3 Stages of the Disaster Assistance Timeline

Not sure what happens when after a disaster? Here’s a timeline breaking down when and how local emergency management services, first responders and other organizations will respond and what you can do.

Keep in mind the response time and services available will depend on the location, scale and size of the disaster.

WHN TIP – Advice from Experts: These two podcasts talk about the role the Community Emergency Response Team plays and the additional Red Cross training the members undergo.

The First Few Hours

What they will do

  1. Within minutes of a disaster, local and regional authorities may be dispatched to severely affected areas, including law enforcement (sheriff or police officers), firefighters, emergency medical technicians (ambulance) and state or municipal service workers.
  2. First responders will immediately go to top priority calls: those injured and life hazards (downed trees and power lines).
  3. The local Red Cross will also be working on gathering disaster response teams to assess the location and scale of damage. If the damage is widespread and affects many homes, they will set up temporary shelters in a predetermined location (i.e. community center, school, church). Read 4 Ways the Red Cross Helps Communities for more details.
  4. Media will be doing their best to keep local, state and federal information coming to you. Listen to your radio for the latest updates.

What you can do

  1. Pay close attention to instructions from emergency management and law enforcement agencies.
  2. Obey curfews set in place for looting control and safety.
  3. Understand that hazardous areas may also be restricted.

WHN TIP – Can’t get any local media stations? If you have the chance, use your cell phone and call a relative away from the disaster zone and ask them what the news stations are reporting about your situation. Use this time to update your family on your condition.

The Next 72 Hours

What they will do

  1. Local law enforcement and agencies will be redirecting traffic, securing areas and homes and still be providing first responder emergency services.
  2. Your state governor will decide whether this disaster is a state emergency or not. If the governor declares a state of emergency, this will allow all government agencies to utilize and employ state personnel, equipment and facilities in order to help with the disaster. NOTE: If the disaster was forecasted, such as a hurricane, a state of emergency may have been declared before the storm arrived.
  3. The National Guard in your state may also be deployed to assist with the efforts.
  4. Media will continue with updates. Your newspaper may list local phone numbers and people to contact.
  5. The media might also be visiting your town and your neighborhood to take pictures, live shots and conduct interviews. Remember, it is your choice whether or not to grant an interview. It is OK to pause and reflect for a moment on your and your family’s welfare before you decide whether to answer their questions.
  6. Volunteers from many organizations and from the general public will begin to arrive to help assist with the cleanup effort.

What you can do

  1. Contact your friends and family to let them know you are okay.
  2. Contact your insurance company to begin the claims process.
  3. If you can access your property, begin securing your home against further damage.
  4. Begin documenting the damage caused by the storm for insurance purposes.
  5. You may need to call in a company to assist with securing and repairing your property. Check their references or contact the Better Business Bureau before going ahead with their services.
  6. Want to help others? Read our article 5 Steps to Volunteering After a Disaster to learn more.

After 72 Hours

What they will do

  1. Depending on the extent of damage, the Red Cross may cease to assist with immediate needs such as food, clothing or shelter. You may be referred to other services or organizations for assistance.
  2. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and the President will decide whether this disaster should be declared a federally declared disaster. They may take days, weeks or even months on this decision.
  3. Volunteers may still be assisting with cleanup efforts or they may no longer be needed.

What you can do

  1. You may have received a claim check from your insurance company by this time. You can use this money to meet your immediate needs.
  2. You may need to start calling more companies for assistance with repairs, rebuilding and other contract work.
  3. If your area has been declared a federal disaster area, head to FEMA online to apply for assistance. FEMA may also set up offices in your local area to help with questions regarding assistance.
  4. If they have not declared your disaster eligible for federal relief, be patient. In the meantime, turn to your insurance company, Red Cross and other local organizations for assistance.