Now that the immediate threat of danger has passed, it’s time to turn to the work of recovering from the disaster. Although there may be several different areas that need your attention (safety, physical and mental health, housing and finances), you can rebuild by developing a plan.
Your health and safety and that of your loved ones are most important. A good resource for specific health and safety guidelines is Part 5 Recovering from Disaster, in the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) guide Are You Ready? FEMA also publishes other helpful information on topics ranging from physical and mental health to age-appropriate strategies to help children cope.
Next, turn your attention to your property and financial health.
Housing and Insurance
Insurance claims will probably be one of your first concerns. Some questions you should ask your agent or insurer include:
- Is the damage covered by my policy?
- Is the cost to repair/replace the damage greater than my deductible?
- How long do I have to file a claim?
- How long will it take to process the claim?
- Will I need estimates for repairs, and if so, how many?
The insurance company will probably send an adjuster to inspect your property to make sure the damage is covered by your policy and, if so, will determine how much the insurance company will pay. Be prepared for your insurance adjuster’s visit by organizing the following:
- An inventory of damaged or destroyed items to substantiate your claim. This can be a list, a photographic or video record, or both. If possible, don’t throw away damaged or destroyed items until after the adjuster has visited.
- Identify and make a list of structural damage to show your adjuster.
- Get written, detailed bids from contractors that include line-item estimates of materials and labor costs.
Remember—it’s important to make repairs to your home as quickly as possible to protect it from further damage. Make sure to save your receipts from contractors or for supplies for work you do yourself. If you need to relocate temporarily, save the receipts for these expenses, too.
For a full explanation of how insurance claims work, check out this article from the Insurance Information Institute.
Be aware that the decisions you make following a disaster will affect your financial recovery. Before you can replace lost or damaged financial documents or items, you may need to replace vital documents like a driver’s license, birth, marriage, or death certificate, passport, and military discharge papers.
While you’re working on replacing these, list where you have accounts and all account numbers. Include checking and savings accounts, certificates, IRAs and investments, as well as loans such as mortgages, vehicle loans and credit cards. Don’t forget to include others you pay monthly, like utilities, cable and internet. Next, list which documents or items you need to replace, like deeds and titles, or credit and debit cards. The Red Cross provides a helpful list of where to turn for replacing lost documents.
If you have an emergency savings fund, you can use that to cover costs until your insurance claim is settled. Estimate how much savings and income you have and prioritize your expenses, beginning with your insurance policies and rent or mortgage payment. If you need to, contact creditors and ask for additional time to pay—many will work with you if you’re proactive.
Monitor local media websites, radio and television for updates about where to get emergency housing, food, first aid, clothing and financial assistance. You may also seek direct assistance from organizations that specialize in disaster relief like your state emergency management agency, FEMA or charitable organizations.