If you think evacuating from your home would be difficult, how would you feel about returning to your home after the emergency? Would you know what safety precautions to take? How would you deal with the emotional trauma of seeing your home after the disaster if your house was damaged or even destroyed?
When returning to your home, you should first assess the damage from the outside. Check your roof, walls, concrete, and chimney for structural damage. If everything looks structurally sound, then enter your home. If you have any doubt of the stability of your home, call a qualified safety inspector or specialist. If there are any fallen or damaged electrical wires surrounding your home, stay away from them because they could still be active. Wait for utility workers to repair them for you. Keep a list of emergency phone numbers, such as a safety inspector, the utility company, fire and police stations, in your wallet and emergency kit.
If you decide to enter your house, first put on a pair of sturdy shoes, work gloves, and a hard hat to protect yourself against glass and other debris that may have fallen during the emergency. Make temporary repairs to prevent further damage, such as patching your roof, boarding up windows, or tearing down a damaged chimney. Move any valuables that you find to a safe place. The Red Cross and other voluntary organizations may help you get the materials you need to make your temporary home repairs. Don’t carry lanterns or torches inside because they could start fallen debris on fire or cause a fire due to a broken gas line. If there is a fire in your home, extinguish it if possible (without danger to yourself or your family), or get help from your local fire department.
Although your family was evacuated from your home, you should still check for injured or trapped people who may have run into your house for shelter during the disaster. If you do find someone who is injured, find out the extent of their injuries and give them whatever first aid you can. Don’t move seriously injured people unless they are in immediate danger of further injury. And always remember to seek medical attention from qualified personnel as soon as possible.
When entering your damaged home, watch out for animals such as snakes that may have come into your home with floodwaters. Use a stick to poke through debris. If your pets had to be left behind, remember that their behavior might have changed after an emergency. Normally quiet and friendly pets may become aggressive or defensive. Watch animals closely. Leash dogs and place them in a fenced yard with access to shelter and water.
There are some things you can do if you have enough warning before you evacuate. These things include turning off your gas, water, and electricity. By doing these things, you could save your home from serious damage. If you aren’t able to do these things before a disaster, do them as soon as you can after the disaster. This will prevent a fire from starting from punctured gas lines and sparks from electrical wires, and flooding from backed-up water pipes.
Check Your Gas Supply
If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing sound, open a window and quickly leave your home. Turn off the gas at the outside main valve, and call the gas company from a neighbor’s home. Remember, if you turn off the gas for any reason, a professional must turn it back on.
Check Your Electricity
If you see sparks, broken or frayed wires, or if you smell hot insulation, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker; but call an electrician first for advice if possible.
Check Your Sewage and Water Lines
If you suspect sewage lines are damaged, avoid using your toilets and call a plumber. If water pipes are damaged, contact the water company and don’t use water from the tap until you are informed that it is safe to do so.
Checking Your Electrical Appliances
If any of your electrical appliances are wet, turn off the main power switch in the house. Unplug the appliance, dry it out, then reconnect it and turn the main power switch back on. If fuses or circuits blow when the electrical power is restored, turn off the main power switch again and inspect for short circuits in the home wiring or appliances. Call a professional if the problem continues to occur.
Cleaning up is the most important thing to do after a disaster and can help you and your family feel some control over the situation. Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, gasoline, and other flammable liquids. Protect your home from further damage by doing necessary repairs. If the disaster that occurred was a flood, clean and disinfect everything that got wet. The mud left behind by floodwaters can contain sewage and chemicals. If your basement was flooded, pump it out gradually (about one-third of the water per day) to avoid damage. The walls may collapse and the floor may buckle if the basement is pumped out while the surrounding ground is still waterlogged. Throw out food, cosmetics, and medicines that have come into contact with floodwaters. Stay at home and avoid driving to keep roads clear for emergency workers.
Conduct an Inventory
After a disaster strikes, you will need to take an inventory of what material goods you have lost for insurance purposes. It’s also important to conduct this inventory to see what items you need for your family right away, such as clothes, shoes, food, medicine, etc. The Red Cross can provide a voucher so you can buy groceries, new clothing, medications, furnishings, and other items required for daily living.
Reconstruct Lost Records
Records are often lost or destroyed in a disaster. You’ll need to reconstruct some of those records if you plan to file an insurance claim, take a tax deduction for your loss, or apply for government aid. It’s important to get new copies of birth certificates, car titles, property deeds, and so forth. If you can plan ahead and put copies of these important documents in a fire-proof, flood-proof safe, or a safety deposit box, you can save yourself time and added stress.
For more information, contact your local Red Cross or office of emergency management. They can provide valuable information and assistance in the event of a disaster. The Red Cross and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) may also have information available for you.
We know this type of scenario is hard to imagine and even prepare for. We hope this information has offered some helpful tips and suggestions. By preparing ourselves both mentally and physically, we will better be able to cope during an emergency.
The following are some important things to do when you come back to your evacuated home:
- Keep a battery operated or hand crank radio to hear any emergency updates, news and information.
- Keep a flashlight (hand crank or battery operated) with extra batteries (if needed).
- Inside your house, open closets and cupboards carefully because the contents may be loose and could fall.
- Check food and water supplies for contamination and spoilage.
- Check your food in the refrigerator because it may be spoiled if the electricity was cut off for some time.
- Throw away any food that has been in contact with flood waters (including canned food) as flood water can carry sewage, chemicals, and bacteria that can contaminate your food.
- Until phone service is fully restored, use the phone only for life-threatening emergencies.
- Remember to help your neighbors who may require special assistance--infants, elderly people, and people with disabilities.