Health Measures to Stay Safe After A Natural Disaster
Even if the water is clear, it could be contaminated by sewage or chemicals or even electrified. Avoid contact with water until authorities declare it safe. When navigating and sorting debris it is important to wear waist-high waterproof boots and long gloves.
Recovering from a disaster is usually a gradual process. Safety is your first priority – mental and physical – so prepare accordingly before starting any assessment or preparation work.
Understanding how to access help from your local,state, and federal agencies is a big plus. Keep a record of all authoritative bodies and contact information so you have it on hand when you need it.
If you are directly involved with injured people, do not attempt to move them unless they are in immediate danger of death or further injury. If you must move an unconscious person, first stabilize the neck and back, then call for help.
If the victim is not breathing, and you are trained in CPR measures, carefully position the person, clear the airway, and start mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. When possible, keep the person warm with blankets so it maintains body temperature but does not overheat.
Set priorities and pace yourself. Drink plenty of clean water. Wear sturdy waterproof or fire related clothing – including work boots and gloves. Remember to thoroughly wash or sanitize your hands when working in debris.
There are often additional safety issues created by the disaster: washed out roads, contaminated buildings and/or water, gas leaks, broken glass, damaged electrical wiring, and slippery floors. Always check with local authorities to either report safety concerns or to insure that utilities are shut off.
Be alert. There could be chemical spills, downed power lines, smoldering insulation, and dead animals present. If you are part of a recovery crew, make sure you and your workers have fire-rated and high visibility protective clothing and equipment that includes battery-powered radios, walkie-talkies, flashlights, and spare batteries on hand. Remember to turn the flashlight on before entering the building since the battery may produce a spark that could ignite leaking gas. Watch out for animals, especially snakes, and use a stick to poke through debris.
Most local authorities will recommend to stay off the streets, but if you must venture out in a disaster area, be aware of fallen objects; downed electrical wires; weakened walls, bridges, roads, and sidewalks. Walk carefully around the outside of any structure and check for loose power lines before you enter.
If you have any doubts about safety, have your building inspected by a qualified building inspector or structural engineer before entering.
Do not enter if:
- There is a strong gas odor
- Floodwaters remain around the building
- Your structure was damaged by fire and the authorities have not declared it safe
If you smell gas or hear a hissing or blowing sound, open a window and leave immediately. Turn off the main gas valve from the outside, and call the gas company as soon as possible. Check the electrical system unless you are wet, standing in water, or unsure of your safety. If possible, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker or call the utility to do so. If the situation is unsafe, leave the building and call for help. Do not turn on the lights until you are sure they are safe to use. Other safety measures include:
- Roof, foundation, and chimney cracks. If it looks like the building may collapse, leave immediately.
- Water and sewage systems. If pipes are damaged, turn off the main water valve. Check with local authorities before using any water as the water could be contaminated. Pump out wells and have the water tested by authorities before drinking. Do not flush toilets until you know that sewage lines are intact.
- Food and other supplies. Throw out all food and other supplies that you suspect may have become contaminated or come in to contact with floodwater.
- Clean up any chemical spills. Disinfect items that may have been contaminated by raw sewage, bacteria, or chemicals. Wear protective gloves, eyewear and respirators. Call your insurance agent. Take pictures of damages and keep good records of repair and cleaning costs.
- Wild animals such as snakes, opossums, and raccoons often seek refuge from floodwaters on upper levels of homes and have been known to remain after water recedes. If you see any animals in or around your structure, open a window or provide another escape route so the animal can leave. Do not attempt to capture or handle the animal. Do not approach or attempt to help an injured or stranded animal. Call your local animal control office or wildlife resource office. Do not attempt to move a dead animal as the carcass can pose serious health risks. Contact your local emergency management office or health department for help and instructions. If bitten by an animal, seek immediate medical attention.
Be aware of the signs of stress related or instability in adults and children:
- Difficulty communicating thoughts.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Difficulty maintaining balance in their lives.
- Low threshold of frustration.
- Increased use of drugs/alcohol.
- Limited attention span.
- Poor work performance.
- Headaches/stomach problems.
- Tunnel vision/muffled hearing.
- Colds or flu-like symptoms.
- Disorientation or confusion.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Reluctance to leave home.
- Depression, sadness.
- Feelings of hopelessness.
- Mood-swings and easy bouts of crying.
- Overwhelming guilt and self-doubt.
- Fear of crowds, strangers, or being alone.
Children may respond to disaster by demonstrating fears, sadness, or behavioral problems. Younger children may return to earlier behavior patterns, such as bedwetting, sleep problems, and separation anxiety. Older children may also display anger, aggression, or withdrawal. Some children with only indirect contact to the disaster may develop distress after witnessing it first-hand. If anyone you are working with or treating exhibits the symptoms above, suggest they talk with someone about it or seek help from professional counselors who deal with post-disaster stress.
The federal government can help find temporary housing, counseling (for post-disaster trauma), low-interest loans and grants, and other assistance. FEMA will provide information through the through media communication and community outreach about federal assistance and how to apply.
Ensure you are ready for future events by restocking your disaster supplies kits and updating your disaster/emergency/evacuation plans.
For more information contact the agencies below: