after a disaster
Print this out and keep a hard copy
Ken Young (http://www.DinoDudes.com).
All rights reserved.
This document may be
freely redistributed for educational purposes at no charge in unaltered
This information is
for educational purposes only. There is no guarantee of any kind that
it is accurate, or that no harm will come to anyone who uses it.
This information is
provided on an "as is" basis with absolutely no warranty or guarantee.
The information is not necessarily correct, complete, or suitable for
any particular use. The entire risk is with you. Should harm arise from
using this information, you assume responsibility for all damages and
injuries. In no event shall the copyright holder, or any other party,
be liable for compensation or damages arising from the use, misuse,
failure to use, or inability to use this information.
The important stuff
- Isolation is BAD BAD BAD! Your
priority is to plug into your network of family, friends, church, and
neighbors. Start helping each other. The person who helps others the
- Do not be selfish. Work hard to
help others. Share your stuff. People who work together do all right.
People perceived as selfish don't get help when they need it.
- Most disaster-related injury is from preparation and cleanup.
People are rushed
and stressed, so they fall off ladders and hurt themselves with tools.
Some of these injuries are grievous. So keep reminding everyone to be
careful and not rush. Safety is the most important part of cleanup!
Wear good shoes; the biggest single source of disaster related injury
is stepping on glass and nails.
- Photograph all damage
- Save all receipts
- List missing property
- Save everything that was
destroyed or damaged for the insurance claims adjuster whenever possible
- If FEMA or another government
agency is involved, register with them as an affected party. You can't
apply for aid if you register after the deadline. Register even if you
haven't found relevant damage, some things take time to manifest.
- Wear gloves, goggles, boots, a
respirator (even if it is a 2-string dustmask), and appropriate
clothing. If you get injured now, you will have much bigger problems.
Avoid long-term injury from breathing stuff. If someone tries to help
without appropriate safety equipment, get them off the site (lawsuits
are another hazard).
- Check for gas leaks if there is
structural damage. Don't turn anything electrical on until you have
done so. If you have to turn on a flashlight, go outside to do so.
Flipping a switch or plugging something in usually makes as spark. Turn
off the gas if there is
- The easiest way
to check for a gas leak is to go into the rooms
where gas is used and turn the light switch on or off. If an explosion
destroys your house, there was a gas leak. The safest way to
a gas leak is to turn on the flashlight outside and sniff for gas near
the meter and then throughout your house.
- If in doubt, don't turn on the
electricity until told to. Don't enter water to
turn the electricity back on. Don't turn on electricity with wet shoes.
- Debug electrical problems by turning off all the breakers.
Starting with the main breaker, turn them on one at a time while
checking for the problem.
- Only the gas company should
turn the gas
back on to avoid the possibility of explosion; Don't turn it on
Air in the pipes mixed with gas turns your pipes into pipe bombs. If
the gas/air mixture is in the right proportions, the
explosion could destroy your house. A smaller explosion can damage your
gas system, and you won't get gas until you make an expensive repair.
- If the propane is off, have the
system checked out before you turn it back on. Propane is just another
type of gas.
- If your heating oil system is
affected, have the system checked out before using it.
- If you think the water system
is affected, don't drink the water until told it is safe to do so.
- If any propane tanks or weapons
wind up on your property, call emergency services and don't touch them.
Conduct a search if wind, water, or other forces could have deposited
- If you find any asbestos
when repairing your house, take precautions immediately. There are
several public service sites on the links
page with detailed information about what to do. With simple
precautions you can proceed safely without interruption, without them
you can potentially die.
with water damage
- Remember this important fact: Most sewer pipes are connected to
the storm drain system. This means that floods flush sewage out of the
sewers and into the floodwater.
- Save flood-damaged clothing by
washing. Hose off the mud first. Wash & dry on the hottest setting
the clothes will take. Use extra detergent. Use bleach or disinfectant.
Most dry-clean clothing can be rinsed in the washing machine on cold
and air-dried before bagging for dry-cleaning later (they are still
contaminated by sewage).
- To save wet electronics: Don't
turn it on! Unplug it and remove all batteries as soon as you can. Open
it and pour out
the water. Immerse it in 90% alcohol for 5-10 minutes to get the rest
of the water out. Then let it dry. Putting it in a bag with something
absorbent like uncooked rice can help.
- If drywall is sodden and sagging, get it out of the building. It
is heavy, so make sure it doesn't fall on you. Cut it out to at least 2
feet above the waterline.
- If part of a floor sags, put a big piece of plywood over it. If
the sag is too large for this, stay away from it and don't let children
into the room.
- Salvage paper money as if it
were any other paper. Banks will exchange damaged money if the
denomination is identifiable and it is 51% intact. Badly damaged money
is exchangeable by registered mail to the Department of the Treasury,
Bureau of Engraving and Printing, MCD/OFM, Office of Currency
Standards, Room 344A, P.O.
Box 37048, Washington, D.C. 20013. Enclose a letter explaining what
happened, what you want, and where to send the replacement bills. Make
sure it is packaged to prevent further deterioration.
- Dry papers separately so they
will not stick together. Remove caked-on mud by gently agitating in
water. Freeze what you cannot dry to restore later to prevent mold
(separate with plastic or foil if possible). Never scrub documents.
Save stuck-together documents to restore later with expert advice.
- Stand books on edge so the
water drains out. Then fan them out to dry.
- Dry paintings horizontally,
- If framed material is stuck to
the glass, remove the backing and dry glass-side down. Restore later
with expert advice.
- Clean wood furniture normally.
Prevent soaked wood veneers from warping and separating by weighting
evenly over the surface.
- Blot steel items dry to reduce
- Warped items can be flattened
by moistening and then weighting over the entire surface.
- Mold can cause serious health problems. Don't try to live in a house with mold.
- Solve the moisture problem. Dry the place out as quickly as you
- Repairs to get rid of mold are expensive, but medical bills are
much more expensive.
- Early symptoms of a hidden mold infestation include coughing,
wheezing, nose & throat irritation. If more than one person has
these symptoms after flooding, get the place checked for mold.
- Mold can be prevented by drying the items completely before they
- Mold spreads. Isolate moldy
items immediately. Get rid of the mold or item quickly. Getting rid of
the moldy item is best.
- Sponging with a 10% bleach solution kills mold, but this can
corrode or bleach some items. Use common sense.
- Mold can be killed in small
absorbent items with a chlorine gas chamber. Put the items in a sealed
container along with a little bowl. Put a small quantity of chlorine
bleach into the bowl. Hold your breath and add a little ammonia,
vinegar, or toilet cleaner
to liberate deadly chlorine gas. Put on the lid and wait at least 15
minutes. Too much
chlorine gas will bleach or corrode the item.
- Remove mold smell from paper
and small items by putting loosely in a sealed container of baking soda
for a week.
- Cut out soaked drywall 2 feet above
the flood line to prevent mold.
- To save a flood damaged carpet:
Pull up the carpets and pads, take them outdoors, and hose them clean.
Discourage mold with bleach (2 tablespoons per gallon of water). Dry
the carpet, pads, and floor thoroughly before reinstalling.
- If you have to remove sheetrock, carpet, or anything else because
of flooding, allow it to dry completely before putting the new on.
Sealed-in moisture makes a mold factory, and you will have to rip
everything out and replace it again at the end of summer.
- Get debris, mud, garbage, and
standing water out of the house and cars immediately. Inhibit mold
growth after flooding by reducing temperature and humidity (turn on the
air conditioner, or air the place out if you don't have one). Remember
floodwater is contaminated by sewage.
- Dry wet clothes to prevent mold. Use a gas drier on the highest
setting if possible. Wash first using water with a little bleach in it
- Replace heating & air conditioning filters and check your
- Appliances often contain hidden insulation, which can mold if
flooded. Replace either the insulation or appliance. Any appliance that
heats things up or cools them down should be dried out and checked for
- Refrigerators can be
deodorized. Take everything out. Scrub with soap, water & baking
first. Be sure to get the gasket and clean out it's folds. Next, sponge
with vinegar, bleach, or peroxide to kill
mold. Then air it out. To get remaining odors, pour baking soda or
ground coffee into the bottom and close the door for a day. Find more
detailed instructions at: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/factsheets/Removing_Odors_from_Refrigerators_and_Freezers/index.asp
with smoke & fire damage
- Dust and ash is granular and
abrasive. Wiping it off can be like scouring your possessions with
cleanser. This is OK for some possessions, but not for others. Blowing
and vacuuming are good ways to remove it. Paintbrushes are your second
- Soot is both granular and
greasy; it can be a sticky abrasive. Washing carries the risk of
turning the soot into ink. Use common sense to remove soot from each
item. When in doubt, preserve it to restore later with expert advice.
Play-dough was originally marketed as a soot remover, but it doesn't do
a good job.
- Photograph negatives can be
washed in clean water. Never heat, freeze, or scrub negatives.
- Clean removable magnetic media
(tapes & diskettes) by rinsing and air-drying. Never soap, scrub,
freeze, or heat them.
- Clean upholstered furniture by
rinsing and air-drying.
- Restore leather by rinsing and
blotting it dry quickly.
- Restore the structural
integrity of your house. Patch the windows and roof with plywood and
plastic sheets to make it watertight and help it maintain a comfortable
- If there is widespread damage and debris on the roads, organize
your neighborhood and start clearing the roads. Help comes to those who
the helpers can reach.
- Beware of unscrupulous
contractors and loan companies. These vermin always show up after
- Guard your house 24 hours a day. Thieves often show up after a
fire, flood, or
other localized disaster when they think nobody will be there.
- Fake security guards may show up and offer to guard your stuff
while you are away.
- Swindlers will try to rent property they don't own to you, and
run off with your deposit and/or background check fee. Don't give money
until you have seen the inside of the unit. Don't pay if there is any
sign of forced entry.
- Crooks & scammers often ask for unorthodox forms of payment,
like gift cards, wire transfers, cryptocurrency, or large sums of cash.
- If this is part of a widespread disaster, everyone will be
replacing the same things and you can't get any. Try using the phone or
to find suppliers far away and have it shipped. Use rush delivery if
- You may need to temporarily store your stuff while you fix your
home or relocate. This is an article about that from a storage company:
- There are many organizations who would like to help you get back
your feet. The best way to contact them is through a local church,
Office of Emergency Services, or Red Cross chapter. You can even try
contacting them directly, you might get lucky (an agency list is at http://www.disastercenter.com/agency.htm).
- Don't sign a contract thinking that your insurance will pay for
it. Find out for sure who pays for what.
- After a disaster, good contractors will be overcomitted, hard to
get, and won't be able to get to your problem for a long time. Rip-off
artists will be readily available.
- Get a contractor you know. If you can't, get one someone else
knows and recommends. If you can't, check the contractor's licenses and
Verify the contractor operates a business out of the address he gives.
- Get permits and check with your insurance company before getting
any work done.
- Make sure the contractor has insurance.
- Get written estimates that describe the work to be done and
materials to be used. Changes should also be in writing.
- Don't pay cash, and don't pay in advance. If the contractor needs
expensive materials in advance, pay the store directly (not the
contractor). Set up a payment schedule. Don't make the final payment
until the work is done and inspections are signed off.
- There are a lot of variations on this scam: A vendor or
contractor shows up, saying the insurance company or some other trusted
party sent them. You sign a contract, insurance won't pay, and they rob
you all nice and
legal. Best to call the insurance agent or other trusted party for
- Real contractors have a really
long waiting list. Fly-by-night scam artists are easy to find. They
either want to take the money and run, or they are not skilled
contractors at all.
- Someone shows up pretending to
be from your insurance company. They do work, overbill, and your
insurance won't pay.
- Someone pretends to have
insurance or government grants. They want you to pay them to process
the paperwork. They take the money and you never hear from them again.
- They offer something you really
need, like a government grant. All they want is your personal
information. Disasters are hard enough without identity fraud.
- Don't underestimate the need
for emotional recovery. Recovery will be swift and easy if everyone is
doing well emotionally, and recovery will be longer and harder if
people sink into depression.
- The situation may be awful, but
don't take it out on others.
- Stay away from drugs and
alcohol. They are a greater temptation under stress, but they make
disaster recovery much much harder.
- Get plenty of rest, drink
plenty of water, resist the temptation to overwork. You will make more
mistakes if you don't take care of yourself. Little mistakes can
cascade into costly debacles under these conditions.
- Don't keep listening to news
about the disaster. Focus on recovery and helping people.
- Stay positive and optimistic.
Try not to dwell on losses. Focus on solutions, not problems.
- Don't make major decisions
until you have recovered emotionally. Don't move, quit your job,
divorce, make major purchases, sell valuable things, and so forth right
- Resume old routines
- Take time out to have fun and
do things you enjoy.
- Reach out to other people. Help
them. Accept their help. Try to build community.
- Stay connected with family, church, and
other support systems.
- Don't isolate yourself. Don't
allow others to isolate. Isolation allows depression to spin out of
- Talk about it to someone safe.
Allow yourself to express your feelings, acknowledge that it is beyond
your control, and/or cry. Doing these things will help you recover.
- Comfort in, vent out. This means you comfort those in your inner
of friends and family, and vent to those in the outer circle of
acquaintances. Don't dump on those going through it with you.
- Recognize that recovery will
take time, and that is OK.
- Don't put expectations on
yourself on how you should be doing or what you should have
accomplished. Don't put these expectations on others, either.
Put this list somewhere so that you
can read it if something happens to your house.