In the midst of any disaster, your top priority should always be the safety and wellbeing of yourself and your family. Sometimes that may mean you’re forced to abandon your home and seek temporary shelter. Even if you aren’t forced to evacuate, your home may still incur massive, costly damage or your place of employment may shut down, leaving you without work or income.
Once the worst of a disaster has passed and your safety is secure, it’s time to start thinking about next steps. If you’re on the other side of a disaster – from a hurricane to flooding to wildfires and beyond – use this checklist to help focus your efforts in the coming weeks. There are going to be a lot of things you’ll need to do and missing steps can be costly.
Review your insurance policies. Before you get into the process of filing claims, you should make sure you understand what your policy covers and what process you need to follow in order to make a claim. Different policies offer different coverage amounts and the circumstances surrounding the damage can make a big difference. If you have questions, don’t be afraid to call your insurer and ask for answers.
Take extensive pictures. If your home or property have been damaged in any way, be sure to take a lot of pictures. Document everything, no matter how minor it may seem.
Create an inventory of your possessions. Try to be as thorough as possible – you want as close to a complete list as possible, especially as it pertains to items of value, such as electronics, artwork, and furnishings.
Contact your insurer and file a claim. Once you have all the necessary information, go ahead and file a claim with your insurer(s).
What if your insurance doesn’t cover your losses?
When all is said and done, Hurricane Harvey will no doubt be one of the most expensive disasters in the history of the United States, and a large part of the destruction has been caused by massive flooding. But what if your home was lost to flooding and you don’t have flood insurance?
File for disaster assistance. There are a few government agencies offering grants and low-cost, low-interest loans to assist residents living within a federally declared disaster site. Visit DisasterAssistance.gov to see if you’re eligible for a grant and apply online. If you need a loan in order to repair or replace a home, business, or personal property, you can apply with the US Small Business Administration (SBA.gov). Note – second homes are usually not eligible for these types of programs.
Managing debts and expenses
Have your utilities suspended or cancelled if necessary. If you aren’t in your house and you won’t be able to return for some time (if ever), be sure to contact your utility companies (electricity, gas, internet, cable, phone, etc.) and ask to have your accounts either suspended or disconnected. Unfortunately, the energy company won’t know that you’re no longer at home, so you will continue accruing charges, even if your home has been evacuated or condemned.
Have mail and other services held or redirected if necessary. Do you have any regular deliveries that come to your home? If you’re displaced for the foreseeable future, make sure to account for your mail and other deliveries (food boxes, for example) by changing the delivery address or having these shipments paused or cancelled.
Contact your creditors if payment will be disrupted. During a crisis situation, your debts should (quite reasonably) fall down your list of priorities. Once things have settled a bit, however, you can do yourself a great service by taking stock and deciding whether or not you’ll be able to continue paying your bills on time.
If the answer is no, then the next step is to contact your creditors and advise them of the situation. Your creditors are in no way obligated to do anything about your unfortunate situation, but in many cases they will make concessions for customers living in a disaster area. If you have to miss payments as a result of a declared disaster, your creditors may be willing to waive late fees or even allow you to defer from making your payments for a set period of time. Find out what they’re able to do and plan accordingly.
If you have an FHA-insured mortgage, you may be eligible for disaster relief. Read through this list of disaster relief options, provided by HUD.
Consider speaking to a budgeting counselor. If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed and having a hard time managing your resources post-disaster, consider speaking with a trained budgeting counselor. They can help you create a list of priorities and produce an action plan to see you through this rough patch.
Staying safe during cleanup
If your home is salvageable, you may soon be beginning the often difficult process of cleanup and repair. When completing post-disaster cleanup, please follow these guidelines and tips, established by OSHA. Of note:
Dress properly. Wear gloves, long pants, and appropriate shoes during cleanup. Wear a dust respirator when working in areas where mold has appeared.
Use caution when handling chemicals. Follow all listed instructions and wear necessary eye, hand, and face protection.
Never touch downed power lines. Consider all power lines to be active and dangerous until proven otherwise.
Keep a first aid kit on hand at all times. Be sure to wash your hands regularly.
Engage or consult with a professional whenever possible. Recovery can be costly, and it’s understandable to want to do as much as you can with your own two hands, but your safest bet is almost always going to be working with an experienced professional.