Take Action Before and During a Disaster
Finding family members
As with many aspects of dealing with disaster, it is best to prepare before such an event occurs. You and your family can establish a designated meeting point should you become separated. Choose a place to meet that is away from your home, like a relative's home in a neighboring city. If you want to let your family and friends know that you are safe following a disaster, you can list yourself on the Red Cross "Safe and Well" online registry. You can also use this registry to search for others who have been affected by a disaster.
Plan ahead to protect your pets during a disaster. Since Red Cross and other public shelters cannot accept pets, make arrangements to drop them off somewhere safe in case you have to evacuate your home. You can assemble a portable pet disaster kit with food and supplies. Act to protect your pet as soon as any warnings of approaching disaster are given. What's best for you and your family during an emergency is best for your pets, too.
Dealing with disaster debris
Disasters can generate tons of debris like building rubble, soil and sediments, trees and shrubs, personal property, ash and charred wood. Managing disaster debris depends on the type of debris and the waste management options available. Do not bury or burn debris because of the hazardous side effects of these methods unless explicitly permitted by local authorities. Since using regular landfills and recycling facilities is often not possible during a disaster, communities typically devise their own plans for dealing with debris. Your local media should provide specific guidance from your area's sanitation authorities on how they will collect post-disaster debris.
Disposing of household hazardous waste
Household products containing corrosive, toxic, ignitable or reactive ingredients are considered to be household hazardous waste. Such products, including paints, cleaners, oils, batteries and pesticides, require special care when disposed. Do not pour them down the drain, onto the ground, into storm sewers, and do not put them out with trash. The best way to get rid of them depends on the type of product and facilities available. Check with your local environmental, health, or solid waste agency for more information on household hazardous management options in your area.
Preparing to come home
Returning home after a disaster can pose significant health and environmental challenges, like leaking natural gas lines, carbon monoxide poisoning, and asbestos exposure. First, be sure your local authorties have cleared your area for re-entry. Before you begin cleaning, seek advice from public health authorities and help from specialty contractors. Although these services may be difficult to contact after an emergency, EPA strongly advises against attempting to remove potentially contaminated material yourself. Exercise caution when disturbing building materials to prevent physical injury or other health effects. Building materials may contain hazardous substances such as asbestos that when carried by the air can be breathed in and cause adverse health effects. If you are unsure whether something contains asbestos or another hazardous substance, treat it as if it does. Do not attempt to remove it yourself; wait until a professional can do it for you.
Drinking water supplies may be contaminated during an environmental emergency. Listen to local media for information on the safety of your area's drinking water; you will not be able to tell if your water is safe to drink just by looking at it. lf you are advised to treat water before drinking, cooking, or brushing your teeth, bring it to a rolling boil for at least one minute. If possible, strain the water through clean cloths before boiling. If you cannot boil your water, you can sanitize it with household bleach or iodine. Be very careful to follow packaging instructions if you use those methods.
Contacting poison control
Call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 right away if someone may have been poisoned or if you have questions about poisons. When you call this number, you talk to specially trained nurses, pharmacists and doctors.
Protecting yourself from adverse health effects of smoke
Smoke from fires can be just as dangerous as the flames themselves. Pay attention to local air quality reports and stay alert for health warnings related to smoke. If it looks smoky outside, avoid physical activity outdoors and do not let your children play outside. Keep your indoor air as clean as possible by keeping windows and doors closed. Run your air conditioner with the fresh-air intake closed and the filter clean. If you do not have an air conditioner, staying inside with windows closed may be dangerous in extremely hot weather, so you should seek alternate shelter. Avoid burning candles or fireplaces inside. If you have a lung or heart disease, are an older adult, or have children, talk with your doctor about whether and when you should leave the area.
Private water well safety
Man-made wells are best disinfected by a well or pump contractor because it is difficult for a private owner to thoroughly disinfect these wells. If you suspect that your well may be contaminated, contact your local or state health department or agricultural extension agent for specific advice on disinfecting your well.
Using generators safely
When power lines go down during a storm and cause electrical outages, portable generators are a popular alternative source of electricity; however, they also can be a source of danger. A primary hazard when using a generator is carbon monoxide poisoning from the toxic engine exhaust.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless and toxic gas. Because it is impossible to see, taste or smell the toxic fumes, carbon monoxide can kill you before you are aware it is in your home. At lower levels, carbon monoxide causes mild effects that are often mistaken for the flu. These symptoms include headaches, dizziness, disorientation, nausea and fatigue. The effects of carbon monoxide exposure can vary greatly from person to person depending on age, overall health and the concentration and length of exposure. Learn more about carbon monoxide.
Never operate a generator inside your home, basement or garage. Put generators outside, away from doors, windows and vents.