What to do after a natural disaster

Natural disasters are unexpected and distressing, and it’s hard to keep a level head if you’ve just experienced one. But your actions immediately following a natural disaster can be extremely important in keeping you and your family safe, and minimising any further damage to your property.

By knowing what to do and who to contact, you’ll be in a much better position to solve the problems that a disaster might cause. Here are some practical tips to follow if you are involved in a natural disaster.

Safety first

The safety of you and your family is paramount.

Ensure that nobody is injured, and administer first aid if it’s required. If necessary, evacuate with your emergency survival kit.

Don’t go back into any area that seems dangerous.

Stay tuned to your local radio stations, which will be your best source of information about the situation and how you should respond to it.

Try to limit your phone use to keep the lines free for emergency calls. Voice calls use a lot of bandwidth, so if you need to get in touch with other family members urgently, text messages are a much better option and are more likely to get through if the lines are overloaded.

What to do next

In emergencies where power, water or gas lines are cut, turn off the utilities only if it’s safe to do so. This will prevent the risk of electric shock, fire, explosion or additional water damage. If possible, extinguish any small fires.

If you notice damaged infrastructure, like fallen power lines, report it to the local authorities.

Check on your pets and make sure they’re safe and under control. Scared and disoriented animals can sometimes act unpredictably and could be a danger to other animals and people.

If your electricity is off for an extended period, make sure you observe strict food safety rules. Discard anything that might be spoiled or has come in contact with floodwaters. You may need to boil your drinking water.

Follow all the instructions from the police, army or Civil Defence.

After an earthquake

Be prepared for aftershocks. Try to get to a safe, open area. In commercial buildings, avoid using the elevators.

After a flood

Don’t return to your property until you’re advised that it’s safe to do so. Avoid using the tap water until your local authorities confirm that it’s not contaminated.

After a volcanic eruption

Stay inside to avoid volcanic ash. When it’s safe, try to clear as much as you can from your roof to prevent it from collapsing under the weight. Wear a mask and eye protection and wet the ash down with a fine-misting hose before you try to clean it up.

What to do if your property is damaged

It’s likely that your property and personal possessions will be damaged in a natural disaster. Especially in an earthquake or flood, the damage can be extensive and expensive to repair. If you have home and contents insurance, then you are covered for the cost of repairing that damage, firstly through the Earthquake Commission component of your insurance policy, and secondly through your insurance company if your claim exceeds the EQC maximum claim amount.

When you make a claim, your insurer will require photographic evidence of any damage. So, as soon as it is safe, and before you clean up or throw anything away, photograph everything that has been affected by the disaster. It’s a good idea to make a detailed list of the damage at the same time. The EQC has a handy list of tips to help you take the best possible photos.


Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash