After a crisis occurs, the physical and emotional damage can leave you feeling overwhelmed and adrift. However, it is in the aftermath of a disaster that your family needs you the most, to pull it together and try to restore some order in the midst of chaos. You might want to start with the heart of your home, providing the immediate basic needs of food and comfort for your family. Then you can methodically review the physical damage and assess the need for necessary repairs.
If you are dealing with this situation without the support of your military spouse due to a deployment or a call to support rescue operations, then it can be doubly discouraging. If you need counseling or support, do not hesitate to contact your installation's family service center or a Military OneSource consultant. Here are some suggestions to make the process easier:
Meeting basic family needs
- Return to familiar eating and sleeping schedules - Meals may be simple and rely more on canned goods than fresh produce, but keeping regular meal times creates familiar patterns that reassure children that things will return to normal. Put your children to bed at their normal time, using their regular nighttime routines (bath, story time, etc.) and then wake them up at their usual time. Children generally respond well to routine and structure, it helps to create an atmosphere of normalcy.
- Keep up appearances - Relax, think optimistically and try not to show your stress or frustration. Keep "grown up" conversations away from the children and behind closed doors (worries about costs of repairs, fear that life will not return to normal, etc.) Your children will mirror your responses. If you're calm, they will most likely be also. If you're tense and anxious, they will act out by crying, misbehaving or becoming hyperactive.
- Minimize children's exposure to television coverage - Too much coverage about the emergency can feed childhood anxiety about the disaster. Simply turn off the TV, or allow your child to watch their favorite cartoon or educational program for a little fun and distraction.
- Make time for fun - Try to include games or arts and craft-type activities with the kids. It may help you to gauge if children are stressed about the crisis, at the same time distracting them from the crisis at hand.
- Talk to your children - In a calm, sensible manner, explain to your child in kid-friendly and non-threatening terms what has occurred and then reassure them that they are safe and everything will return to normal soon.
- Beware of spoiled food - If you lost power for four hours or more, you will need to dispose of most of the food in your refrigerator. Items in the freezer may be saved if the food still contains ice crystals or is at 40⁰F or below. Of course, if you cannot be sure a food is safe, throw it out.
Assessing the damage
If you had to evacuate your home, be cautious as you enter your property for the first time. Check for downed power lines, damaged gas lines, foundation cracks, unstable tree limbs and even wildlife, such as snakes that may have been displaced. If you see any sign that your home may be unsafe, do not enter it. Stop and call a building contractor to evaluate the situation. The Red Cross guide, Checking for Structural Damage can help you safely return to your home and determine the severity of any damage.
Keep good records
Contact your insurance company to report damage and inquire how you should document any damage your home sustained.
- Take photographs or videos of damage - You will need these to support your insurance claims. Capture details by zooming in and out and taking photos from various angles.
- List all damaged or lost items - Estimate or provide receipts for their value. Keep damaged items, if possible, to show to the insurance adjuster.
- Keep receipts and documents - If you replace items or pay for repairs, or if your family must stay in a hotel, you will need receipts for your insurance records and possibly for your taxes. Organize all of your important documents and receipts and keep them safe.
Of course, the best way to make everything seem like it's back to normal is to repair any damage to your home. This may be difficult if your area suffered much damage because both demand for and costs to hire a contractor will probably be high. It's especially important to use common sense when hiring a contractor.
- Research certifications - Be sure your contractor is qualified, licensed and insured to work in your state. Visit the Contractor's License Reference Site to find your state's licensing board contact. Check subcontractors also.
- Check references - Call the contractor's references to discover their opinion of the quality of his/her work. Inquire about the homeowner's satisfaction with the cost, duration of the work and ability to communicate with the contractor.
- Use referrals - Find a contractor through acquaintances you trust. Neighbors, co-workers, friends, and even your insurance company may offer advice about contractors they've hired.
- Do your due diligence - Check your contractor against the Better Business Bureau's database of businesses. This enables you to see if there are complaints filed against a potential contractor.
- Read the contract - Be sure the contract lists all work to be done and the costs associated with that work. Include any oral agreements in the contract. Be sure you understand all of the terms in the contract before you sign.
- Stay engaged - Once you have hired a contractor, keep an eye on his or her workmanship. Does it meet your expectations? Is your contractor doing everything you both agreed to in the contract?
- Do not pay in cash - Pay with a check or credit card so you have proof that you paid. Agree upon a fair down payment (10-30 percent is common) and make the final payment when you are satisfied that the job is complete.
Prepare for a future emergency
Now that you have been through a disaster, consider what you wished you had done before the emergency to be better prepared. How can you use this experience to improve your next disaster situation?
- Insurance - Do you have enough? Are you happy with your current insurance company's response to your needs?
- Planning - What actions could you take before a disaster that would improve your reaction to the emergency? Consider preparation of your home for safety, organization of basic needs and establishing communication plans.
- Family input - What preparation worked for your family? Is there anything you might change to make the next time less stressful?
Getting back to normal may take a little time. Along the way, a good sense of humor, patience, and support from friends and organizations will make it all a little easier. Good preparation can make a huge difference for your family's next emergency situation. Utilize your family service centers to research emergency preparedness. Inquire about emergency preparedness workshops. And when you move, be sure to update your plans.