During and afterward
Last updated 07jun23
Copyright 2005-2023 Ken Young
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Print this and keep a hard copy where you
can find it if you need it
you need to know
- Isolation is BAD BAD BAD! Your first priority is to
plug into your network of family, friends, and neighbors. Start helping
each other. The one who helps others the most wins.
- 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.
people freeze up
Freezing takes many forms:
- Brain fog (inability to think of the right thing to do; easy things
- Stand there doing nothing (the classic freeze)
- Spend time doing something unimportant (like looking for a purse while
the ship sinks)
- Priority inversion (running back into a burning house for a wallet)
- Denial (taking photos in the danger zone)
- Not using resources (hampered by a phone taking up one hand, and not
thinking to call for help)
- Fighting over insignificant things (this is really fighting over
- Tunnel vision (focusing on one thing, not on what needs to be done)
If it is a stressful situation, unfreeze
the people around you. Tell them what they are doing and what they need to
Talk about freezing with your family before the disaster. If people know
that almost everybody freezes ahead of time, and that they should unfreeze
each other, they will be more able to listen.
Freezing is contagious. One person can get
everyone else caught up in freeze behavior, like fanning out to look for
the cat while the wildfire approaches. Many people respond to stress by
trying to take charge. Unless they know about freezing, they may violently
resist changing what they are doing.
- Some disasters can knock phones off the hook. Check the phones and
hang them all back up. A phone off the hook doesn't just tie up your
phone, it ties up a telephone line in the system.
- Start preparing to evacuate if you think it might be necessary.
- Stay off the roads unless absolutely necessary. They will be clogged
with other cars who aren't going anywhere. Try to keep the roads open
for emergency vehicles.
- Knock on the neighbors doors, make sure they are OK, and tell them all
to stay off the phone. After a disaster, the phones are ONLY for
- The Red Cross has a "Safe & Well" web site where you can register
your status for your out-of-area loved ones who can't reach you. https://safeandwell.communityos.org/cms/index.php.
- If the power is out, unplug the
expensive electronics. There could be a damaging power surge when it
comes back on.
- Emergency lighting can be had by
plugging an LED lamp into your UPS. The UPS will probably beep the
- If you can't charge your devices,
put one cell phone at a time into low-power mode and keep the rest
- Don't enter an unstable building. If the structure looks crooked or
the doors are stuck, DO NOT GO IN UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES! It is waiting
for a victim to collapse suddenly upon. Wait and have it checked by the
- Check the house & garage IMMEDIATELY after an earthquake,
windstorm, or anything else that can damage your house. Check for fire,
shorts, and gas leaks. Do not flip any switches or plug/unplug anything
until you check for gas leaks (switches commonly make a small spark, so
do plugs). If you need light to check for gas leaks, use a lightstick or
a flashlight that runs on a single 1.5V battery (it takes 2 volts to
make a spark). Turn multi-cell flashlights on & off outside.
- If power goes out during a disaster that can damage the house, turn
off the main breaker. Power surges can damage your expensive electronics
when it comes back on. Sniff for gas leaks. Restore the main breaker
AFTER the power comes back on, and IMMEDIATELY check every part of the
house. Too many people have had their house burn down when power came
- If you smell gas or think there is a gas leak, turn the gas off and
stay out of the building.
- Expect to step on nails and broken glass. Wear shoes that will protect
you. Over a third of all post-disaster injuries are from this. After a
disaster you need to be able to walk, fix your house, and not be waiting
in long lines at hospitals
- Most disaster-related injury comes 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 preparing or cleanup up!
- If you do get injured, treat it immediately. See a doctor, clinic, or
emergency room if possible. This isn't the time to ignore an injury;
take it more seriously than you normally would.
- Someone needs to watch the small children. The can become alarmed by
anxiousness or activity, and do unpredictable or time-consuming things.
Drop off the children with neighboring parents for a short time if
necessary, but only if necessary (it gets them out of the way so you can
handle the emergency, but may increase their anxiety for the long run).
- Pace yourself physically and emotionally. It is way to easy to push
yourself too hard, focus too much on one thing, or become emotional. You
can make some very costly mistakes if you do. Little mistakes can
cascade into big problems at a time like this.
- If trouble is on the way or just happened, don't forget that you can
get almost anything with next day delivery. This can save you critical
time running to stores when you should be preparing or repairing. This
is a good way to get things the local stores are sold out of.
- The hardware stores will sell out of critical items almost immediately
if an area is affected. Only buy what you need if everyone else will
need it, too.
- Dilute bleach 10-1 for disinfectant solution.
- If buildings are wrecked and dust is in the air, wear a respirator (a
dust mask with two strings). There may be dangerous asbestos in the dust
and this will help protect you. Go to http://www.asbestos.com/asbestos/natural-disasters/
for post-exposure information.
- Photograph damage for insurance.
- There are many organizations who would like to help you get back on
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).
- Stay off the phones! Nobody can get through to 911 because everyone
responds to an emergency by calling their family & friends to talk
about it. When people call, tell them to stay off the phones.
- Make sure the phones have not been shaken off the hook. Those phones
tie up the lines.
- Do not hang up if there is no dial tone, wait for one. You have to
start waiting all over again if you hang up.
- If you can't get a dial tone, unplug all telephones from the wall and
from power. Try again with a single phone. If that doesn't work, try a
- Pay phones are the most likely phones to work after a disaster.
- The most reliable telephone is an old rotary dialer. Note that modern
phone lines may give them enough current to operate the ringer. VIOP
systems do not support rotary.
- Some modern phones won't operate when the power is off. This is often
true of cordless phone systems (the handsets are fine but the main base
station needs power). Cell phones can't be recharged without power. Make
sure you can make calls without power.
- Text messages are more likely to get through than a cell phone call.
Try to text even if you can't make a call, it might get through.
- Email and the Internet is remarkably robust. It can work even when
there are telephone problems.
- Some government agencies have portable cell towers. They might not be
in place for days, and they won't be able to handle the volume of calls,
but they will eventually be in place to deliver text messages.
- Limit non-emergency cell calls to conserve battery power and free-up
wireless networks for emergency services.
- Only turn on one phone at a time, and keep it in low-power mode.
- If you don't expect power for a while, preserve cell phone battery
life if you can't recharge. Establish "on-air" times, and only turn the
phone on to receive calls at those times. Turn off background
- If you know the electricity may go out in advance, recharge everything
and buy some batteries.
- Unplug your electronics if the power might be affected. Wind storms,
electrical storms, and floods affect the power. Power line problems can
damage your electronics.
- Be prepared to shut off the gas, water, or electricity if you need to.
Do not shut off the gas unless necessary, because only the gas company
can safely turn it back on. This could take a month if they are busy.
- Don't turn the gas on yourself. Air in the pipes mixed with gas turns
your pipes into pipe bombs. The explosion could severely damage your
- Do not open the refrigerator or freezer unless necessary if the power
is out. Keep the cold in. Tape the door shut right away so nobody
forgets. An unopened half-full freezer keeps food safe to refreeze for
about a day, a full freezer lasts about 2 days. Cooking when this time
is up can save food. Food with ice crystals can be refrozen.
- Buying ice converts a refrigerator into an icebox to preserve food.
Dry ice keeps the food in a freezer frozen.
- If the utilities are out for days, the water supply will probably
fail, too. Most municipalities use electricity to pump water up into
water towers, and the backup generators usually only have a day or two
- To do laundry in an extended power outage: Fill
a bucket or dishpan 2/3 with water. Soak the clothes. Agitate by
hand, with a soft brush, or with a toilet plunger that has never
touched a toilet. Use about 1/10 the soap and/or bleach your washing
machine would use, or just rub the dirty spots with a bar of soap.
Hang on a line to dry.
- If your house may get flooded, turn the power off quick. Water can
create a short that starts an electrical fire that burns your house to
the waterline. Messing with the electrical panel while standing in water
is a bad idea, so turn off the power when flooding threatens.
- If your house may get flooded, get those power strips off the floor.
Make sure you find them all.
- Floodwater usually contains sewage. Treat floodwater like it came
right out of the toilet. Since the sewer lines and storm drains are
connected, it probably did.
- If there is flooding, warn children to stay away from drains,
culverts, ditches, and floodwater. Places that were safe before can be
really dangerous in a flood.
- Floodwater renders food, pots, and dishes unsafe. Wash thoroughly and
then disinfect for 15 minutes by bleach disinfectant solution or
- In case of flood, assume the tap water is contaminated until tested.
- If you touch something that touched floodwater, and later eat before
washing your hands, you may get violently ill.
- Pump the water out of the basement as soon as possible. Shovel
the mud out, and hose the mud off of everything. Shop-vac out the last
of the water. Use bleach disinfectant solution on everything that will
take it (1/2 cup bleach per gallon of water). Then open the windows and
install fans to dry everything out.
- Do not drive through water. Just 3 inches of water can stall an engine
and less than 12 inches can float the car (this is a bad thing). Most
Americans who die in floods do so in their car (unverified).
- If you know the water may go out or become contaminated in advance,
fill the bathtub with cold water and turn off the cold-water valve going
into the hot water tank. Both hold a large volume of water.
- If you drain the water heater for potable water, be sure to turn it
off. Running it empty can ruin it.
- Some disasters can affect the water supply. These include water
outages, floods, and strong earthquakes. Turn off your water main to
prevent contaminated water from entering your pipes.
- Do not use the toilet if there is no water. Tape the lid down right
away so nobody forgets. Dig a hole and rig a privacy tarp. Digging a
hole is a problem in cities, so line a wastebasket with plastic garbage
bags, tie it after use, and put it in the garbage outside. Use a bucket
to fetch pool, hot tub, or creek water if someone uses the toilet.
- Improvised sanitation bag: Line a plastic grocery bag with newspaper,
and line that with another grocery bag. Here is an article about what to
- Use 1/4 teaspoon of unscented bleach to sterilize a gallon of drinking
water. Mix & wait 30 minutes. Add 6 more drops & wait again if
you cannot smell the bleach. The fragrance in some scented bleaches is
- If the tap water is not safe, prepare bleach disinfectant solution for
- If you must use creekwater, filter it through 2 coffee filters before
sterilizing with bleach.
- If you touch something that touched floodwater, and later eat before
washing your hands, you may get violently ill.
- Some water sources should never be used for drinking. Never drink from
automobile radiators, waterbeds, or floodwater.
- Pools, spas and hot tubs are a good source of wash water.
- Discard food exposed to smoke or firefighting chemicals. Scrub pots,
dishes, etc, and then use bleach disinfectant solution.
- Do not use sources of fire you are not experienced with, especially
oil lamps. A disaster is much harder to deal with after burning oil goes
- Resist using candles in most situations. They can tip over and start
fires. Lit candles are irresistible to children, who might burn the
- Hospitals cannot handle disasters that produce lots of injuries. Do
not waste time going to the hospital unless there is no other way to
save a life. They probably have one emergency room bed per 20,000
residents. If there are more than half a dozen emergency patients they
expect to send them to nearby hospitals.
- Do not try to "help" animals. A frightened small animal can tear you
- Someone trying to help a small animal sounds like this: "Oh the poor
little thing! He needs help! I'll help you little fellow. AAAAAHHH! GET
IT OFF! GET IT OFF! I sure wish I could get seen at a hospital!"
- Do not use power tools you are not experienced with, especially chain
saws. Wait for someone experienced.
- Disasters displace snakes & rodents. Expect this and be careful.
- Fires and earthquakes cause big shards of broken glass to fall from
upper floors like knives. If you run outside, get away from multi-storey
- Fires and earthquakes can damage buildings. Structural damage may not
be obvious. Don't get too close to potentially damaged buildings, part
of one can fall on you.
- In a chemical spill, turn off the heater, air conditioner, bathroom
fans, and all other fans that suck in outside air. Retreat to one room
of the house and seal the cracks around the doors and windows with wide
tape. Put towels along the bottom of the doors, too.
- If law and order has broken down and the police are occupied, all
women and girls should stay in doors and out of sight. It is shameful
that things are this way now.
- Major hotel chains have generators and emergency systems. They
probably have hot showers, phone service, and internet as well.
- Local news radio stations are a good source of local information.
People call in with vital information about coping with the situation in
the days to follow.
- Churches are an excellent resource after trouble. Many have prior
arrangements with disaster management agencies. Even if they don't,
people will show up there to talk about what they went through and what
worked. Whatever the problem is, the closest church may yield the best
- To reduce long-term trauma for small children: keep the family
together, involve them in getting things put back together, let them
talk about it without brushing them off, resume old routines, give them
special privileges while they are going through it, and give them
control over some things.
- Go to this page for tips on emotional recovery: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/residential-fire.aspx
this list taped to the inside of a cabinet or closet door so you can
find it in an emergency.