Home disasters are tragedies that do unfortunately happen. The good news is there is help when disaster strikes and lots of useful information on how to handle it. Try to remain calm in the face of emergency and follow these steps to ensure you and your loved ones are safe.
What to do Immediately After a Home Disaster
- Check yourself, family members, and pets for injury and address those.
- Stay calm and give first aid to anyone hurt or trapped. Get help if there are life-threatening injuries.
- Check on your neighbors.
- Hang a status of you and your family in the front window with a HELP or OK sign.
- Confine and secure your pets.
- Check if the structure you are in is still safe, if not, evacuate immediately, especially if you smell gas or hear a hissing noise.
- Listen for instructions and information on your battery-operated radio from your emergency kit.
- Find warm, dry clothing and sturdy shoes and put them on to protect yourself from the elements and broken debris.
- Turn off your utilities to stay safe from the hazards of shock or fire.
- Conserve the water that is already in your home by turning off the main valve.
Steps to Take After You and Your Family Are Safe
Find safe, temporary housing with FEMA.
Check-in with the rest of your family.
Get emergency food.
Replace important documents.
After a home fire, get the okay from the fire department that your home and area is safe to enter before you do anything else.
Start taking action on cleanup services. Hiring a professional cleanup and restoration service will give you the peace of mind that’s so needed at the time of crisis.
How to Check for Structural Damage
- Ask a building inspector or contractor to check the structure before you enter.
- Before you go inside, check the outside of your home.
- Look for loose power lines, broken or damaged gas lines, foundation cracks, missing support beams or other damage.
- Damage on the outside can indicate a serious problem inside.
- If the door is jammed, don’t force it open.
- It may be providing support to the rest of your home. Find a different way to get inside.
- Sniff for gas.
- If you notice natural or propane gas or hear a hissing noise, leave the property immediately and get a good distance away from it. Call the fire department after you’ve reached a safe location.
- Turn off all valves if you have a propane tank system.
- Contact a propane supplier to check the system out before you use it again.
- Check for smoke and smoldering embers throughout your home, including the attic.
- As you inspect your home, beware of animals, such as rodents, snakes, spiders, and insects, that may have entered your home.
- Tap loudly and often on the floor with a stick to give notice that you are there.
- Use caution when moving near damaged, unstable furniture, or staircases.
- Don’t hold on to, push against, or lean against any damaged building parts.
- A sagging ceiling means it got wet.
- A wet ceiling is heavy and dangerous. It will have to be replaced.
- If you try to knock it down, be careful. Wear eye protection and a hard hat, use a long stick, and stand well away from the damaged area before you begin.
- Poke holes in the ceiling starting from the outside of the bulge to let any water drain out slowly. Do not strike the center of the damaged area as it may cause the whole ceiling to collapse.
- A sagging floor means don’t walk there! It could collapse under your weight.
- Bridge small sections that are sagging by putting down thick plywood panels or thick, strong boards that extend at least 8–12 inches on each side of the sagging area.
- Open windows and doors to air out and dry your home if the weather is dry.
- Use only a flashlight if the power is out.
- Do not use any open flame, including candles, to inspect for damage or serve as alternate lighting.
- Disconnect and check all appliances for water damage first before using them.
- Make temporary repairs such as covering holes, bracing walls, and removing debris.
- Save any receipts for insurance reimbursement if applicable.
- Take photographs of the damage.
- You may need these to substantiate insurance claims later.
Before a Home Disaster
Planning is the most important thing you can do to prepare yourself for a home disaster. Get in the know before a home disaster strikes so you are prepared on how to conduct yourself and do what needs to be done afterward.
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- Get to know your neighbors.
- Your neighbors will be the first to respond in the event of a disaster.
- Your neighbor could inevitably be the one saving your life.
- Find out what tools your neighbors have. In the event of a disaster, you will need to pull resources but everyone doesn’t need to have an axe.
- People who survive disasters tend to have a calm demeanor and close relationships with their neighbors.
- Discuss a plan with your family that includes a safe meeting place.
- Talk to your children about the disasters specific to your area and what they should do.
- Teach your children about the warning signs of natural disasters.
- Teach them basic safety tips.
- Have one person designated for everyone to call that doesn’t live in your area in case you get separated. Have them memorize that phone number if possible.
- Practice an evacuation plan.
- Make it a game for the kids so they are more likely to want to practice the evacuation routes.
- Have an emergency kit.
- battery-operated radio
- first aid gear
- unperishable food
- necessary medications
Home disasters are devastating, but cleanup and restoration don’t have to add to the problem. Get professional restoration help to know that your home will be safe and secure once again. The last thing you need after a disaster is another mold or cleanup problem from the restoration being done poorly.
Bennett Douglas is a freelance writer for Abbotts Fire and Flood, a provider of disaster restoration services. Abbotts provides emergency response, cleanup services & property damage restoration for residential and commercial customers.