After a Storm or Tornado

Disasters place enormous stress on those affected, in addition to the physical hazards. The return to normal will take time. Preparing in advance not only improves safety, but helps keep the situation manageable by laying out what to do and how, and establishing priorities. Emergency responders prioritize by:

  1. Life safety first
  2. Scene stabilization (dealing with immediate hazards)
  3. Property conservation (actions to prevent further damage)

Keeping those priorities in mind, when there is so much to do, can help identify what must be done now and what can or should come later, and help prevent the process from becoming overwhelming.

Life Safety

Immediately afterwards, establish your own condition and situation, and your family members.

  • Check yourself for injuries. Often people tend to others without checking themselves first. (Like airline emergency instructions to put on your oxygen mask first, and then assist others, you will be better able to assist others if you have dealt with your own injuries.)
  • If trapped, don't move and stir up dust; don't shout. (Shouting increases the amount of dust you will inhale.) Tap on wall or pipes to draw attention to your position.
  • If safe, assist with locating others. Check them for injuries and administer first aid. Do not move seriously injured persons unless there is immediate danger of additional injury.
  • Stay alert for additional severe weather.
  • Do not use open flames or electrical or mechanical devices that create sparks until you confirm that there are no gas leaks.
  • Listen to battery-powered radios or a TV for instructions and information.
  • Use phones only for life-threatening emergencies. Phone line capacity can be overwhelmed. Keep them clear so other emergency calls can get through.
  • Put on protective clothing. Sturdy shoes, long-sleeve shirts, pants, and work gloves will help protect you from further injury.
  • If you are in a multi-story building, do not use elevators.

Scene Stabilization

Once immediate needs have been addressed, check for damage. The priority is safety, protecting yourself, and identifying and dealing with potential hazards.

  • Assume downed power lines are live. Avoid contact with them, and anything that is touching them.
  • Extinguish small fires while they're still small.
  • Check for electrical damage. If you see sparks, broken or frayed wires, or smell burning insulation, shut power off at the main circuit breaker.
  • Check for gas leaks. Do not shut off gas unless you smell gas or hear hissing or blowing sounds. If you suspect a gas leak, shut if off at the main valve. Do not open the valve. It must be turned back on by a professional.
  • Be extremely careful moving through the interior or near the exterior of structures until the extent of the damage has been determined.
  • Open cabinet and closet doors carefully. The contents may have shifted. 
  • Unplug broken lights and appliances. If there is still power, or power is restored, they may be an additional fire hazard.
  • Carefully clean up spilled medications and chemicals. Some common household chemicals are hazardous, especially if they mix with others. They should be cleaned up, isolated, or covered with absorbent such as kitty litter or dirt to reduce chemical hazard exposure. 
  • If you determine that your home is unsafe to occupy, go to a shelter. Return to your home only when the authorities determine that it is safe.
  • If you evacuate:
    • Tell neighbors / emergency contacts
    • Take personal supplies with you if possible

First Days Afterwards 

With you and your family's immediate needs addressed, continue with your disaster plan.

  • Manage your food and water.
    • If there is no power, use refrigerated / frozen foods first. Avoid opening refrigerator doors. Contents will stay cold longer.
    • If water is off or unsafe, use water from the water heater, melted ice cubes, or fluid from canned fruits / vegetables to hydrate.
  • Stay out of damaged areas.
  • Use care when driving. Debris and traffic light outages should be expected. Watch for emergency responder and repair crew traffic.
  • Check water and sewage lines. Don't use toilets or water if lines are damaged. Portable camp toilets, RV toilets, porta-potties, etc., can be used. High occupancy complexes such as apartments, condominiums, and office buildings should consider making arrangements to obtain commercial chemical toilets. Large extra-strength trash bags (double bags) may be placed in tight plastic or metal containers, with tight fitting lids, or used as liners in toilets. Household disinfectant can be used for odor control.
  • Check your phones and cradle them.
  • Check in with your emergency contact, then stay off the phone.
  • Continue to check on your neighbors.
  • Watch animals. Pet behavior can become unpredictable. Normally friendly animals can become aggressive and/or defensive.

Weeks Afterwards

  • First week (getting home, family routines re-established)
    • Confirm that your home is safe for occupancy.
    • If remaining or returning home, arrange for gas restoration, if shut off.
    • If electricity failed, check appliances / electronics for damage.
    • Look for indicators of water damage from broken / leaking pipes.
    • Search for and list important documents.
    • Photograph and document damage for insurance claims.
    • Shelters may be overcrowded. If your home is structurally sound, consider staying. It may not be necessary to leave just because utilities are out.
  • Once recovery has progressed and the situation has stabilized, redo these steps more thoroughly and plan for next time.