Natural disasters do not occur more frequently than they did 100 years ago, but the number of people affected by them is increasing. Population growth and development of open space means these disasters can cause more damage. These pages provide basic information about disaster preparedness and cleanup tips to help reduce the risk of illness that disaster conditions can bring. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross are excellent resources to help in disaster situations. Locally, the Summit County Emergency Management Agency provides information and resources to help handle emergencies.
Following are recommendations for making basic preparations and plans:
Be Ready, Stay Ready
- Assemble disaster supply kits for your home and car (include nonperishable food, bottled water, first aid items, flashlights, batteries, battery powered radio and/or television, blankets etc.). Remember to replace food and water on a regular basis.
- Learn and teach others how to turn off the electricity, gas, and water.
- Update insurance policies to ensure adequate property coverage.
- Know how fire extinguishers work (check fire extinguishers and replace batteries in flashlights twice a year).
- Make a list of any special needs for elderly or disabled persons, children or pets.
- Develop a habit of keeping a full tank of gas in your car.
- Put supplies needed for cleanup in a safe place.
- Safeguard copies of important documents in sturdy waterproof containers.
- Create a family disaster plan and practice it regularly.
Learn About Local Programs and Individual Steps for Preparation
- Know about community response programs
- Have a list of organizations that can be contacted for emergency assistance and keep it with disaster supplies
More information can be found on the
MORE INFORMATION • FORMS and RESOURCES • LINKS
Disaster Supply Kit | Clean Up After a Disaster | Sanitation | Safe Water | Safe Food
|Disaster Supply Kit
It is recommended that each home and car contain a disaster supply kit. The home kit should be stored in a convenient location known to all family members. Food, water, and other time sensitive items should be replaced twice a year (time change dates in spring and fall are recommended). The kits should contain the following items:
• One gallon per person per day is recommended with a minimum of three days' supply.
• Store in clean, sanitized containers with screw-on caps. Sanitize containers using one teaspoon of unscented household bleach in one gallon of water. Pour this solution into containers; let stand 2 minutes, drain, then fill with tap water.
• Label containers and store in a cool, dark place. Replace water every 6 months.
• Store a three-day supply of food that does not need mixing or cooking with water.
• The following foods are recommended: ready to eat meats, fruits, vegetables, canned juices, canned milk, peanut butter, jelly, granola bars, trail mix, infant foods. Other items may include salt, pepper, sugar, vitamins, cookies, candy, cereal, coffee, tea.
• Don’t forget to include food and water for family pets.
First Aid Kit
• If purchasing a kit, select one approved by the American Red Cross.
• If assembling a kit at home, the following items should be included: sterile bandages and gauze pads in assorted sizes, adhesive tape, triangular and roller bandages, scissors, tweezers, needles, safety pins, antibacterial towelettes, thermometer, tongue depressors, sunscreen, petroleum jelly or lubricant, soap, hand sanitizer, latex gloves, pain reliever, antacid, anti-diarrhea medication.
Tools and Supplies
The following items should be placed in your emergency supply kit:
Pencils or pens, paper
Plastic cups and utensils
Battery operated radio/TV
Plastic/ paper plates
Bleach for disinfecting
(Replace bleach every 6 months)
Plastic garbage bags
Cash, check or traveler’s check
(in watertight container)
Plastic storage containers
Portable potty or plastic bucket with lid
Shut-off wrench for utilities
Matches (in watertight container)
Personal hygiene products
• Your supply kit should contain at least one change of clothes for each family member.
• Include blankets or sleeping bags
• You may wish to include, rain gear, sunglasses, work boots, hats and work gloves.
• Don’t forget special need items such as diapers, medication, glasses, baby food or baby formula, games or a few toys for children.
Evaluate Home Safety After a Disaster
- After confirming that dangerous weather has subsided, approach homes with caution.
- Check foundations for cracks or other damage. If there is obvious damage or doubts about safety, contact a building inspector or contractor to check the house.
- Call utility companies to report down wires or gas leaks. Contact utilities if there is standing water in the basement.
- Upon returning to home after a flood, electricity should be restored by your local utility company.
- Smoking, using candles or lanterns should be prohibited until it is determined that there are no gas leaks.
- Check the water system for leaks or damaged pipes. Do not drink from a damaged water system. “When in doubt, purify it first”.
Keep Good Records
- Keep receipts for cleanup expenses, materials, labor, equipment rentals, and motel bills for insurance records.
- Compile a list of the damage to your home (include pictures and videotapes for supporting evidence).
Restore Utilities With Professional Help
- Gas and electrical systems should be repaired and restored by certified/licensed professionals.
- Sewage and water problems should be reported to local water officials to determine the point of origin.
Test Plumbing Drains Before Use
- Plumbing problems may not always be evident after a natural disaster. We recommend you test drains prior to use. Test drains of plumbing fixtures, water closets, and basement drains by pouring a bucket of water into the drain. If they are clear of obstructions, the water will drain freely.
- In most cases of stoppage, it is necessary to call a qualified plumber for service or advice. Improper use of tools or incorrect tools can result in breakage of fixtures. To check valves and other backflow preventers requires the services of a qualified plumber.
- Always check with your local building department to see if a permit is required for any necessary repairs and to ensure your plumber is licensed.
- If you have the tools and the ability, you may be able to perform some cleanup of your plumbing.
- Remove clean out plug for access to plumbing lines and clean out all obstructions.
- Remove accessible traps and clean out all mud and debris.
- A plumber’s snake can be used in stopped up drains and a closet auger in stopped up water closets.
- CAUTION: IMPROPER USAGE MAY RESULT IN BREAKAGE OF FIXTURES.
- Check the sump pump. It must be thoroughly dried and will need to be checked by a qualified electrician for proper operation and safety.
- If you are on a public or semi-public water system, follow the directions for usage of water, which will be put out by local authorities.
- If you are on a private water system, follow the directions on the Fact Sheet for Disinfection of Flooded Private Water Systems.
- Make sure you contact your local health department to sample and approve your water supply before resuming use.
Take special care during cleanup to disinfect everything that has come in contact with floodwaters. Use EPA registered disinfectants during cleanup.
We recommend the following procedures be carried out before you formally occupy your home after a natural disaster:
- Turn off main power switches.
- Unplug all appliances.
- Carefully check electric wiring and outlet plugs.
- Dry off all appliances which have been flooded.
- Check your fuel oil or gas system out thoroughly before use of any of these appliances.
- If you have L.P., propane, or fuel oil tanks on your property, make sure these are properly secured.
- Check all lines for breaks or leaks (DO NOT USE A FLAME).
- Check all pilots and burners for any obstructions and proper operation.
If you have questions or are uncertain of the operation of any of these items, contact a repairman. Check pilot lights for a few days to ensure they are continuing to operate.
Scrub your entire home, clothing, furniture, drapes and anything that has been exposed to the floodwater or elements. Use the community water source. This water is heavily chlorinated for this purpose. Use COLD water and soap. Boiling will destroy the chlorine. Soap in any form may be added to the cold water.
Floors and all contact surfaces should be disinfected. A 10% bleach solution should be used. To make a 10% bleach solution, add 1 ½ cups of household bleach to 1 gallon of water.
Carpets and rugs must be removed. After flooding, you will find silt on the floor and in carpet padding. In most cases, the padding must be discarded. Before removing your carpet or rug, scrub with a soap solution. It is very difficult to clean a carpet once it is removed. Finally, consult with a reputable carpet cleaner.
PLEASE NOTE: IF YOU DO NOT REMOVE YOUR CARPETS OR RUGS, YOUR HOUSE WILL NOT BE CLEAN.
We suggest curtains and draperies be taken to a dry cleaner for professional cleaning.
Scrub all usable furniture thoroughly. Use the community tap water, which contains chlorine; finally scrub with soap and water.
Pump basement dry and clean out debris. In case of floods, wait until the floodwaters have receded below the basement level. Prohibit children from entering the basement while it still contains water.
Open all windows for drying and ventilation. Use electric fans to speed drying process.
There are four sources of financial assistance:
- Insurance agencies
- Government disaster programs
- Voluntary organizations
Beware of “special deals” from repair contractors. Contact local builders’ associations for advice on reconstruction or to obtain a list of local contractors. Check licenses, insurance and references for any contractor you hire and obtain written estimates and a written contract (make sure any and all guarantees are in writing).
In times of flooding and tornado damage, water flush toilets and sewage systems may be damaged, destroyed or temporarily interrupted. Accumulation of human waste and garbage can cause serious problems with insects and rodents. The following procedures will allow you to control waste material and prevent problems.
Temporary Waste Handling
• Follow instructions from local authorities and if possible, learn the location of the nearest disposal facility.
• Use a metal or heavy-plastic garbage can that is lined with a heavy-duty plastic bag. A toilet seat can be made with a seat from an old chair by cutting a hole in it or use a commercial toilet seat. A portable camping toilet can also be used. If using a bucket, remember to empty it after each use into a larger, garbage bag lined garbage can with lid.
• The plastic garbage bags lining the garbage can may be removed, tied or secured and stored until collection.
• The garbage can should be fitted with a tight fitting lid when not in use.
• Once it is safe to go outside or floodwaters recede, human wastes can be buried under 12-24 inches of dirt. Pits can be dug for privies. These pits should be 4-5 feet deep and should NOT be dug within 50 feet of a well, spring, or other water supply.
• Using lime, household bleach or other deodorizing substance in emergency toilets will help control odor and insects.
• Strain away liquids.
• After straining, wrap garbage in several layers of newspapers. Store in a large garbage can with a tight fitting lid.
If your water supply becomes flooded, or if a power failure that will take a long time to repair occurs, you will have to develop an emergency water supply.
If you know in advance that you will not have water, collect water in as many clean containers as you have. You can even use the bathtub. However, this water should be purified according to one of approved methods of water purification.
To disinfect your water supply, go to Procedures for Disinfecting Drinking Water
If your well has been flooded, go to Fact Sheet for Disinfection of Flooded Private Water Systems
If total coliform bacteria persists in your well water samples, go to Superchlorination Disinfection Fact Sheet
If your cistern or hauled water storage tank has been flooded, go to Procedures for Cleaning Cisterns and Hauled Water Storage Tanks.
If you still have pressure in your water supply system, use this water to flush toilets rather than your safe drinking water. If you do not have any pressure, do not use your safe drinking water to flush toilets. See Sanitation After a Disaster for proper disposal of human wastes.
Milk in any type of container must be discarded, EXCEPT milk in SEALED CANS. Before using canned milk, write the contents on the lid with a waterproof marker, remove the label, wash the cans thoroughly in hot, soapy water, rinse, then submerge in a chlorine solution* for five minutes.
- Check all canned goods thoroughly and discard all bulging, dented, or leaking cans. Do not take a chance on dented cans even if the dent is small and the can does not appear to be leaking; a germ can get into a hole too small for liquids to leak out. WHEN IN DOUBT – THROW IT OUT!
- Discard all food items that are not in solid, sealed cans such as items with caps on them (for example, soft drinks, ketchup, mustard etc.).
- Check closely all home canned goods and discard all with bulging tops or ones that are leaking.
- Before using any food items in solid, sealed cans, write the contents on the lid with a water proof marker, remove all paper labeling, wash the cans in hot, soapy water, rinse, then submerge them in a chlorine solution* for five minutes
*CHLORINE SOLUTION: Use liquid unscented laundry bleach with sodium hypochlorite of 5.25% (look for the percentage on the label). Use ¾ cup of bleach in 1 gallon of cold water (not hot, chlorine will be destroyed). Mix the solution thoroughly.
- If the home freezer has been covered with floodwaters, the food within has probably been damaged by seepage. The foods should be discarded.
- If the electricity has been cut off and no floodwater has entered the freezer, the amount of food in the box will determine keeping qualities. A fairly full box will come through a 2-3 day period without much loss of quality and flavor. KEEP THE FREEZER LID CLOSED DURING POWER LOSS. If you have a thermometer in your freezer and the temperature is above 41 degrees after the power has been out for an extended period, items in the freezer should be discarded.
- Partially thawed meat can be refrozen without much loss in quality. Completely thawed meat can be cooked and refrozen. If freezer temperature has gone above 41 degrees for an extended period of time, food should be discarded. WHEN IN DOUBT, THROW IT OUT!
- FISH, SHELLFISH (clams, oysters, etc.), and FROZEN COOKED GOODS SHOULD BE DISCARDED.
- The flavor and texture of vegetables and fruits are impaired upon thawing and refreezing; you may as well discard these items.
- Solid frozen foods are safe unless exposed to flood waters.