Hurricanes uproot trees — and households, too. Floods soak homes and homeowners’ bank accounts. And it’s people who feel burned when their home and belongings go up in smoke. When tragedy hits home, people suddenly find themselves seeking shelter and the need to create an instant home.
Immediately after disaster strikes, it can be challenging to meet the basic needs of life, let alone begin to recreate a home-like environment,” says Darryl Madden, director of the “Ready” program, affiliated with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in Washington, D.C. “Every disaster is local, but each circumstance affects individuals differently,“ he says.“There are systems in place designed to serve people and provide immediate assistance.“
Madden heads the Ready.gov website, which encourages people to have a preparedness plan in place before the unthinkable happens.“Houses can be replaced, but people cannot,” he says.“We want to make it easier for citizens to take steps toward becoming prepared to minimize damage and save lives after a catastrophic event.”
The first step in preparedness is to have a communications plan among family members, Madden says. In the event of a family’s separation, predetermining a common check-in point away from the disaster before it strikes — such as everyone calling a family member 200 miles away — is a way to stay in touch.
Local phone lines were decimated the afternoon a catastrophic EF5 multiple-vortex tornado tore through Joplin, Mo., on Sunday, May 22, 2011. The weather was turning ominous when Joplin High School teachers Steve and Debbie Leatherman returned to their 5-year-old home after the local graduation ceremony.
“I had just put my truck away and was looking at the sky to see how fast the clouds were racing by when I heard that telltale tornado sound of a train coming,” Steve says. “Debbie and I ran to the storm room in our basement and had barely shut the door when the tornado hit.”
More than 150 people were killed as a result of that tragic event, and Steve credits having the storm room for saving their lives.“Our house was declared a total loss, as we were directly hit by the tornado. When we were in the storm room, we could feel the tornado wanting to lift us up, too,” he says.“To say it was disorienting emerging from that room after the storm is an understatement. There were some intense moments and only by the grace of God did we survive.”
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and the time to prepare for an emergency is before it happens, says Mondale Smith, a loss control manager with American Family Insurance, based in Madison, Wis.
“When a tragedy hits home, you have to get used to a new paradigm,” he says.“Even though nothing can completely prepare you for a tragedy, there are things you can do beforehand to make rebuilding a life easier.“
But, rebuilding a home and a life takes time even if families have insurance. Filling the basic necessities of life — food, clothing, shelter and prescriptions — provide a sense of normalcy after a traumatic event.“After a tragedy, people can become paralyzed as they start to rebuild their lives,” Smith says.“The task can seem overwhelming.”