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This Page First Published January 2001; Edited August 2001; Annotated September 14, 2001

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The information contained in this article is geared toward helping victims of Natural and Man-made Disasters — flooding, earthquakes, hurricanes, Business Interruption, Service Outages, and the like — and places strong emphasis on dealing with smaller-scale property damage and shorter-term recovery than what will be required following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington DC.

Although much of the information in this article may apply in the long term, it is not intended to be an early-response guideline for victims of the terrorist attack on America.

Please send an email to if you have any comments or questions.

Coping with Disaster? Prevail Instead!

The first few weeks after you have suffered a sudden and catastrophic loss are the most critical. There are specific actions that you should take within the first 24 hours, 48 hours, week — then month and year — that will help you speed your recovery.

Use the following as a rough outline, and feel free to contact us by email at if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions.

1. Protect Yourself

As soon as possible after the disaster:

  • Contact the American Red Cross
  • Call your Family Physician or Health Department, especially if you were exposed to
    • Floodwater (which can contain raw sewage and chemicals)
    • Smoke
    • Other health hazards
  • Contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
  • Contact the Small Business Administration (SBA)
  • If you are a home renter or landlord, speak with and possibly hire an Attorney experienced in Tenant/Landlord Law
  • If you are a commercial property-based business owner, hire an Attorney experienced in Commercial Real Estate and Business Interruption
  • If you are a home-based business owner, hire an Attorney experienced with the needs of home-based businesses and Business Interruption
    • Special Note: The impact of disaster is effectively doubled when you both live and work in your home; be sure that everyone on your Recovery Team is knowlegeable and experienced
  • Hire a Public Insurance Adjuster
  • Hire an Accountant knowledgeable about Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Regulations regarding disasters
  • Contact Your Insurance Agent and/or Insurance Company
  • Begin requesting bids and estimates for cleanup and repairs

2. Line Up Help from Reliable Sources

Reach out to family and friends. Keep index cards or a log handy and jot down names and telephone numbers of those who offer to help. You may be overwhelmed in the first weeks and soon may find yourself wishing you had someone available to help you run an errand, or babysit, or wait for a delivery.

If the disaster you experienced was large-scale, you may find that your family, friends, and neighbors are overwhelmed too. Recognize the situation, and take a step toward others outside of your immediate area who may be able to pitch in.

In a situation where you have been affected by a disaster but others around you have not, you may find that although they may mean well, for many different reasons people might not be there when you need them. If this is the situation you find yourself in, be sure that you don't let frustration or disappointment add to your burden. Calmly anticipate this scenario, make backup plans (even for your backup plans), and be prepared to quickly and smoothly seek out alternative sources of help should the ones you have planned on fall through.

[Send an email to or visit our "How Can We Help You?" webform and we will work with you free of charge to identify organizations and volunteers in your area who are available to lend a hand.]
3. Protect Your Assets

Notify your personal and business creditors — in writing, and preferably by Certified Mail — that you have suffered a disaster. Many financial and lending institutions offer Hardship Programs that can help you get back on your feet, including insurance policies that will make your payments while you are recovering. Include photocopies of relevant news articles or other documentation if available. And be sure that you keep copies of all of your correspondence.

If your ability to work or obtain payment for your business services has been affected — even temporarily — stop using your credit and charge cards immediately. This may create an additional hardship for you in the short term, but in the long run you may be very glad you did.

Cash flow might be difficult in the months following the disaster, but be especially careful of "miracle" loan offers that in fact may be Predatory Loans granted against the value of your assets rather than your ability to repay the loan. Interest rates on these loans are exhorbitant and can end up making a difficult situation even worse.

4. Be Aware of What You're Feeling

Give yourself a chance to respond to and recover from the shock of living through a disaster. Be aware of how you behave when you're alone and when you're with others, and see if you notice any changes — subtle or otherwise — over time. Extended bouts of sleeplessness, a change in personality, persistent moodiness or irritability, changes in appetite or other unusual (for you) behaviors may signal that it's time for you to contact your family physician or other support professional.

5. Respect Your Losses and Deal With Them Appropriately

If your experience with disaster includes the loss of someone close to you such as a family member, friend, or pet, or your home or business, or anything that meant a great deal to you, you may want to reach out to a Crisis, Grief, or Bereavement Counselor. To find one, ask your family doctor, check the local telephone directory, call your local Chamber of Commerce, check the "Services Available" advertisements in your community newspaper, ask at your place of worship. Just keep searching until you have found a competent professional with whom you feel comfortable and who is appropriately trained to help you deal with the aftermath of a disaster.

Cope: To deal with and attempt to overcome problems and difficulties

Prevail: To ascend through strength or superiority: to triumph

Definitions Courtesy of Merriam-Webster

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