The Immediate Aftermath of a Disaster

Your first concern in the immediate aftermath of a disaster is your family’s health and safety. If you have experienced a violent disaster such as tornado, earthquake or landslide call out to determine if other people around you survived.

Is anyone trapped or unable to move? building-collapse-6820b9d1e4effa65

Do not attempt to make any movement before you figure out where they (or you) are in the building. First, figure out which way is up by using the “saliva test.” Muster up some saliva and let it dribble from your mouth. If the saliva runs down your chin, then you are upright. On the other hand, if the saliva runs up your nose, then you are upside down and you need to reorient yourself.

If you cannot breathe due to dust and debris, cup your hands over your nose and mouth and breathe into them. This allows you to take back in some of the same oxygen that you exhaled, making your breathing more efficient in a limited-air-supply scenario. Breathing techniques like this can also keep you from hyperventilating.

If you have an electronic device of any kind with a cellular signal, use it. Call first responders (911) and get in touch with your family via phone calls, text messages or even post an SOS to your Twitter account or Facebook page. Even if you do get in touch with authorities using your phone, it may be some time before first responders can get to you. Family or friends may be able to get to you sooner.

Call for help verbally, if you can’t reach anyone by phone or text. After disasters, there are rescuers. Call loudly for help every few minutes but do not waste all of your energy screaming.

If there are other survivors, ask them to help you get free from the destroyed building’s rubble. Be cautious and be aware of falling debris and other portions of the structure that are not sound while attempting escape from the collapsed building. If you do not feel safe exiting the building, stay put unless you absolutely must leave.

Once you are free, help other people get out as well. Even if you are not in a public building, you can help out with relief efforts upon escaping.

If you are trapped and no immediate sign of rescue appears, take stock your physical condition. See if you can get your hands on your emergency supply kit. This will sustain you until you can be rescued.

Above all else stay CALM. If no rescuers have appeared, or you have been unable to reach emergency responders or family you may want to consider moving any debris that you are trapped under. Do this carefully; otherwise you could crush yourself by upsetting a larger portion of debris. If you only see a light shining through a pile of rubble, lift your hand out of the rubble and wave it about. This makes it easy for rescuers to spot you.

Is Anyone Injured?

If you’ve been involved in something sudden and traumatic such as an earthquake, tornado, landslide or tsunami, check for injuries. You may face simple cuts, scrapes and bruises or something even more severe.

Here’s a link to information on First Aid from the NIH. You may want to purchase a first aid manual that covers the types of injuries you may be exposed to as part of your emergency kit.

Do a quick check:

Does the individual have a heart beat? Are they breathing? If the victim is not breathing, carefully position the victim for artificial respiration, clear the airway, and commence mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. CPR classes are available at your local Red Cross and other locations.

Is the individual conscious? Have they suffered a head injury? Never give liquids or try to feed an unconscious person. Do not attempt to move seriously injured persons 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 immediately.

Is the individual bleeding? Apply pressure to the wound. If the bleeding is severe, call for help immediately.

Is the individual shaking? In shock? Hysterical? Keep the individual warm and quiet. Maintain body temperature with blankets. Be sure the victim does not become overheated.

Once the immediate health and safety of your family is assured you can begin to take stock of your surroundings and begin the recovery process.

Use your disaster supplies as necessary. This is why you prepared them!

If you can help others in need.

Safety Issues

When it is safe to do so, you may examine the damage to your house and neighborhood. Be aware of new safety issues created by the disaster. Watch for washed out roads, contaminated buildings, contaminated water, gas leaks, broken glass, damaged electrical wiring, and slippery floors.

Inform local authorities about health and safety issues, including chemical spills, downed power lines, washed out roads, smoldering insulation, and dead animals.

Stay off the streets in your car. If you must go out, watch for fallen objects; downed electrical wires or uprooted trees; and weakened walls, bridges, roads, and sidewalks.

Returning Home After an Evacuation

Returning home can be both physically and mentally challenging. Above all, use caution.

Before you enter your home 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.

  • Do not enter if you smell gas or flood waters remain around the building.
  • Use a battery-powered flash light to inspect a damaged home.
  • Wear sturdy work boots and gloves.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and clean water often when working in debris.

Note: Turn on the flashlight before entering the house; the battery may produce a spark that could ignite leaking gas, if present.

Emergency and Disaster Planning

Disaster Kit

Water and Sanitation

The Disaster

Coping Emotionally with a Disaster

Disaster Assistance and Resources

Securing Valuable Information


American Red Cross

Be Prepared California

California Emergency Management Agency

Federal Emergency Management Agency

Kentucky Department of Public Health, Cabinet for Health and Family Services

Washington State Department of Public Health