Accessing Help after Disasters
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When a disaster strikes, help is available to you and your family at the local, state and federal levels.
Right after the disaster occurs, don’t be surprised if you receive a busy signal when you dial 911. Phone lines will be jammed with callers, so use this number only if you require immediate police, fire or emergency medical (ambulance) assistance. It is not designed to handle calls regarding minor emergencies (cuts and scrapes), housing assistance, food, water, shelter and other post-disaster needs. Tying up 911 lines may prevent those with life-threatening emergencies from receiving prompt help, so be sure to use this number appropriately.
Listen to TV and radio reports to obtain specific information on disaster relief efforts in your area. Agency phone numbers, addresses and contacts will be broadcast regularly, featuring specific information on shelters, food, water, medical and other vital assistance. If you have no electricity, use the battery-operated radio supplied in your disaster kit to monitor broadcasts.
Your city’s mayor, town council and public safety agencies will coordinate with state officials, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Department of Homeland Security, and charities like the American Red Cross and Salvation Army to facilitate a prompt response. If residents are displaced from their homes or cannot receive basic services (water, food, power), the president may declare a "major disaster." At that point, FEMA will step in to assist you and your family with temporary housing, food vouchers, monetary assistance and even low-interest loans. Special programs are also available if you own a small business or farm. Use the telephone numbers and addresses provided by local media to seek assistance.
Even if you are not displaced from your home, make sure your family’s emotional needs are met. You may think everyone—including yourself—is coping well, but disasters are traumatic experiences. Family members are likely to experience a variety of symptoms, including anxiety, insomnia, loss of appetite, crying spells, mood swings, increased frustration and irritability, an inability to concentrate, headaches and stomachaches, disorientation or “disconnection” from others, fear of leaving home or being alone, sadness, depression and/or feelings of hopelessness. If children or adults are plagued by these symptoms, take advantage of counseling services provided by local government and hospitals. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness. The ability to recognize that you need crisis counseling is actually a sign of strength.