Disaster response and preparedness doesn’t end with the rescue efforts. It takes months, even sometimes years, to fully recover from a major incident. Roads and houses need to be rebuilt. Belongings need to be replaced. Routines need to be re-established.
Having a solid disaster plan includes planning for all sorts of possibilities, including the loss of your home, your job, or your means of transportation, as well as the toll that disaster stress can take on you and your family. Our tip-sheet Planning for the Aftermath [PDF, 147Kb] can help you think about the possibilites and plan accordingly. Remember, disasters don’t discriminate.
Evaluate your options ahead of time in case your home is uninhabitable for any length of time. For short-term living arrangements, shelters may be available, or perhaps your family may choose to stay in a motel or hotel. For long-term living arrangements (anything more than a couple of weeks), you may wish to have other options lined up, such as finding a trusted neighbor or friend willing to take you and your family in if necessary.
However, don't put all your eggs in one basket. Your next-door neighbor might be more than willing to take you in, but in a major incident his home may be just as damaged as yours, or he may end up severely injured and unable to provide assistance. He may even be on vacation when a disaster strikes, and unable to get back into the area for days or even weeks. Therefore, it is important to have at least one out-of-area option in addition to any local ones.
If roads and railways are severely damaged, it may be months before you can get out of the area. This can pose a problem if you commute to work, as businesses begin opening back up and want their employees back at work. Naturally, your employer is under no obligation to pay you if you're not actually working.
Save up as much of a nest egg as you can, while you can. Even only a few dollars each paycheck is better than nothing at all, and will add up over time. Consider setting up direct deposit of your paychecks, with $10 or $20 going directly into a savings account. Some employers offer matching programs for certain types of savings plans, so check with yours to see if this is an option for you.
If you can't go back to your regular job for awhile, or you lose it altogether due to not being able to get there, you may have some options for income in the meantime. Cities and counties often need basic labor to do everything from removing fallen trees and clearing out debris to rebuilding roads and buildings. CalTrans, Union Pacific, private construction firms, and local utilities may also be sources of post-disaster employment. For those who are unable to find temporary employment to "bridge the gap" until they can return to work, unemployment insurance may be an option, and Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) may be available for those who are otherwise ineligible for traditional unemployment benefits, such as migrant workers and self-employed persons.
There are other concerns in a post-disaster world besides work when it comes to money. Cash-and-carry will be the way for awhile; power outages, network failures, and equipment damage will render credit/debit cards and checks useless. Keep some spare cash in your disaster kit, as well as with your important documents (and each backup set), so that you'll be able to make essential purchases until you can access the funds locked in your bank account. Carry a combination of denominations - large bills are easier to carry, but more difficult to make change.
Post-disaster assistance is also often available for those who need it. FEMA, Red Cross, and many other organizations provide all sorts of things, including clothing, shelter, food, and money for repairs. Also don't forget about homeowner's or renter's insurance, as these policies will generally replace damaged belongings and pay for repairs to return your home to its "pre-disaster status," unlike federal aid which will only meet basic needs for functionality, inhabitability, and safety (and generally will not replace belongings).
With all this running around trying to make sure you've planned for every potential possibility, it's easy to overlook the possible effects to your health, both physical and mental. During high-stress periods (such as following a disaster), your health is the most important thing to take care of, and also one of the easiest.
Take a multivitamin every day? Keep an extra bottle in your disaster kit, and rotate it out frequently to keep it fresh. Even if you don't take one, you might consider keeping a bottle in your kit anyway as the "disaster diet" can severely limit the quantity and variety of nutrients that your body gets.
If you have any major health concerns, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, epilepsy, arthritis, asthma, etc., ask your doctor about the "what ifs" - what if you have to go without your medicine for a few days? What about a few months? What kind of effects will high stress have on your condition? Find out what is likely to happen to you if you find yourself in such a situation, and what you can do to eliminate, alleviate, or at least not exacerbate any problems.
Don't forget that hospitals, urgent care clinics, doctors' offices, and pharmacies will be overrun following a disaster, and may even be damaged themselves. Medical services that we normally take for granted, such as treatment for a sprained ankle or the flu, will be extremely delayed or even unavailable. By being prepared ahead of time to take care of these sorts of minor maladies, you can not only save yourself hours in a packed waiting room, but also help to prevent treatment delays for those who truly need it.
Finally, stop and take a break once in awhile. Post-disaster psychological trauma is one of the most severe, longest-lasting, and most common health effects of any major incident. If you ever feel like things are getting to be too much for you, consider seeking the services of a trauma or crisis counselor. The Red Cross and FEMA can provide referrals if needed, or you can ask your hospital or health plan. Don't be surprised if the waiting room there is full too - you're not alone in needing a helping hand.
For more information, visit the following websites (links will open in a new window):
eHow.com: Post-Disaster Recovery Plan
American Red Cross: Taking Care of Your Emotional Health After a Disaster [PDF]