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After a Disaster

Get help after a disaster finding family and friends, temporary housing, emergency food, tips to let people know you are safe and steps to replace important vital documents. Also, learn what to do before and after returning to your damaged home and how to start cleaning up.

Find and Notify Family and Friends After a Disaster

Find your family and friends after a disaster in the U.S. or abroad, and let people know you are safe.

Find a Missing Person

If family members or friends are missing after a disaster, first, call your local law enforcement agency for help.

Register Yourself as Safe

If you are safe after a disaster, national emergency or overseas civil unrest and want to let people know your status or reunite with family: 

Find Shelter or Rental Housing After a Disaster

Find immediate shelter during and after a disaster or national emergency:

Learn more about short-term emergency shelters.

If you're looking for rental housings or apartments because you can't return home after a disaster, check with FEMA for short-term housing resources.

Emergency Food and Water After a Disaster

If you need emergency food and water after a disaster, find an open emergency shelter or listen to local radio or TV to locate other disaster feeding sites. You can also check with local agencies for food assistance.

Get Food Assistance After a Disaster With D-SNAP Benefits

If the president has declared your area as a disaster zone, you may be able to get short-term financial assistance for food under the D-SNAP program. If you’re in your home, follow guidelines for food safety after a power outage or flood.

Create Safe Drinking Water After an Emergency

If you need emergency water and can’t get bottled water, you can make safe drinking water by either boiling it or disinfecting it with bleach. Boiling water is the better choice because it kills more of the bacteria that can make you sick.

  • If the water is cloudy, let it settle and then filter it through a clean cloth or coffee filter.
  • Boil water for one minute. Let it cool before storing.
  • If you can’t boil it, add 8 drops (⅛ teaspoon) of 6% unscented household liquid bleach to a gallon of water. Stir it and let it sit for 30 minutes.
  • If you don’t have bleach, look in your medicine cabinet or first aid kit for iodine. Use five drops of 2% tincture of iodine for each quart of water. You can also use water purification tablets, found at pharmacies and sporting goods stores.
  • Store water in clean containers with covers.

Returning Home After a Disaster

Wait to return to your property until local officials have declared that the area is safe.

Before you enter, check for safety hazards like loose power lines, gas leaks, and structural damage. Learn what else to check around your home and yard after a disaster.

As clean-up begins, look for items requiring special disposal and get tips on how to safely clean up your home to prevent injury and illness.

Natural disasters can cause damage to records and heirloom treasures such as family papers, books, photographs, and other media. Find guidelines for saving family heirlooms and learn what to do with wet documents

How to Replace Your Lost or Destroyed Vital Records After a Disaster

Replacing all important documents that were lost or destroyed in a flood, fire, or other disaster can be overwhelming. Although the process varies from state to state, these general steps can help you get started.

1. Make Other Arrangements for Mail Delivery If Your Home Was Destroyed

Government agencies usually mail replacement vital documents to your home.

  • If you lost your home, contact your local post office. Ask if you can pick up your mail there or request to have your mail forwarded to a temporary location.

2. Replace Your U.S. Birth Certificate

Find the vital records office in the state where you were born. Check to see if you can get a certified copy of your birth certificate with no identification. If you can, follow the ordering instructions.

  • Some states accept alternate ways to verify your ID. You may have to contact your state to find out what it requires. For example:

    • A state may accept your sworn statement of identity.

    • Another state may accept a notarized letter from your mother or father whose name is on your birth certificate, along with a copy of their photo ID.

  • If you do need your own government-issued photo ID to get a copy of your birth certificate, start with step 3.

3. Replace Your Driver’s License

Get this first if you can’t get your birth certificate.

  • Check with your state for its procedures. In some states, you can order a replacement online without providing any ID.

4. Replace Your Green Card

If you are a lawful permanent resident of the U.S., apply for a replacement permanent resident card.

5. Replace Your Naturalization or Citizenship Documents

6. Replace Your Marriage Certificate

You’ll need a certified copy as proof if you changed your name when you got married.

7. Replace Your Social Security Card

8. Report Your Lost or Destroyed U.S. Passport and Apply for a Replacement

  • Report a lost or destroyed passport to the State Department immediately.

  • Fill out a form DS-11 to apply for a new passport.

  • Depending on when you’re traveling, bring it to either a passport acceptance facility or a passport agency or center.

    • Bring a certified copy of your birth certificate or naturalization papers and a government-issued photo ID.

9. Replace Other Important Documents

Infographic: Safety During a Long Power Outage

Use these tips to protect yourself and your family during a long power outage.

Tips to help you and your family stay safe during a long power outage.
  • Safety Tips During Power Restoration 

    While Power Lines are Down

    • Avoid power lines and wires that are sparking, even if you are in a vehicle.
    • If you see sparking wires, call 911.
    • Keep children away from electrical equipment and power lines.

    Generator Safety

    • Only use generators outside, more than 20 feet away from your home, doors, and windows.
    • Use a power inlet box and transfer switch to connect a generator to your home wiring.
    • Use extension cords to connect electrical devices directly to your generator.
    • Do not connect your generator directly to your home's wiring.
    • Do not plug your generator into a regular household outlet or socket.
    • If you see utility trucks in your neighborhood, turn off your generator to keep technicians safe while they work.

Emergency Help for Americans Abroad

If you’re a U.S. citizen abroad or a relative of an American citizen needing help abroad, contact the closest U.S. Embassy for assistance. You can also visit "Get Help in an Emergency" on the Department of State (DOS) website. 

Learn How the Department of State Can Help in an Emergency

Embassies can help with:

  • Natural disasters and foreign crises

  • Lost or stolen passports

  • Medical emergencies

  • Crime or arrest

  • Missing persons

  • Parental child abductions

  • Death abroad

 Learn more about the forms of assistance the Department of State (DOS) can and can't provide U.S. Citizens in a foreign crisis.

Find Help Getting Money in an Emergency Abroad

The Department of State can assist you in an emergency if you need money transferred or wired. If you have no other way to get money, you may be able to get a temporary loan through the DOS or a U.S. Embassy or consulate.

Note: If you get a loan through DOS or a U.S. Embassy or consulate, you must repay it. You can repay your loan online using Call 1-800-521-2116 from the U.S. or 843-746-0592 from abroad if you have any questions.

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Last Updated: September 10, 2019