Returning Home Safely After a Disaster

There could be many dangers confronting when you return home after a disaster. Dana Robison from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains how to return home safely in American Sign Language (ASL).

Preparedness information and resources can be found in the Preparedness section. Information on emergency preparedness for individuals with disabilities or access/functional needs is on the ADA/FNSS page.


Hi, my name is Dana Robison, and I'm from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also known as CDC. I'm here today to talk about returning home safely after a disaster.

After a disaster, do not go back home until official sources have confirmed it is safe to do so. Follow these safety tips to protect you and your family when returning to your home after a disaster.

If you lose power during a disaster and use other sources of fuel or electricity to heat, cool, or cook, it may release carbon monoxide that could be dangerous. Carbon monoxide, also known as CO, is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden illness or death if it is inhaled. The most common signs of carbon monoxide poisoning are headaches, dizziness, feeling weak, nausea, vomiting, chest pains, and feeling confused.

To prevent CO poisoning, keep your portable generators outside and more than 20 feet from your home. Have at least one functioning, battery operated carbon monoxide detector or a plug-in detector with battery-backup in your home.

If you see a downed power line, do not touch it or anything else that is touching it. If you are in your car and the power line falls on your car with you still in it, stay in your car until first responders tell you it's safe to get out or if your car starts to catch fire. If someone has been electrocuted, do not touch them until first responders tell you that they are no longer touching the electrical source.

If flooding is possible in your home, turn off the power at the main breaker. Do not turn on the power or use an electrical appliance while standing in water. After returning home and before turning the electricity back on, have a professional electrician inspect your home and replace all electrical sources that were damaged by the disaster.

Water in a disaster affected area may be unsafe. If your water is contaminated, use bottled water, if possible. Bottled water will be the safest choice for drinking and all other uses. If you have been told or think your water is not safe, do not use that water for drinking, washing dishes, brushing your teeth, and bathing, washing or preparing food, making ice, or making baby formula.

Check with your local emergency officials to find out the status of your water, and to find out if boiling or disinfecting water will make it safe to use. Local officials can also tell you how to boil or disinfect water to make it safe. If toxic chemicals or fuel are in your water, boiling or disinfecting will not make it safe.

Throw away perishable foods in the refrigerator when the power has been off 4 hours or more, and throw away any canned foods that are bulging or damaged, and food that may have touched flood water. Throw out wooden cutting boards, baby bottle nipples, and pacifiers if they have come into contact with flood waters because they cannot be properly sanitized. You can sanitize commercially prepared cans by washing with soap and hot water, and then placing them in boiling water or a solution of 1 cup of bleach in 5 gallons of water.

If there's sewage in your house, wear rubber boots and gloves, and goggles when cleaning up your home.

To prevent mold growth, open all doors and windows and use fans to help dry your home. Remove any items that can absorb water, such as carpet, drywall, furniture, books, and clothes that have been wet and cannot be thoroughly cleaned and dried within 24 to 48 hours. And remember, when in doubt, throw it out. These items can have mold growth and should be removed from the home.

Use a hard brush and soapy water to scrub off mold on rough surface materials like concrete. Make sure to wear protective gloves, goggles, and an N-95 respirator or one that provides even more protection. If you have a breathing problem like asthma or a weakened immune system, try not to enter a building with mold damage. Do not allow children or pets or service animals in the house until you have finished cleaning up. If you see mold that covers most of your wall, consult a professional to remove it.