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 Family and Friends After a Disaster

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

Let People Know You're 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:

  • Search for an open emergency shelter near you by texting SHELTER and your zip code to 4FEMA (43362), Example: SHELTER 01234. (Standard text message rates apply.)

  • Find open shelters using the FEMA Mobile App.

  • Search online for a safe place to go.

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 FEMA Interim 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 for other disaster feeding sites. You can also check with local agencies for food assistance.

Federal Food Assistance for People in Disaster Zones

If the president has declared your area as a disaster zone, you may be able to get D-SNAP—short-term financial assistance for food.

If you’re in your home, follow guidelines for food safety after a power outage or flood.

Food Safety After a Flood

  • Throw out any food and drink that may have been exposed to flood water. This includes foods in containers that are not waterproof, like those with screw-caps and pull tops, home-canned foods and cardboard boxes of juice, milk, and baby formula.

  • Clean and sanitize any undamaged, commercially-packaged, all-metal food cans and pouches, like those used for juice or tuna. That means:

    • Removing labels

    • Washing cans and pouches with soap and water, and rinsing with safe drinking water if available

    • Sanitizing by boiling cans and pouches for two minutes or soaking them for 15 minutes in a mixture of one cup household bleach to 5 gallons of water

    • Air-drying cans and pouches for at least one hour before opening or storing

    • Using them as soon as possible  

  • Wash, rinse, and sanitize pots and pans, dishes, and utensils either by boiling in water or soaking in a bleach/water solution.

  • Wash countertops and sanitize with a bleach/water solution that is allowed to air dry.

Food Safety During and After Power Outages

  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed. With doors closed, refrigerated foods will stay safe to eat for four hours. Frozen foods in a packed freezer will stay safe for 48 hours.

  • Try to buy dry or block ice to keep foods cold if the power will be out for days. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep a full, 18-cubic-foot freezer cold for two days.

  • You can eat or refreeze food that has remained at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below or still has ice crystals.

  • Many foods will spoil in a refrigerator that’s been without power for four hours. These include most meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, and deli items.

  • Follow these guidelines for refrigerated and frozen foods after a power outage.

Create Your Own Emergency Water Supply

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 what to do with wet documents. Learn how to get replacement copies of your vital documents after a disaster.

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 another 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

Tip: 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.

Tip: 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.

Tip: 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

Tip: 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 Permanent Resident (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

If you are a naturalized U.S. citizen, follow the steps to apply to replace your naturalization or citizenship papers.

Tip: If you don’t have a copy of your original documents to submit with your application, contact the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

6. Replace Your Marriage Certificate

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

Contact the vital records office in the state where you were married.

7. Replace Your Social Security Card

Tip: First, find out if you need a replacement card. Most of the time, you’ll just need to know your number and not show your card.

If you do need a card, follow the steps to replace your Social Security card.

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

9. Replace Other Important Documents

Gas Price Gouging

After a disaster, such as a hurricane or a tornado, gas stations may raise gas prices to levels that are very high, unreasonable, and unfair. This is called price gouging and it is illegal. If you believe that you are a victim of price gouging, contact your state attorney general.

Safety During a Long Power Outage

Tips to help you and your family stay safe 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 homes 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.

Share This Page:
Facebook Twitter Email

Do you need help?

Ask us any question about the U.S. government for free. We'll get you the answer or tell you where to find it.

Last Updated: June 3, 2019