Health & Safety Guidelines
Recovering from disaster is usually a gradual process. Safety is a primary issue, as are mental and physical well-being. If assistance is available, knowing how to access it makes the process faster and less stressful.
Your first concern after a disaster is your family’s health and safety. You need to consider possible safety issues and monitor family health and well-being.
Aiding the Injured
Administer first aid and seek medical attention for any injured person following a disaster.
- Check for injuries. Do not attempt to move seriously injured persons unless they are in immediate danger of death or further injury. If you must move an unconscious person, first stabilize the neck and back, then call for help immediately.
- If the victim is not breathing, carefully position the victim for artificial respiration, clear the airway and commence mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
- Maintain body temperature with blankets. Be sure the victim does not become overheated.
- Never try to feed liquids to an unconscious person.
- Be aware of exhaustion. Don’t try to do too much at once. Set priorities and pace yourself. Get enough rest.
- Drink plenty of clean water. Eat well.
- Wear sturdy work boots and gloves.
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and clean water often when working in debris.
Be aware of safety issues after a disaster.
- Be aware of new safety issues created by the disaster. Watch for washed out roads, contaminated buildings, contaminated water, gas leaks, broken glass, damaged electrical wiring and slippery floors.
- Inform local authorities about health and safety issues, including chemical spills, downed power lines, washed out roads, smoldering insulation and dead animals.
Carbon Monoxide Air Contaminant
- Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas that is a combustion product.
- Gasoline- and diesel-powered generators, pumps, and pressure washers all release CO. Operate these machines outdoors and never inside confined spaces.
- Physical damage to homes or buildings following a disaster such as a tornado or earthquake, may damage or compromise furnaces and hot water heaters.
- Inadequate venting or excessive or poorly-mixed combustion may result in a CO build up and creates significant risks to occupants.
- Signs and symptoms of CO poisoning may include: dull headache, weakness, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, shortness of breath, confusion, blurred vision, and loss of consciousness.
The use of alternative sources of fuel or electricity for heating or cooking can cause CO to build up in a home, garage, or camper and to poison the people and animals inside.
When power lines are down, energy to homes or other structures can be restored by using an alternate power source, such as a portable generator.
- Portable generators must be vented outside to prevent exposure to carbon monoxide and other petroleum hydrocarbon emissions.
- If water has been present near any electrical circuits and electrical equipment, turn off the power at the main breaker or fuse on the service panel.
- Do not turn power back on until electrical equipment has been inspected by a qualified electrician.
Safe Debris Removal
- Debris and downed trees can hide electrical lines, which carry a risk of electrocution.
- Falling tree limbs and improper use of chainsaws and wood chippers present additional risks.
- Proceed with caution around debris and use proper protective equipment when operating power tools like chainsaws.
- Watch your step on slippery and uneven surfaces.
- Large amounts of water such as in flooded areas, as well as excess humidity can contribute to microbial growth on building surfaces.
- If possible, wet or damp building materials and contents should be dried as soon as possible to prevent mold growth. Preferably, within 24-48 hours.
- If electrical power is not restored in 24-48 hours following a disaster, mold and bacterial contamination should be expected in areas where water impacts have occurred.
- Read the label and follow all manufacturer’s recommendations when using any chemical disinfectant for cleaning purposes to avoid significant respiratory and skin effects due to the caustic nature of chemicals used in cleaning
- While bleach is convenient as a cleaner and stain remover for hard, non-porous surfaces, it has distinct drawbacks when cleaning water-damaged materials.
- Many types of bleach are not EPA-registered as a disinfectant.
- Bleach’s effectiveness in killing bacteria and mold is significantly reduced when in contact with residual dirt often present after a disaster.
- If bleach water comes in contact with electrical components and other parts of mechanical systems, it can cause corrosion.
- Bleach water can also compromise the effectiveness of termite treatments in soil surrounding the building.
- If significant mold or other sewage contamination has occurred, it is recommended that business owners and homeowners seek professional guidance before attempting to clean large amounts of contaminated materials.
The CDC has guidelines for homeowners and renters for entry and cleanup.
The EPA has guidelines on how to address mold cleanup at Health and Safety Issues in Natural Disasters.
FEMA guidance on cleaning flooded buildings can be found at:
Biological Hazards and Infectious Organisms
- Floodwater and standing water often contain infectious organisms including gastrointestinal bacteria such as E. Coli, Salmonella, and Shigella; hepatitis A virus; and agents of typhoid, paratyphoid, and tetanus.
- Pools of standing water can become breeding grounds for mosquitoes, increasing the risk for encephalitis, West Nile virus, Zika virus, or other mosquito-born diseases.
- Wild or stray animals in disaster areas increases the risk of diseases caused by animal bites, such as rabies, as well as diseases carried by fleas and ticks.
- Avoid bacterial and viral exposures and keep children and pets out of standing water and contaminated materials.
- Hands should be cleaned regularly by either hand-washing with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Protect yourself and others from animal- and insect-related hazards by avoiding wild or stray animals.
- Use inspect repellent with DEET or picaridin, and wear long pants, socks, and long-sleeved shirts.
- Drain standing water in open containers to minimize mosquito breeding places.
- Livestock may no longer be confined after a disaster, and the pollution they generate may contaminate drinking water.
- Rats and mice can spread disease, contaminate food, and destroy property.
- Keep food and water (including pet food) in containers made of thick plastic, glass, or metal that have a tight-fitting lid to keep rodents out.
Additional information on health & safety resources following a disaster: