- Cover your nose and mouth. The big danger with most toxic substances is inhaling them. Even thin fabrics - a handkerchief, scarf, or shirt - will reduce your chance of inhaling radioactive particles, many chemical and biological agents, and the choking dust that ordinary bombs produce.
- Move away at an angle. If you're downwind of the attack, something dangerous may be drifting toward you. Since you can't outrun the wind, the way to get out of its path is to go sideways to the direction that it's blowing. Going around a corner will also put a building between you and the source of danger.
- Get inside. Find an intact, sturdy building and go in it. Modern buildings are fairly airtight and will keep out most toxic substances for some time.
- Strip and shower. If you actually were exposed to something toxic, most of it will have settled on your outer layer of clothing. Carefully take your outer garments off (ideally, shower with your clothes on first so they're safer to handle) and put them where no one will touch them (ideally, sealed in a plastic bag). Then shower or have someone hose you down, thoroughly but gently, to get the residue off your skin. EXCEPTION: A few toxic chemicals react dangerously with water; if anything strange happens, stop showering immediately.
- Close up. Closing doors and windows - and turning off air conditioners - will make most modern buildings reasonably airtight. That will keep most toxic substances from drifting in. If the windows are broken (say, by an explosion) or your part of the building is otherwise leaky, find an intact room to shelter in.
- Move away from windows. Just in case there's a second explosion, or a release of highly penetrating (gamma) radiation, you want to be behind a nice, solid wall.
- Stay put and watch TV. Keep an eye out for official announcements over television and radio. Unless there is something obviously wrong with the building you're in (e.g., it's right next to where a toxic cloud is being released, or the windows are all blown out, or it's burning down), it's probably safer to stay put than to go outside. Wait for someone in authority to tell you when, how, and where to evacuate.
If you're inside and the problem is inside...
- Get out. Because modern buildings are fairly airtight, a dangerous substance released inside one will stay dangerously concentrated. If people inside your building (or subway station) are choking and collapsing, or if the building is on fire, it's time to leave and head for another, safer shelter.
Insurance requirements after a disaster
Protect yourself and others:
- Wait for an all-clear announcement before leaving your home or shelter.
- Check people around you for injuries. Begin first-aid and seek help if necessary.
- Watch out for downed utility lines.
- Restrict telephone use to emergency calls.
- Avoid collapsed or deteriorated bridges.
- Check your water heater and appliances for damage. Do your checking with a flashlight, not matches or candles. If you smell gas, open windows and turn off the main valve. Don't turn on lights and appliances until the gas has dissipated and the system has been checked. If electric wires are shorting out, turn off the power.
- Use your emergency water or boil tap water before drinking until you are told the water supply is safe.
- Food that came in contact with flood waters may be contaminated and should be discarded.
- Check refrigerated food for spoilage. Make a list of spoiled or contaminated food and save the list for your claim representative. Damaged food may be covered by your insurance policy.
- Debris in the streets, downed power lines and flooding may make driving hazardous. If flooding is a potential hazard, stay away from rivers and streams.
Protect your home and personal property:
- Look for damage, including roof damage, that could allow rain into the house. (Don't climb onto the roof.)
- If your power is out, unplug all small and sensitive items to prevent electrical spike damage. (This includes TV, VCR, computers, etc.)
- Take reasonable steps to prevent further damage. This may include temporary roof repair, window glass replacement, boarding up holes with plywood and covering leaks with plastic sheeting.
- Remove water from saturated floors and carpet.
- Separate items that may be cleaned and/or repaired.
- Dry and clean wet furniture and clothing as soon as possible. Save your receipts; the costs for these emergency steps are possibly covered under your insurance policy.
- Check with your claim representative before you dispose of any items you plan to claim as damaged.
- Document the time you spent cleaning up, what you did and the number of hours.
- Make a list of all damaged items, include quantity, description and age.
Protect your car from further damage:
- If your car was under water, do not try to start it. Take extra steps to remove the water and speed up the drying process.
- Cover windows, holes, etc. to prevent more water from coming in.
- Find your vehicle and registration, you'll need it to file your insurance claim.
- If you need to have your vehicle towed, or get temporary repairs, save all receipts.
If your home is damaged so severely you can't live in it:
- Payment for expenses that are beyond your normal living expenses may be available.
- Find temporary housing for your family. (There is no coverage under most flood policies for this expense).
- We suggest that you not enter into any long-term leases until you talk to your insurance company claim representative.
- Keep all receipts associated with the temporary housing, meals and other miscellaneous expenses.
What is a disaster?
The United Nations defines a disaster as: "A serious disruption of the functioning of a community or a society causing widespread human, material, economic or environmental losses which exceed the ability of the affected community or society to cope using its own resources." (from the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction)
A disaster is defined and 'declared' when local resources are overwhelmed; when more resources are required than those immediately available. A disaster simply defines the point of escalation where outside help is required: 9/11 was a disaster for the city of New York within minutes of occurrence. As moving resources to overwhelmed areas is a management problem, the term disaster management has come into use to describe larger scale processes of disaster relief and disaster recovery as opposed to emergency management of the more routine sort. Some disasters, such as a pandemic, may preclude any help arriving "from outside", as there may "be no outside" since many areas are affected at once. For this and other reasons, resilience rather than after-the-fact relief has become the primary goal of many agencies.