Recovering from a natural disaster can often be more difficult than living through it. Most disasters are quick, over in a few minutes, hours or days. But it can easily be weeks or months of work trying to put your life back together once it has passed. Regardless of which kind of disaster strikes, chances are that your home is going to need some sort of restoration work. Of course, the more devastating the disaster, the more work there is to do. That could mean anything from totally rebuilding to simply making some minor repairs. In either case, the same steps need to be taken in order to protect your family, restore your home, and get your life back to normal.
Restoration Starts Before the Disaster
If you wait for a threatening forecast to start preparing, you’ve waited too long. There are a number of things you can do today to make sure you and your family are ready for whatever comes. These steps will help ensure your safety and make the restoration process for your home considerably easier.
Verify Your Insurance
Before a natural disaster hits your home, check your homeowners insurance policy to make sure you have adequate coverage. Your policy should be written to cover both general repairs and the replacement of your entire home if needed, not just a fixed-price amount. There should also be an allowance for your personal belongings, usually about half the value of your home. Keep in mind, most homeowners insurance policies don’t cover damage from tornadoes or flooding. If you live in an area that is prone to either, you’ll want to make sure your policy has riders for them.
Prepare Your Family
You won’t always get a notification that a natural disaster is coming. If you do, time is of the essence and should be used to make your family as safe as possible. You may not be able to prevent your home from getting hit by a natural disaster. But you can make sure your family is prepared.
Create an evacuation plan and make sure everyone in your home knows how to execute it. Share the location of your emergency storm survival kit, fire extinguisher, and other safety tools and supplies. And don’t forget to have a few important phone numbers on hand so that you can reach someone on a line other than your cell phone.
Knowing what to do in an emergency can help everyone stay as calm as possible in what could otherwise be a very stressful and scary situation.
Prepare Your Home
It’s always wise to take some time at least once a year to give your home a safety assessment. A thorough inspection of your house can ensure that everything is safe and in working condition. Check the exterior of your home for hazardous tree branches, leaks in your roof and poorly sealed doors and windows. Check the interior of your home to make sure all your utilities are working properly.
Learn More: Utility Safety During an Emergency
Store your cherished belongings and valuables in water-proof bags and containers to help keep them dry from rain and flood waters. Board up your windows and move your furniture into the center of the house. Store all outdoor furniture inside your garage or a shed to prevent them from getting damaged or thrown around in heavy winds. Make sure all your windows and doors seal properly and check for leaks in the roof. Taking these small steps before the storm hits can help save you the headache of making extreme repairs on your home and replacing all of your belongings once it has passed.
Stock Up on Supplies
One of the most important things you can do to prepare for a natural disaster is to make sure you have some basic emergency supplies on hand. It can often take time for government agencies and nonprofit organizations to start disaster relief efforts. Having food, water, and other important supplies stored away in waterproof containers can help ensure that your family is safe and cared for, even in the worst of circumstances. It’s also important to make sure you have an emergency kit with things like first aid supplies, batteries, a fire extinguisher, and flashlights. If you have a backup generator, be sure to service it and make sure that it works properly.
After Disaster Strikes
Recovering from a natural disaster is a gradual process. After experiencing immense fear and uncertainty from a tornado, fire, earthquake, or severe storm, it can be easy to become overwhelmed. From dealing with your insurance to sifting through debris and processing the loss of your home and possessions, the road to recovery after a natural disaster can be both physically and emotionally exhausting. It can definitely be easy to lose focus. But there are several things that can be done to reach the best possible outcome for you and your family.
Work Hard but Smart
After local authorities give you the all clear to return home, you should still proceed with caution. Don’t go inside your home if there are floodwaters or the smell of gas. Having a qualified home inspector or structural engineer look over your property can help give you peace of mind. Take photos or video of the damage for your insurance company. Then, sift through debris with a stick or other long-handled object in case you come across hazardous objects or dangerous animals. And always make sure you get enough water to drink and take frequent breaks.
When returning to your home, be careful and watch your step. Tornadoes, fires, earthquakes, or floodwaters may have weakened the integrity of all kinds of community structures, including:
- Power lines
Learn More: 5 Ways to Help a Friend After a Natural Disaster
Assess the Damage
One of the first things you should do to start the recovery process is assess the situation. How badly was your home damaged? What obvious repairs need to be done? What other possessions might be damaged or lost? Take your time and make sure you do a thorough check. You’ll end up having to give a detailed list to your insurance company.
It’s best to assess the damage in the light of day so that you can clearly see any dangerous situations. However, if your power is out or you’re doing a walk-through at night, be sure to use a bright LED flashlight to help guide your steps.
As you’re walking through your home, look for the following items that may need restoration:
- Damage to the roof, including missing shingles
- Cracks in the walls (indicating cracks in the foundation)
- Broken windows
- Doors that don’t shut properly
- Fallen limbs from trees
- Damaged gutters and downspouts
- Missing shutters
- Damaged fencing
- Leaks in the ceiling or roof
Be sure to take pictures of everything, even if it doesn’t seem important to you at the time. These will be used both as evidence for the insurance company and as proof of ownership in the event of theft. They can also help you find additional damage or loss that you may have missed on the first inspection.
Report the Damage to Your Insurance
Your homeowners insurance will be important in your recovery and your home’s restoration. The sooner you report the damage to them, the sooner they can get to work for you. But you don’t want to make that report prematurely. Be sure that you’ve done a thorough inventory of the damage so you can make a complete report.
When it comes to the emergency restoration process, your insurance adjuster may have a list of approved contractors they work with and recommend. These contractors are generally accustomed to dealing with your insurance company. And, in most cases, the insurance company will pay the contractor directly. This makes things much easier for you.
Learn More: Things to Know: Water Damage and Insurance
Fight for Coverage
If you don’t have insurance or insurance denies your claim in a federal emergency, your local FEMA agency should be able to help you find low-interest loans. However, if your insurance company denies your initial disaster claim, don’t give up. Try again. According to a consumer bankruptcy attorney, “When the cause of damage is not crystal clear, be proactive and review the homeowners policy carefully. If there is an ambiguity in the policy over coverage, courts generally resolve this doubt against insurance companies and require coverage to be provided to a homeowner. Don’t be a victim.”
- Give your insurance company a copy of photos or videos of the damage.
- Call an emergency restoration contractor.
- Keep records of repairs and cleaning costs.
Protect Your Property
Moving forward, you’ll want to make sure your home is protected from further damage. It’s not unusual for homes to suffer additional damage after the fact. Unfortunately, this makes the restoration work that much harder and more complicated. This can be caused by rain and wind coming in through damaged roofs and windows, ground settling, looters, or even recovery operations. Covering holes in the roof, broken windows, and doorways with tarps or sheet plastic will help protect your home and keep from adding to the restoration work needed.
Recover What You Can
Depending on how much damage was done to your home, it may be necessary to start recovery operations. In severe cases where the home is totally lost, recovering whatever personal possessions you can find may be the best you can do until restoration work is completed on your home.
When tackling any problem, divide work into steps, but move through the aftermath cautiously. Sure, your home may need restoration efforts, but what about you and your family? Natural disasters create more problems than debris and displacement. Don’t overlook your emotional well-being while you all begin to recover. The emotional and/or physical trauma during a natural disaster can be extremely stressful and exhausting. Make sure you and your family members get enough rest, food and water during clean up so everyone has the energy to move forward.
If you or those around you feel overwhelmed, depressed or even begin to show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, look for crisis counseling and ask for help from organizations like the American Red Cross and Salvation Army. You can even seek help from the federal government if your area was declared a state of emergency. If you can’t shake depressed or panicked feelings, don’t be afraid to get professional help for you and your loved ones immediately.
Recovering From a Natural Disaster
Natural disasters are often not something you can plan for. That’s why preparing your family and your home ahead of time is so important. When disaster strikes, you want to be as ready as possible. A well-prepared home (and a well-prepared family) is less likely to suffer extreme damage. Taking these small, simple, but effective steps before a natural disaster strikes can drastically help the restoration and recovery process later.