After such recent disasters as Hurricane Sandy and the Oklahoma tornadoes, preparing for a natural disaster is a smart move. It is important to think about not only what to do during the disaster, but what to do before and after. Some of those decisions you make before and after can save you from going under after the event. There are many organizations to assist you in each step of the process. These steps a relief and recovery/rebuild. Relief is what someone needs immediately after the disaster strikes, such as medical attention, temporary food/water, and shelter. Recovery and rebuild are the steps needed to get back to normal life. This phase involves a transition to permanent housing and re-established livelihoods.

Major Disaster can be a result of hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, tornados or major fires. In order to prepare for a potential disaster, it is important to make sure you have adequate home or rental insurance that will cover damages and losses. It is also important to make sure you have safety procedures in place for when a life-threatening event occurs. This plan could include what rooms to go to for different storms and putting together food, water, and flashlights in a safe place.

So what happens after the storm hits? Here is the general process given to us by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), an agency in theU.S Department of Homeland Security that deals with natural disaster aftermath:

The initial first response to a disaster is the responsibility of the local government’s emergency services with help from nearby towns, the state, and volunteer agencies. In a catastrophic disaster, if the governor of a state requests, federal resources can be organized through FEMA for search and rescue, power, food, water, shelter and other basic needs. The President is the one who decides if federal aid is needed. The event must be clearly more than state or local governments can handle alone. This funding comes from the President’s Disaster Relief Fund, managed by FEMA and disaster aid programs of other federal agencies.

The president can declare two things:

  • Presidential Major Disaster Declaration puts into motion long-term federal recovery programs, designed to help disaster victims, businesses and public entities.
  • An Emergency Declaration is more limited and without the long-term federal recovery programs of a Major Disaster Declaration. Generally, it is meant to meet a specific emergency need or to help prevent a major disaster from occurring.

There are 3 categories of disaster aid programs:

  • Individual Assistance – Individuals can receive assistance with temporary housing and housing repairs and replacements of damaged items to make homes livable. These federal program funds cannot duplicate assistance provided by insurance. Individual disaster grants can also provide replacement of personal property, and transportation, medical, dental and funeral expenses. Other services include crisis counseling, disaster-related unemployment assistance, legal aid and assistance with income tax, Social Security, and Veteran’s benefits.
  • Public Assistance is aid to state or local governments to pay part of the costs of rebuilding a community’s damaged infrastructure. This may include debris removal, emergency protective measures and public services, repair of damaged public property, loans needed by communities for essential government functions, and grants for public schools.
  • Hazard Mitigation – Disaster victims and public entities are encouraged to avoid the life and property risks of future disasters. Examples include the elevation or relocation of chronically flood-damaged homes away from flood hazard areas, retrofitting buildings to make them resistant to earthquakes or strong winds, and adoption and enforcement of adequate codes and standards by local, state and federal government. FEMA helps fund damage mitigation measures when repairing disaster-damaged structures and through the Hazard Mitigation.

When disaster strikes, people want to help. Unfortunately, it’s not always clear which nonprofits can respond most effectively, or even if some organizations asking for donations are legitimate. Here are some tips on how to give wisely:

  • Determine what kind of programs you want to support. “Disaster relief and recovery” has many aspects—emergency housing, clean water, medical assistance, feeding the hungry, sending in search and rescue teams, long-term rebuilding, and more. Decide which ones you want to give to.
  • Do a little research. Use a trustworthy source, such as GuideStar and GivingPoint, to identify charities doing the work you want to support. All of the charities listed on these sites are legitimate organizations recognized by the IRS. People often post bogus Web sites and run scam donation campaigns immediately after a disaster. Avoid new Web sites and links provided in e-mails. And don’t text your donation unless you’re very sure that you’re texting a legitimate organization.
  • Ask questions. Does the charity have experience working in disaster relief and in particular in the area or country where the disaster has occurred? What do people who have firsthand experience with the charity say about it in the reviews?

Remember that relief organizations can’t wait until donations start coming in to respond to a disaster—they have to get to the scene as quickly as possible. By giving to a general relief fund, such as the Red Cross, you give the organization the ability to use your donation where and when it is most needed.

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