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Disaster Preparedness: After the Storm

Often, tolerating conditions after a major natural disaster can be more difficult than weathering the storm itself. Hardships brought on by floodwater, lack of electricity, downed trees and power lines, and structural damage to buildings and roads can pose an inconvenience at best and a grave danger at worst. Whether you remain at home or are evacuated, keeping the following tips in mind will help ensure a safe recovery from the storm.

What to Do After the Storm

  • Carry identification with you. If you leave home or are returning home following evacuation, you may not be allowed back into your area unless you can show valid proof of residency. 
  • Unless absolutely necessary, do not venture out after the storm. In addition to potential dangers from uncleared debris in roads, unnecessary traffic can impede emergency and recovery response from officials and power/utilities representatives.
  • In a power outage, disconnect all motor-driven appliances to avoid damage from surges of power when the power comes back on.
  • Use flashlights and electric lanterns instead of candles; candles are a fire hazard and can be an added pollutant to your interior air.
  • Avoid starting any fire until you are certain there are no gas leaks.
  • Stay clear of exposed utility wires and any water that could potentially be in contact with downed power lines.
  • Beware of critters driven to higher ground by floodwater, such as snakes, insects, and wild animals.
  • Because flood water may contain contaminants, debris, animals, or hidden drain holes that can pose a safety risk, walking through, swimming, or playing in it is discouraged.

Food and Water Safety

  • During a blackout, minimize opening refrigerators and freezers to keep food at safe temperatures longer. In a tightly packed freezer, food can stay frozen for up to 48 hours, or 24 hours in a partly filled freezer.
  • Once food is defrosted (but still cool), it should be consumed within two days. Never refreeze food that has thawed, and if you aren’t sure it is good, throw it out.
  • Any food that has come into contact with flood water may be contaminated and should be discarded. Avoid food from damaged containers also.
  • Drink bottled water, or boil water to sanitize it. You can also disinfect water with a small amount of household bleach. For exact instructions on disinfecting water, visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: www.hhs.gov.

Health Concerns

  • While outbreaks of communicable diseases are not a risk after a storm, rates of infection of diseases/viruses circulating before the storm may increase due to lack of sanitation and exposure in shelters.
  • Keeping your hands clean is the number one way to avoid getting sick after a disaster. Use disinfected water and soap to wash your hands frequently.
  • If you have been exposed to flood water, clean your skin as well as possible. Use antibiotic ointment on any open cuts or sores that were in contact with the water, and contact a doctor or health department to determine if a tetanus booster is recommended.
  • Disinfect any toys exposed to flood water before allowing children to play with them.
  • An increase in standing water leads to an increase in mosquitoes. Although they typically will not carry disease, with rates of West Nile Virus on the rise, it is best to protect your family from these pests. Use screens or mosquito netting, clothes that cover your skin, and insect repellent. DEET-containing products are very effective, but care should be taken when using DEET on small children. There are repellents available that do not contain DEET.

Coping With Disaster

Dealing with changes in your daily routine, lack of modern conveniences, evacuation, or damage to your home can be very difficult for your family - both physically and mentally.  It is especially hard for children to adjust to schedule and environment changes and cope with loss.

How you cope with a disaster has an impact on your state of mind, the people around you and those who depend on you. Although some feelings of stress, mild depression and anxiety in a disaster are understandable and normal, it is important for parents and caregivers to provide a positive example to children and help them avoid a permanent sense of loss, or fear. If you seem overcome with fear, loss or despair, those feelings can be reflected and amplified in your children’s imaginations.

Presenting a realistic but manageable outlook for your family will help all of you deal with the disaster more easily. If feelings of acute depression persist after the disaster, seek counseling for assistance.

For more information on disaster preparedness, visit: American Red Cross - www.redcross.org, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - www.hhs.gov, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Services - www.fsis.usda.gov

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