Staying Safe in the Immediate Aftermath of a Disaster
Although each type of disaster brings its own unique challenges, the steps listed here are applicable to many different situations you may face. For information on safety and recovery after specific types of disasters and emergencies, please visit our Disaster and Safety Library.
Check the area around you for safety. In the case of biological, chemical or radiological threats, listen for instructions on local radio or television stations about safe places to go.
Have injuries treated by a medical professional. Wash small wounds with soap and water. To help prevent infection of small wounds, use bandages and replace them if they become soiled, damaged or waterlogged.
Some natural hazards, like severe storms or earthquakes, may recur in the form of new storms or aftershocks over the next several days. Take all safety precautions if the hazard strikes again. For an earthquake aftershock, remember to DROP, COVER and HOLD ON just like you did during the initial earthquake.
Avoid using the telephone (cellular or landlines) if a large number of homes in your area have been affected by a disaster. Emergency responders need to have the telephone lines available to coordinate their response. During the immediate post-disaster time period, only use the telephone to report life-threatening conditions and call your out-of-town emergency contact.
Remain calm. Pace yourself. You may find yourself in the position of taking charge of other people. Listen carefully to what people are telling you, and deal patiently with urgent situations first
If you had to leave your home, return only when local authorities advise that it is safe to do so. Also, be sure to have photo identification available, because sometimes local authorities will only permit people who own property in a disaster-affected area back into the area.
Except in extreme emergencies or unless told to do so by emergency officials, avoid driving during the immediate post-disaster period. Keep roads clear for rescue and emergency vehicles. If you must drive, do not drive on roads covered with water. They could be damaged or eroded. Additionally, vehicles can begin to float in as little as six inches of water. Vehicles such as trucks and SUVs have larger tires and are more buoyant. However, even though these vehicles are heavier than a standard sedan, the buoyancy caused by the larger amount of air in their tires actually makes these vehicles more likely to float in water than smaller vehicles.
If the disaster was widespread, listen to your radio or television station for instructions from local authorities. Information may change rapidly after a widespread disaster, so continue to listen regularly for updates. If the power is still out, listen to a battery-powered radio, television or car radio.
If the area was flooded and children are present, warn them to stay away from storm drains, culverts and ditches. Children can get caught and injured in these areas.