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After A DisasterSpotting and Documenting Storm DamageJust had a storm blow through your town? Here Stephen Hadhazi, a public insurance adjuster and publisher of DocuDamage.com, an educational consumer website, offers his top tips on how to spot and document storm damage.Securing a Damaged HomeHere's what to do to safeguard your home after a storm or disaster.Safely Reentering an Evacuated HomeBe safe, be smart. If you've been displaced, all you may be able to think about is getting back home. Wait!Replacing Valuable DocumentsHere is contact information for replacing documents and records that have been damaged, destroyed or lost.Rebuilding and Renovating a Damaged HomeAny form of construction can be a lengthy process. Here are some starter tips to get started. Moving Back Home After a DisasterWhile it's very difficult to do, think of this as an extremely extended camping trip as you cope over the next few weeks and months.How to Choose a Contractor or RestorerHiring a contractor or a restorer can be costly, but professionals may be the best way to remove water and mold and get the job done right. Plus, professional restorers can provide helpful hints to prevent further damage.Home Repair and Renovation Steps to FollowFollow these steps to make sure your post-disaster restoration or rebuilding project is done right the first time.Documenting Fire and Storm DamageIf possible, document the internal and external damage ASAP. Talk with recovery officials regarding safety issues you should be aware of - safety first! - as well as key areas/items you should take pictures of.Cleaning Your Home After a Fire or StormAfter your insurance company representative has assessed the damage, you need to make a decision regarding the cleaning of your home and possessions.Home Safety After a DisasterWhat to know about utility service after a disaster.

Safely Reentering an Evacuated Home

Be safe, be smart. If you've been displaced, all you may be able to think about is getting back home. Wait!

As tough as it may be to hear this: a swift return may not be best for you, your family or your property. You could jeopardize both your safety and your family's financial security (by hindering your insurance claim).

This may seem next to impossible. But remember: you are not alone. Emergency assistance workers, contractors, friends, and your insurance agent can help you return home in a safe manner, personally and financially.

Here are a few things to consider as you begin the process of re-entering you house. This is NOT a comprehensive list, but it can help you get started.

WHN Tip: You should listen to local authorities and/or your insurance agent regarding re-entering your home.

Before Returning Home

Wait until authorities have declared it safe for you to return to your home.

Local officials on the scene are your best source of information on accessible areas and passable roads.

Find out if you need a re-entry sticker to return to an evacuated area.

About Re-Entry Stickers

Often, counties and states require a re-entry sticker (obtained from local government authorities).

The color of sticker you receive depends on your area of residence.

If you do not have a sticker, you may be redirected to a designated waiting area until it is safe for you to re-enter the area or county.

NOTE: The waiting areas are not designed for long-term stay so listen to your radio for details on when it is safe for you to return.

WHN Tip: If you cannot return home and need a place to stay, complete our Temporary Housing Data Sheet form.

When Allowed to Return Home

WHN Tip: Your home can become a dangerous environment because of structural damage or electrical hazards.

Call your insurance agent first and ask the following:

  • Does an agent need to accompany me when I return to my home?
  • What do I need to note regarding any damage or other issues?
  • What am I allowed to touch or remove from the house?

WHN Tip: Record the visit with a video recorder and/or camera.

Prepare yourself — this will probably be emotional and very tiring.

Ask for help from relief organizations if you feel overwhelmed physically or emotionally. (See Handling Emotional and Physical Stress After a Disaster and How Social Workers Help Disaster Survivors.

Never go alone when returning home. Always take at least one other person with you, preferably a teenager or adult and let someone else know where you are going and when you will return.

Gather supplies to bring with you. Read and print out What To Take With You (pdf)  [WHN page link TK], our starter list of what supplies you may need and carry them in a backpack or sturdy carryall.

Print out our Records Recovery (pdf) [WHN page link TK] checklist for important personal documents and records to bring with you or locate when you return home.

Using graph paper, sketch a site plan of your property that notes the location of gas, electricity and water meters, if you know where they are located. Take this with you when you return to your home.

Try to return to your home during the daylight hours for maximum visibility. Artificial light may not be available due to power loss.

Driving in Disaster-Affected Areas

Check vehicle for damage before using.

Avoid driving until conditions improve or until authorities give clearance to drive in the area. Even then, use caution.

Give way to emergency vehicles at all times.

Watch out for debris and washed-out roads and bridges.

Do NOT drive on a flooded road. Any size car or SUV can be washed away with less than 18 inches of water. Instead, either turn around or leave the car (if it's safe to do so) for higher ground. NEVER try to walk, swim or drive through swift-moving or rapidly rising water.

If your car stalls, abandon it immediately and climb to higher ground. It is dangerous to attempt to move a stalled vehicle.

If you come upon a barricade, turn around.

Intersection lights not working? Treat as if it is a four-way stop.

When Outside Your Home

Do NOT enter your home until you have completed the following exterior safety check and you have been told by an official that it is safe to enter.

It may be best to wait for officials or your insurance agent before going to your home. Ask them what is in your best interest.

Be safe, be smart.

Wear goggles, face mask, rubber gloves and thick protective boots.

Grab your flashlight (even in daylight it will help you spot dangerous areas and items) and your wooden stick to turn things over.

Be careful walking around your property. After a disaster, steps and floors are often covered with debris, including nails and broken glass.

If you see downed lines, see sparks or smell burning with no visible fire or smell the "rotten eggs" odor that is added to gas, leave immediately and notify the authorities.

Look for exterior structural damage on the house, including cracked foundations, sagging roofs, broken columns or piers, and unsupported porch roofs.

Take pictures of the exterior at all angles, all sides no matter what is or isn't left.

Check trees, shrubs, and plants around your house. Note locations of where things used to be.

Roofing

Check for roof damage if you see dented screens or soft aluminum roof vents.

Do not get on the roof. Inspect the roof using a pair of binoculars or camera with telephoto lens if necessary.

Examine the porch roofs and overhangs to be sure they still have all their supports. If any are missing, do not enter the house.

If you've completed your safety check and the exterior appears structurally unsafe, has water around it, downed power lines or you smell gas, do NOT enter your home.

Don't Enter Your Home:

If authorities have not allowed you into the area.

If your insurance agent said not to enter it.

If water remains around the building or is standing next to the outside walls of your home.

If the ground has washed away or the foundation has cracks or other damage.

WHN Tip: After a disaster, structural damage may have occurred. Flood waters may have undermined the foundation, causing the building to sink, floors to crack or walls to collapse.

When Entering Your Home

Be safe, be smart.

Be careful and alert. Watch every step you take.

Be ready to leave immediately, even if it means leaving behind a precious family photo on a creaky stairwell. If you are not prepared to do this, do NOT re-enter your home.

Again, these guidelines are meant to help you think about what to do next — they are NOT comprehensive. This is why it is important to go with a professional, if you can.

If the door sticks at the top as it opens, it could mean the ceiling is ready to cave in. Don't walk under a sagging ceiling until it has been checked.

Examine walls, floors, doors, staircases and windows to make sure that the building is not in danger of collapsing. Don't know what to look for? Don't go in without an inspector!

Use extreme caution since moving through debris presents further hazards.

WHN Tip: Remember — The disaster may have damaged buildings where you least expect it.

Do not go in a room with standing water. It may cover electrical outlets and exposed lines.

Do not smoke, use candles, gas lanterns or other open flames inside and around your home.

Don't turn on your cell phone if there is danger of combustible gases. Cell phones can ignite such gases and create a major explosion.

Watch out for animals, especially poisonous snakes that may have come into buildings with the water.

Be aware of any unusual sounds or smells that could denote shifting foundations, escaping gas or downed wires.

What to Check For

Be safe, be smart.

Electricity

Before using any electrical equipment or electrical appliances, have a certified electrician check items before starting them or turning the power on.

If you see sparks or broken or frayed wires or smell burning insulation, call an electrician for advice.

Consult your utility company about using electrical equipment, including power generators. If a generator is online when electrical service is restored, it can become a major fire hazard.

Gas leaks

If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window and quickly leave the building. Call the gas company from a neighbor's home.

If you turn off the gas or it isn't working, it must be turned back on by a professional. Have a licensed plumber or the utility company check the gas lines before restoring service.

Sewage and water line damage

If you suspect sewage lines are damaged, avoid using the toilets and call a plumber.

If water pipes are damaged, contact the water company, and avoid using water from the tap.

You can obtain safe water from undamaged water heaters or by melting ice cubes.

Water damage, interior flooding

If flooded, pump out your basement gradually. The walls could collapse or the floors buckle if the surrounding ground is waterlogged. Not sure? Get an inspector.

Many health hazards are found in the mud and silt that floodwaters leave behind. Shovel as much mud as possible out of the house, then hose it down, inside and out.

If your home has sustained water damage, download Repairing Your Flooded Home from the American Red Cross or check out FEMA's Flood section.

Structural

Open windows and doors to ventilate and dry your home, if possible.

Watch for loose plaster, drywall and ceilings that could fall.

To protect and minimize further damage, cover holes in roof or windows with tarps if necessary.

Retrieve Important Items

Be safe, be smart.

Leave items behind and get out immediately if the structure is unsafe, you smell gas or see downed power lines.

Attempt to retrieve the following important documents:

Personal identification: driver's licenses, Social Security cards, marriage licenses, birth and death certificates

All insurance information (life, home, car)

Medical/medication information, including eyeglasses, hearing aids or other prosthetic devices

Valuables, such as credit cards, bank books/account numbers, photos, cash and jewelry

Recent statements, including mortgage, electric company, and other monthly bills

Keep them even if they appear to be damaged. Sometimes a damaged copy can speed up the replacement process.

After A DisasterSpotting and Documenting Storm DamageJust had a storm blow through your town? Here Stephen Hadhazi, a public insurance adjuster and publisher of DocuDamage.com, an educational consumer website, offers his top tips on how to spot and document storm damage.Securing a Damaged HomeHere's what to do to safeguard your home after a storm or disaster.Safely Reentering an Evacuated HomeBe safe, be smart. If you've been displaced, all you may be able to think about is getting back home. Wait!Replacing Valuable DocumentsHere is contact information for replacing documents and records that have been damaged, destroyed or lost.Rebuilding and Renovating a Damaged HomeAny form of construction can be a lengthy process. Here are some starter tips to get started. Moving Back Home After a DisasterWhile it's very difficult to do, think of this as an extremely extended camping trip as you cope over the next few weeks and months.How to Choose a Contractor or RestorerHiring a contractor or a restorer can be costly, but professionals may be the best way to remove water and mold and get the job done right. Plus, professional restorers can provide helpful hints to prevent further damage.Home Repair and Renovation Steps to FollowFollow these steps to make sure your post-disaster restoration or rebuilding project is done right the first time.Documenting Fire and Storm DamageIf possible, document the internal and external damage ASAP. Talk with recovery officials regarding safety issues you should be aware of - safety first! - as well as key areas/items you should take pictures of.Cleaning Your Home After a Fire or StormAfter your insurance company representative has assessed the damage, you need to make a decision regarding the cleaning of your home and possessions.Home Safety After a DisasterWhat to know about utility service after a disaster.