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After Disaster Strikes: How To Recover And What It Means For Your Home And Mortgage

Andrew Dehan7-minute read

January 06, 2023


If you’re expecting a large-scale disaster, there are steps you need to take afterward to recover and rebuild. These steps are important, but in the heat of the moment, they can be difficult to remember. Being prepared for a disaster will help you when the time comes.

Whether it’s a natural or man-made, the advice here applies to any big disaster.

Read on to learn what you need to do immediately and what to do for the long-term.

Things To Do Immediately

When a disaster is predicted or declared, it’s easy to go into a state of shock. You don’t suspect things like this can happen to you, and when they do, it can be unsettling. It feels unreal. There’s a disconnect from your day-to-day life and what’s happening beyond your control.

If you’ve previously developed a preparedness plan, you need to implement it. Now is the time for action. Here’s what you should focus on right away if a disaster has happened or is about to.

Account For All Loved Ones Affected By The Disaster

The first thing you should do after the disaster is account for loved ones. Focus on locating your family, friends and pets first and make decisions from there. If you have cell service, try calling your loved ones to determine their safety and/or let them know your status.

Call First Responders

For victims in dangerous situations, such as fires, crimes or storms, you should try to contact first responders ASAP. Store the phone numbers for fire, paramedics and police in your phone ahead of time. Local authorities need to be notified of what’s happening so they can come help you and others who may be affected.

Notify Family And Friends

It’s good to have a communication plan in place to notify your friends and family. Having a printed-out sheet with phone numbers can help you in case your cell phone loses service and you have a working landline. If you’re worried about tying up phone lines and still have internet access, a simple post on social media or a mass email to family can help keep phone lines free for first responders

If infrastructure is down and you don’t have a way to communicate, you need to go to a family/friends meeting place. Having a predetermined spot can help you reconnect if you get separated. Consider having one of these in your neighborhood, city, and outside your city in case the disaster is affecting a large area.

Find Emergency Shelter If Needed

Depending on the type of disaster, you may need to find emergency shelter. FEMA has a mobile app that will help you find open emergency shelter. Reach out to the American Red Cross, who responds to large-scale natural disasters. They also help those who’ve suffered from personal disasters, like house fires, find emergency shelter.

If you’re in a widespread disaster without your phone, you’re going to have to rely on your instincts. Especially in the case of earthquakes or large storms, structures may be unstable. Be on the lookout for first responders and aid workers who can direct you to a safe area.

Register For Disaster Relief

State and local governments play a big role in responding to disasters. If the government has declared the disaster an emergency, there will be a lot of relief coming to the area. This especially applies if it’s a large disaster and the federal government gets involved.

You can register for disaster relief at DisasterAssistance.gov. This will put you in touch with any available federal resources. Have your bank account information ready and available because agencies like FEMA will use it to transfer funds directly into your account.

Call Your Insurance Company And File A Claim

After you’ve found safety and everyone is accounted for, you need to speak with your home insurance company and file an insurance claim. It’s important that you do this ASAP because insurance claims are responded to on a first-come, first-served basis.

If there’s a widespread natural disaster, filing an insurance claim early will mean you get the money you need quicker. Remember that insurance claims can be filed at any time of the day or night with your insurance company.

Take Pictures

If you know a storm or fire or other sort of disaster is coming, take detailed pictures of your property before it happens. This way you can document the effects of the disaster on your property. This will help when seeking reimbursement from your insurance company.

Likewise, if you or your property has been affected by a crime, you should take pictures. Any damage done to your home or injuries you’ve sustained due to the crime will help you with your insurance company and if you need to appear in court.

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Things To Do In The Medium Term

Recovery occurs in stages. After the initial shock wears off and you’ve done the work to secure safety and aid, you can focus on the next steps.

Take Stock

Take steps to document what was lost or damaged during the disaster. Be thorough and make sure your next steps help you rebuild your life, not cause you more headaches.

Oversee Repairs

As your insurance company cuts you checks, you can start overseeing repairs to your home. Look on the internet and speak with your neighbors and family to find reputable, qualified contractors in your area.

If only a portion of your home is damaged, you should still consider renovating the entire home if possible. This will ensure that the redesign is better incorporated into your home and you can use this as an opportunity to refresh your home. Keep in mind that insurance will typically only cover the damaged areas of the home, though, so additional renovations and updates would likely come at your own cost.

Change Locks

Even if the disaster was not crime-related, changing and upgrading your locks and home security is a good idea. When natural disasters occur, people can be desperate. Changing your locks and updating your home security can help give you and your family a sense of calm after a disastrous event.

Talk To Your Mortgage Lender

Disasters don’t disrupt just your home; they can disrupt your work life, too. If your money has been interfered with because of a disaster and you’re unable to pay your mortgage, you should speak to your lender right away.

By talking with your lender, you can get in front of the issue and may be able to get some help. With them, you can devise a plan to avoid foreclosure after a disaster.

Find Temporary Housing

Whether it’s looking for a furnished apartment or moving in with family or friends, you’re going to need to find temporary housing. Good news is that your homeowners insurance might pay to temporary housing.

If you filed a claim already (see above), you should ask them about whether they will cover temporary housing. Save any receipts due to the disaster and see if your insurance company with reimburse you.

The same government agencies and nonprofits that help with emergency shelter, like FEMA and the Red Cross, may offer programs to connect you with temporary housing. Contact these agencies to explore more options.

Find Disaster-Related Help Where You Live

Even if a disaster doesn’t rise to a federal major disaster declaration, state and local agencies, organizations and nonprofits can offer assistance. There are state level and nonprofit emergency management resources through the Red Cross and other resources you can find on the FEMA app or website.

Find Resources Available Through Major Disaster Declaration

Federal disaster declarations make long-term financial assistance available to those who have suffered financial loss. This assistance helps with buying food, paying bills, qualifying for unemployment benefits, getting tax relief and more. It can even help you get a low-interest loan to rebuild.

Things To Do In The Long Term

Surviving a disaster isn’t just about getting your financial affairs in order. It can have long term physical and emotional ramifications. Focus on these things to rebuild your health and recover from the trauma of the experience.

Reestablish Routines

Reestablishing old routines or developing new ones is crucial to building a sense of security after something difficult has happened. It helps you feel a piece of normalcy. Simple things like sitting on the porch after dinner or reveling in your morning cup of coffee can be disrupted by disasters. Make it a point to get back to these little routines or make new ones.

Seek Professional Counseling

Chances are you could benefit from talking to a professional about what happened. The American Psychiatric Association has identified common reactions to the trauma of a disaster in both adults and children.

Survivors who are experiencing high levels of stress, anxiety or loss of being able to enjoy their lives may need the help of a mental health professional.


Talk About It With Other Survivors

Look up local support groups to meet and talk with other survivors of similar situations. You may pick up on few ways to deal with the disaster. By opening up about your experience, you may feel a sense of closure. This also may help you make connections with new people and broaden your understanding of yourself and the disaster.

Get Involved In The Community

Establishing a community of survivors can be helpful with alleviating the trauma caused by the disaster. Coming together as a group around a central purpose or goal can help you rebuild your community. For example, communities around the Jersey Shore that were destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 rallied together to help rebuild their beloved boardwalk.

Monitor Your Children’s Recovery

Children are affected by the uncertainty and danger of disaster just as much, if not more than, adults. They don’t have the sense of control or power that adults have, even if adults feel helpless. It’s important for adults to monitor the teens and children around them for unusual behavior.

Parents should communicate with their children’s school about new or negative behaviors that have surfaced since the event. Children and teens may also benefit from trauma counseling or group therapy if those are options.

Speak To An Attorney

Depending on the cause of the disaster, there might be grounds for a lawsuit for the damages. For natural disasters, this may not be an option, but if it’s something where a company or an individual is responsible, speak with an attorney to determine if it is, and how much you could recover.

The Bottom Line: Even If You Can Restore Your Home Quickly, Restoring Your Sense Of Security May Take A Little Longer

Focus on taking care of your family, filing your claim and finding shelter. Once you’ve met your basic needs, seek further assistance. But know that the work isn’t over even if you’ve repaired the damage to your home. The aftermath of a disaster can have long-term effects on your physical and mental health that shouldn’t be ignored.

Do what you can to prepare for a disaster. One of the most unsettling aspects of many disasters is they are unexpected. Even if you have a small amount of mental preparation, you can know where to focus your efforts.

If you’re looking to relocate or are looking for a new home, we’re here to help.

Consolidate debt with a cash-out refinance.

Your home equity could help you save money.

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Andrew Dehan

Andrew Dehan is a professional writer who writes about real estate and homeownership. He is also a published poet, musician and nature-lover. He lives in metro Detroit with his wife, daughter and dogs.