Disasters And Emergencies: How To Prepare And What To Do To Get Back On Your Feet

Preparing for Emergencies


  • Check your current homeowner’s or renter’s insurance to see what your policy already covers. Insurance that covers more specific disasters is available through private companies.
  • Find out more about flood insurance at FloodSmart.gov
  • Most homeowner’s insurance does not cover any damages caused by flooding, but flood insurance is available to defray the cost of potential damages.


Create a Home Inventory
This is crucial. You will need to be able to provide a list (and document, when possible) of what has been lost when filing an insurance claim.

  • www.knowyourstuff.org provides a free, downloadable software program that organizes valuables and documents digitally.
  • Note everything of value in your home.
  • Extremely valuable items, such as jewelry or fine art, may need to be insured separately.
  • Make copies of important personal documents, including birth certificates, baptismal certificates or other religious documents, if applicable; the first pages of your family’s passports; wills and related documents; and financial documents, including bank accounts and insurance policies.
  • Keep a record of important account numbers and documents, including bank accounts and Social Security cards.
  • Consider keeping important documents that you don’t use often, such as birth certificates, in a safe deposit box.
  • Keep a record of contact information for health plan and pension providers and local and national agencies from which you receive benefits.
  • Keep these records in safe places OUTSIDE the home, such as a safety deposit box.


What to Do If A Disaster Strikes

General Information and Agency Contacts

  • Look to FEMA (the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Administration) for specific information on different types of disasters and what to do in each situation. www.fema.gov
  • Call the Social Security Hotline: 1-800-772-1213, or visit www.ssa.gov. for questions about getting your Social Security benefits if you have to leave your home or if your bank is closed.
  • Call 1-800-MEDICARE, or visit www.medicare.gov for questions about Medicare.
  • If you are on Medicaid, contact your state Medicaid office, or visit the federal Medicaid information website at www.medicaid.gov


Benefits – Local Actions

  • Contact your local Social Security or Medicare office for more specific details about your situation, as policies for handling disasters may change by region.
  • Contact a Medicaid or Medicare Office for details about receiving treatment if you are not in your home region. After the hurricanes of fall 2005, Medicaid and Medicare recipients who were displaced to other states were able to receive medical treatment and services in other states, regardless of ability to prove identity.
  • Set up a Social Security online account at www.ssa.gov/myaccount to change an address, request replacement Medicare cards, or find out more information.
  • Prescription drugs for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries can be sent to temporary addresses if a person has been displaced as a result of a disaster.
  • If mail has been stopped in a recipient’s area, s/he can go to the nearest Social Security office to pick up her check.
  • Direct deposit benefits are administered as usual, but can also be picked up at any local Social Security office if difficulties occur with direct deposit.


Employee Sponsored Health Benefits

  • Check with your employer or the plan provider to find out details of special programs for disaster survivors.
  • Disaster victims may be eligible for extended opportunities to enroll in COBRA, a program that allows people to continue receiving health insurance if they have lost group coverage. If you have questions about COBRA, go to http://www.dol.gov/dol/topic/health-plans/cobra.htm or contact the Department of Labor at 1-866-444-3273.


Emergency Benefits

  • For information about applying for assistance for temporary housing and funds for people who have lost their housing as a direct result of the disaster check with FEMA at www.fema.gov/recovery-directorate/assistance-individuals-and-households
  • Contact the U. S. Department of Agriculture for information about emergency food assistance for people affected by a disaster at www.fns.usda.gov/tefap/emergency-food-assistance-program-tefap
  • Check with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for information about assistance for disaster victims. www.irs.gov/newsroom will provide up-to-date information. You may qualify for tax relief, delays in tax deadlines, or other benefits. You can also call the IRS helpline at 1-877-829-5500.
  • FEMA also has disaster grants available to cover expenses that are not covered by insurance, including dental care, funeral expenses, and replacement of lost property
  • Low-interest disaster loans are available from the U.S. Small Business Administration to help cover uninsured property losses. See sba.gov/disaster_recov/index.html for more information.
  • You can apply for disaster coverage online through FEMA's online benefits application website.


Regaining Your Financial Health

  • Check with the IRS for more information about assistance for disaster victims. You may qualify for tax relief, delays in tax deadlines, or other benefits. You can also call the IRS helpline at 1-877-829-5500.
  • Notify the Social Security Administration if you have permanently moved as a result of a disaster and need to change your address to receive benefits. 
  • If your are receiving your pension benefits through The Pension Benefits Guaranty Corporation contact them (1-800-400-7242) to change your mailing address or bank information for benefits.
  • Contact the sponsor of your 401(k) plan for more information on special exceptions to withdrawing money during an emergency. The Federal government has made exceptions to the rules about withdrawing money from a 401(k) or similar retirement plan during disasters.
  • Disaster Unemployment Assistance is available to anyone who is not eligible for regular unemployment assistance in any state, but is unable to work as a direct result of the disaster, for 26 weeks after the disaster. Contact your local state unemployment agency if you believe you may be eligible for this assistance. Find a Local Unemployment Agency.




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