance should you not have insurance or your unemployment insurance stops.
- Immediate, Short-Term Aid Groups
Generally aid groups like the American Red Cross or local/remote church groups are far faster to respond to emergency situations and much more efficient in distributing assistance than government agencies. Government agencies tend to eventually arrive but their help is often much later, usually time consuming, typically inefficient, and they usually provide inappropriate solutions. (i.e. The further removed from the crises, the less the quality and speed of the assistance.)
- Local Government Agencies and Departments
If people were injured during a disaster, you’ll want to contact local emergency services for assistance and transport to medical facilities—police, fire department, ambulances, hospitals, etc. if at all possible and they are not too short of help and equipment.
If people were killed, you’ll need to be contacting the police and a mortuary for proper recording of the demise, public protection, and the proper caring of the body(s).
If your home and family members could be a target for looting or physical injury and law enforcement is too busy to protect either, you may want to prepare to do the job yourself if you have the skills, courage, equipment, and the desire to do so.
If rebuilding, get current advice on building codes to ensure that your next home or business will survive better that your last one. Earthquake, tornado, flood, fire, etc. have resulted in much better building codes and practices than were in existence when a property was initially constructed.