When Your Family is Affected by a Natural Disaster or Other Crisis

Being away from your family members during deployment can be difficult in any circumstances. When a crisis occurs in your absence, you may feel overwhelmed by feelings of concern for your family's safety. If your loved ones have been affected by a natural disaster such as a hurricane, there are resources available to help you contact your family and provide them with assistance. Doing what you can to manage your own stress will allow you to focus on your mission until the time you and your family are reunited.

Locating your family

If your family has been evacuated from their home and you don't know where they are, you have

  • Check with the American Red Cross. Their Safe and Well List allows evacuees to post their names to let family members know they are safe. It also lets family members search for loved ones by phone number and address.
  • Check with other family members. If you are unable to reach your loved ones, contact other family members or friends who live far from the affected areas. They may have information about your loved ones.

Managing stress from afar

Depending on your family's circumstances, your worries may not end when you locate your loved ones. Here are ways to manage strong emotions and to regain a sense of control over your life.

  • Ask your family to photograph themselves (if possible) and send the picture to you. The visual evidence that your loved ones are safe can be reassuring. If they have relocated, ask your family to take pictures of their surroundings. The photographs will allow you to imagine your loved ones in their new environment. You can also send them photos of yourself, as they may not have access to their pictures and will find the new photos comforting and reassuring as well.
  • Use out-of-town relatives or friends to relay messages. If your loved ones have been evacuated and communication is spotty, ask a relative or friend who lives in an unaffected area to serve as a point of contact between you and your family.
  • Confirm what you hear. Rumors spread quickly in disaster situations as people seek to fill the gaps in their knowledge. But rumors only lead to more confusion and unnecessary worry. Look for ways to verify what you hear before you leap to any conclusions.
  • Limit your exposure to news coverage about the natural disaster or other emergency. The images on television, newspapers, and online may be disturbing and give a very limited view of the situation. Be selective with the amount of time you spend being involved with the local and world news. When you are able to, speak with your family members by telephone or via email.
  • Keep feelings of guilt to a minimum. You may blame yourself for not being with your family now and during the crisis itself. Remind yourself that there is nothing you could have done to prevent what happened. As a service member, your primary mission at this time is to continue your deployment and continue staying safe as well.
  • Acknowledge your emotions. Many people find it helps to talk with others about their experience. Other people find that they need time to process what they are feeling by quietly and privately reflecting. Having mixed emotions is very normal under these circumstances. You may feel flooded with feelings and even overwhelmed for a few days or a few weeks until you have had time to adjust to the news.
  • Remember you are not alone. Simply talking about what happened can help you process and deal with your emotions. Contact your chaplain or a Military OneSource consultant or unit chaplain. Talking with others who are in the same situation helps you realize that you're not experiencing all of this alone. People can help one another by sharing their experiences and at times, even by just listening.

Research shows that when people are able to speak to an objective professional, they have an easier time readjusting and coping with their present circumstances. As a result of this extra support, people adjust more quickly to their "new normal" and are better equipped to handle the challenges that lie ahead.


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