Panic. Confusion. Grief. These are all natural responses to a home disaster. And while no amount of preparedness can completely prevent these emotions from arising, having in place a well-devised plan for how you will recover can make the aftermath much less stressful. Since disasters can vary greatly in nature and scope, there are no set rules regarding what a disaster recovery plan should look like. In this article, we’re going to look at a few key elements that you’ll likely want to include in any of your plans.

An Emergency File

Having an emergency file is a key component to any disaster recovery plan. It’s within this file that you’ll keep copies of critical documents, such as your insurance information, an inventory of your possessions (with photos), and receipts for any major purchases. You’ll need these items, along with pictures of post-disaster damage, in order to file a claim with your insurance company (we’ll look at this in greater depth below). Place the file in a waterproof container somewhere in your home. It’s also a good idea to include within the container contact information for family and friends, medical professionals, and utility companies. Keep the originals in an off-site location like a safe-deposit box.

A Hazard Checklist

While the damage to your home from a disaster can vary in severity, safety is always of paramount importance, regardless of the nature of the disaster. It’s understandable that you may want to put the disaster behind you and return to a sense of normalcy, but you first need to assess any possible threats to your safety. By including a checklist similar to the one below within your plan, you’ll know what potential dangers to watch out for.

  • Has the exterior of the house sustained damage? If so, it’s quite possible that the interior has as well. Err on the side of caution, and have a contractor inspect your home.

  • Is the ceiling wet? Are the floors sagging? These suggest possible structural damage, so it’s unsafe to be inside until addressed.

  • Do you smell or hear what might be a natural or propane gas leak? If so, exit your home immediately and call the local fire department.

  • Are there any indications of electrical hazards? If possible, check your panel box for tripped breakers, which indicate possible wiring damage. Also check for sparks, frayed wires, or strange, burning smells. Electrocution and electrical fires are risks not worth taking—call a licensed electrician to take care of this.

  • Is there standing water or a sewage backup? In addition to the myriad health threats associated with stagnant water, your home may have become a breeding ground for dangerous mold. You’ll want the water extracted and inspection/remediation performed as soon as possible.

  • Do you see evidence of fire damage, such as soot or ash buildup and scorch marks? Aside from the obvious destructive nature of fire, intense heat can more subtly compromise the structural integrity of your home. Have an inspection performed to be on the safe side.

Insurance Claim Evidence

Once it’s determined safe to be in your home, take pictures—or, better, video—of all disaster-related damage so that you can back up your insurance claim. Contact your provider to inform them of the damage, and they will advise you of the next steps to take. Until repairs can be made, you will be responsible for preventing further damage to your property, so make temporary repairs (e.g., taping up tarp over a hole in the roof), and hold on to the receipts of any items purchased; as long as the purchases are deemed reasonable, your insurance company should reimburse you for their cost. Likewise, if it’s determined that you cannot live in your house during repairs or if a government order prevents you from doing so, your insurance policy should cover reasonable living expenses.

Hopefully you’ll never need to put this plan into action. In the unfortunate event that you do experience a disaster, however, your mind should be somewhat set at ease by having prepared for the worst.

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Sources: American Red Cross; CDC; FEMA.

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