Before and During a Disaster

Step 1: Secure documents in a safe place.

In an emergency, having important documents with you may mean the difference between a smooth evacuation and lots of stress.

Housing related documents that you should have copies of include birth certificates (for everyone in your household), photo IDs, Social Security cards, your current Housing Assistance Payment contract, Section 8 voucher, renter’s or homeowner’s insurance policy, current lease, and the most recent notices from your housing authority or housing provider.

Paper copies are good, but can be forgotten in the rush of evacuation, lost or damaged. We recommend you also store electronic copies of these documents securely both on your phone or tablet and in the cloud (web based file storage) with proper backup.

You can take a picture of a document with your phone and add the pictures to free cloud services like Dropbox or Google Drive. Cloud based storage is basically another computer that is not physically in your presence. It is where you can store data, pictures, documents or anything you can save on a computer. These cloud services are secure and you can access your files anywhere you get cell phone or Internet connections.

You can also email or text message the pictures to yourself, family or friends. That way, the documents are backed up somewhere other than on your phone. If your phone were to become lost or damaged, your important documents would still be safe.

Also, make sure you have your bank account and routing numbers. If you apply for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), this is needed for direct deposit of any funds FEMA might award to your family.

You should also keep track of the physical documents listed above and other important info in a secure digital system, which makes that information available to you in the case of an emergency. An online spreadsheet in services like Google Sheets is a great way to manage this.

Important: If you have a Section 8 Voucher, your assistance does not go away just because your home is damaged or made unlivable because of a natural disaster. However, you want to make sure you can prove that your family has a valid Section 8 voucher. The documents mentioned above are your proof.

Step 2: Gather food and supplies.

Make sure you have enough food and water, and any necessary supplies for the entire family while you are away. Retail and grocery stores may have limited or no products available leading up to and during a disaster.

Step 3: Find emergency housing.

It’s very important to find a safe place to weather out the natural disaster if you have the opportunity to evacuate in time.

If you are fortunate to have friends or family in an area outside of the impacted area, tell them to get ready for a visit. Use this as an opportunity to visit your elderly mom upstate or your long lost friend from college.

If you don’t have friends or family you can stay with or don’t have the time to arrange that visit, make sure you know what shelters are available in your area. Pay attention to government officials directives on evacuation. Shelters are usually made available very early and local governments are usually very good at getting the word out on what shelters are available.

During the disaster, you can text SHELTER and your Zip code to 43362 (4FEMA) to locate the shelter closest to you. If you call 311 or 211 for information, these systems may be overburdened with calls after the disaster. Be patient. You should only call 911 if you have an immediate need for medical attention or evacuation help. If emergency 911 services are needed, that system may be taking a large volume of calls as well.

Step 4: Make sure you take care of your pets.

If you have pets, bring along adequate food and fresh water for both your family and pet. Grocery and pet stores are likely to be closed or sold out of essentials including dog food, cat food and other pet supplies.

This FEMA brochure has tips for families with pets on what to do in preparation for or during a disaster.

Shelters may permit pets, or provide a separate area to keep pets. Check with the shelter before you arrive, if you can.
Contrary to what might be rumored, hotels are not required to take your pets, unless they are service animals. Service animals are working animals, trained to complete specific tasks for persons with disabilities or special needs. Make sure you ask a hotel if they are pet friendly before booking the room. To find a pet friendly hotel anywhere in the country search BringFido.com.