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Disaster Recovery in the face of Hurricane Sandy

October 30, 2012

This is information I’ve picked up over the years. I hope it’s useful…
Surviving a Disaster for Humans and Animals
A number of years ago, we had a tornado touch down and do massive damage in our rural Tennessee area outside of Nashville. During the months, and years, that followed, I collected information regarding disasters, which I hope can help those in need now. By no means is this complete or authoritative. It’s just a start. And I hope it helps.
~Vivi
After surviving something like Hurricane Sandy, do not be surprised if folks are in shock. Especially those who have lost their homes or had major damage. It seems like everything will be in slow motion- from your own responses to the responses of the Rescue and Recovery teams. But actually, nothing is in slow motion, and that’s when mistakes can be made. Here are some tips to help you through your recovery:
1) Before getting out to inspect damage, make sure everyone, and all pets, are physically ok. Double check to see if there are any cuts, scrapes, etc. This is important, because there will be standing water that might be contaminated. You want to make sure all wounds are covered and protected from potential infection. Staph infection is very common during disaster recovery and can be very dangerous.
2) Make sure anyone going into debris area/inspecting damage is wearing heavy work boots and good gloves. With receding water, the power of high winds, and downed trees, it is very likely there will be sharp debris embedded in the soil or sticking out where it can’t be seen. You DO NOT want to get cut by any of this debris as the likelihood of infection is great.
3) Take a camera with you. And use it. Before any work is done, before a chainsaw comes out, tarps get put on roofs, limbs picked up, RECORD everything. This will help you later when the insurance adjuster comes out and sees only a clean yard and no trees on the house… you’ve got to prove there was damage. In suburban and urban areas, trees themselves are sometimes included in the insurance (i.e., you will receive insurance money for downed trees), but you’ve got to be able to prove those trees were damaged/downed/destroyed by the storm. Therefore, photographs.
4) When photographing damage, make sure you get overall shots with significant landmarks (i.e., a tree on top of your house, the tree down with the street sign- which is readable- in the background, the boat in your yard with the house in back). This will help in proving that the damage actually occurred to YOU… Additionally, take close ups of damage to help prove exactly what was damaged.
5) The usual order of rescue/recover is:
a) Emergency Management Teams (this will include your local EMT, possibly the first wave of Federal folks – FEMA, paramedics, fire/police, and emergency veterinarians in areas where farms might occur). These teams will go door to door to find victims, and will, most likely, spray paint marks on doors or other structures with important information regarding that particular property. DO NOT REMOVE this information until instructed to by your emergency management team or insurance agent.
b) Red Cross- They have shelters already in place. As rescue/recovery starts, they will coordinate with other organizations to help- they will provide water to victims and volunteers.
c) Church Groups- Such as Church of Christ Disaster Relief. These folks are AMAZING! BUT… you must make sure they are legit (some evil folks will pretend to be with relief organizations and then rob you blind), AND do not let them start repairs or clean up until you have spoken with your insurance company and TAKEN PICTURES OF EVERYTHING. We found, after our tornado, that these wonderful people did such a good job of cleaning up and repairing, that insurance companies didn’t believe that damage had occurred. Over the next few weeks, these Church organizations will bring you meals, water, help. I can’t say enough about how wonderful they are-
d) United Way- Each effected area will have a branch set up. They will hand out and distribute funds and each United Way branch/situation is different. In many situations you will have to prove need. It’s just a matter of filling out paper work. They will provide temporary housing vouchers and other vouchers on an as needed basis.
e) FEMA stations- I believe they may already be getting set up.
f) Local volunteer organizations- As the other agencies pull back, you’ll find that you need to either create, or your local area will find a way to create, a disaster recovery volunteer organization. I believe the IRS will grant temporary and/or emergency 501c3 status to such organizations. These are important because they will be the way to apply for grants for repairs, materials, food, etc. Folks good at organizing groups will want to go to V.O.A.D. (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters) meetings. The United Way and the Church organizations will also help communities organize.
6) Some information that FEMA has on their recovery page (http://www.ready.gov/recovering-disaster): Inspect your home carefully before entering.
Walk carefully around the outside and check for loose power lines, gas leaks and structural damage. If you have any doubts about safety, have your residence inspected by a qualified building inspector or structural engineer before entering.
• Keep a battery-powered radio with you so you can listen for emergency updates and news reports.
• Use a battery-powered flash light to inspect a damaged home.
Note: The flashlight should be turned on outside before entering – the battery may produce a spark that could ignite leaking gas, if present.
• Watch out for animals, especially poisonous snakes. Use a stick to poke through debris.
• Use the phone only to report life-threatening emergencies.
• As you return home, watch for fallen objects; downed electrical wires; and weakened walls, bridges, roads and sidewalks.
Do not enter if:
• You smell gas.
• Floodwaters remain around the building.
• Your home was damaged by fire and the authorities have not declared it safe.
Be cautious when entering your home after a disaster.
When you go inside your home, there are certain things you should and should not do. Enter the home carefully and check for damage. Be aware of loose boards and slippery floors. The following items are other things to check inside your home:
• Natural gas. 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, if you can. Call the gas company from a neighbor’s residence. If you shut off the gas supply at the main valve, you will need a professional to turn it back on. Do not smoke or use oil, gas lanterns, candles or torches for lighting inside a damaged home until you are sure there is no leaking gas or other flammable materials present.
• Sparks, broken or frayed wires. 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. If the situation is unsafe, leave the building and call for help. Do not turn on the lights until you are sure they’re safe to use. You may want to have an electrician inspect your wiring.
• Roof, foundation and chimney cracks. If it looks like the building may collapse, leave immediately.
• Appliances. If appliances are wet, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. Then, unplug appliances and let them dry out. Have appliances checked by a professional before using them again. Also, have the electrical system checked by an electrician before turning the power back on.
• Water and sewage systems. If pipes are damaged, turn off the main water valve. Check with local authorities before using any water; 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.
• Your basement. If your basement has flooded, pump it out gradually (about one third of the water per day) to avoid damage. The walls may collapse and the floor may buckle if the basement is pumped out while the surrounding ground is still waterlogged.
• Open cabinets. Be alert for objects that may fall.
• Clean up household chemical spills. Disinfect items that may have been contaminated by raw sewage, bacteria, or chemicals. Also clean salvageable items.
• Call your insurance agent. Take pictures of damages. Keep good records of repair and cleaning costs.
Be wary of wildlife as you return home after a disaster.
Disaster and life threatening situations will exacerbate the unpredictable nature of wild animals. To protect yourself and your family, learn how to deal with wildlife.
Guidelines
• Do not corner wild animals or try to rescue them. Wild animals will likely feel threatened and may endanger themselves by dashing off into floodwaters, fire, and so forth. Call your local animal control office or wildlife resource office.
• Wild animals often seek higher ground which, during floods, eventually become submerged (i.e., island) and the animals become stranded. If the island is large enough and provides suitable shelter, you can leave food appropriate to the species (i.e., sunflower seeds for squirrels). Animals have a flight response and will flee from anyone approaching too closely. If the animal threatens to rush into the water, back away from the island or you may frighten the animal into jumping into the water to escape from you.
• Do not approach wild animals that have taken refuge in your home. 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 encounter animals in this situation, open a window or provide another escape route and the animal will likely leave on its own. Do not attempt to capture or handle the animal. Should the animal stay, call your local animal control office or wildlife resource office.
• Beware of an increased number of snakes and other predators. These animals will try to feed on the carcasses of reptiles, amphibians and small mammals who have been drowned or crushed in their burrows or under rocks.
• Do not attempt to move a dead animal. Animal carcasses can present serious health risks. Outbreaks of anthrax, encephalitis and other diseases may occur. Contact your local emergency management office or health department for help and instructions.
• If bitten by an animal, seek immediate medical attention.

7) Paperwork. Be prepared to fill out LOTS of paper work. Hopefully you have proof of residence or other proof needed to request help.
8) Donations- for those not affected by the Hurricane, please donate to appropriate places- such as Red Cross, local collection agencies, etc. BE AWARE that the box of clothes you’ve just donated may not be given out immediately. Folks that have been hardest hit won’t have a dresser to put clothes in- and therefore, will only ask for a clean change of clothes for the time being. GREAT items to donate are personal care items- toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, shampoo/conditioner, DIAPERS, feminine hygiene products, underwear/bras, deodorant- especially if you have unused hotel packs of the stuff.
9) Here is a list of organizations that may be able to help, the charitable ones will require that requests for assistance come from a 501c3. If you do not have a community volunteer organization set up, check with your EMT, as they will sometimes apply for assistance on your behalf…
a) Red Cross- http://www.redcross.org/ to donate text REDCROSS to 90999. If you can stop by a blood bank, and donate blood, that is very welcome. Unless specifically marked for Hurricane Sandy Relief, donations to the Red Cross go into the general fund, which is not a bad thing btw…
b) United Way- http://www.unitedway.org/
c) National Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (NVOAD): http://www.nvoad.org/
d) FEMA: http://www.fema.gov/
e) American Veterinary Medical Association: https://www.avma.org/kb/resources/reference/pages/hurricane-preparedness.aspx
f) MERCK (the pharma company- has grants for medicine and supplies for both humans and vets treating disaster victims): http://www.merck.com/merckhelps/
g) Humane Society/Disaster Animal Response Team: http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/animal_rescue/ndart/ndart.html
h) The Cat Channel has an article detailing animal response/rescue information: http://www.catchannel.com/news/2012/10/29/cats-safe-during-hurricane.aspx
i) PetSmart Charitable Donations (we were able to receive donations after pulling together a list of need and submitting it to our local animal shelter, who applied on our behalf): http://www.petsmartcharities.org/
j) Henry Schein, Inc. (NASDAQ: HSIC), the world’s largest provider of health care products and services to dental, medical and animal health office-based practitioners, today reminded its customers that the Henry Schein disaster relief hotline is open for dentists, physicians, and veterinarians who experience operational, logistical, or financial issues as a result of Hurricane Sandy, which struck the East Coast this week. The toll-free number for all Henry Schein customers – 800-999-9729 – is operational from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET. More info here: http://www.heraldonline.com/2012/10/30/4374779/henry-schein-disaster-relief-hotline.html#storylink=cpy
k) United Animal Nations/Red Rover (has grants for urgent veterinary needs): http://www.redrover.org/index.cfm?navid=161
l) Church of Christ Disaster Relief: http://disasterreliefeffort.org/
m) State Veterinary Directory (can help with finding animal, especially large animal, recovery/information/etc): http://agr.wa.gov/FoodAnimal/AnimalHealth/statevets.aspx
n) Horse Evacuations East (a FaceBook site dedicated to helping organize evacuations/shelters/information, etc- actually does work nationwide and is time tested): https://www.facebook.com/HorseEvacuationsEast?ref=ts&fref=ts

Hope this helps! Good luck and many prayers.

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