Steps to Recover From a Disaster

Steps to Recover From a Disaster


Wildfires, floods, tornadoes and other natural disasters have been sweeping through the United States this spring, leaving behind widespread destruction and killing hundreds and displacing tens of thousands. Entire neighborhoods have been wiped out with scores of communities affected in states stretching from Texas north and east to New England.

If you’ve been personally affected by a disaster, the road to recovery may be a slow one. In the short term, securing your home and possessions is your first priority. Later, the task of rebuilding will be decided with much of that dependent on what you do now including the following:

Contact your insurer — Once your home has been secured and everyone accounted for, contact your insurance company to file a claim. Agents for larger insurers are likely already in your area, perhaps attempting to make contact with you face to face. Power outages including cell phone interruption may make it impossible for you to touch base. As soon as you’re able to do so, let your insurer know what damage your home incurred. If possible, take pictures and document your losses.

Make notifications — If your entire area has been obliterated by a tornado or flood, then it stands to reason the post office and your children’s school know about the destruction. If damage is limited to your home, assume that not everyone knows of your personal loss. Contact the post office and have your mail held for you to pick up. Stop delivery of your newspaper, food or other services. Notify the school where your family is living and make transportation arrangements to help your children get back to school as soon as possible.

Recover important documents — When a total loss is involved, you’ll find that every important document you own has been destroyed if you weren’t able to remove these items before disaster struck. Copies of birth and death certificates, marriage and divorce decrees, and other documents are stored at the county’s vital statistics department where the a birth, death, marriage or divorce was processed. You may need to contact multiple departments in various counties and states to assemble this information.

Government documentation — Destroyed Social Security or Medicare cards or checks can be recovered through your nearest Social Security Administration office. Knowing your Social Security number is helpful, but it isn’t necessary to help you. Visit for more information.

Military papers — Your discharge, separation or other papers related to military service can be recovered by contacting the federal government’s personnel records center:

National Personnel Records Center, Military Personnel Records
9700 Page Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63132- 5100

Hard currency — If your paper currency has been damaged, but not destroyed you can seek replacement. Mutilated paper currency and coins can be replaced with the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing who makes a case by case decision on your claim. Said your damaged currency to:

U. S. Mint
Post Office Box 400
Philadelphia, PA 19105

Stocks and bonds — Losing financial documents including stock certificates, bonds and notes should not cause you a major inconvenience. Stock certificates can be replaced by contacting your transfer agent for assistance. You may have to post a surety bond to obtain new certificates according to the Dolans (see References and Resources).

Financial records and credit cards — Contact your bank and credit card issuers to recover your financial records or to have new credit cards issued. If your financial records are online, you can access your information via computer.

You may be asked to show personal identification to recover some documents, something that isn’t possible if everything that you own has been destroyed. Visit your local department of motor vehicle department to obtain a new driver’s license, a step you may be able to handle without proof of who you are as your photograph should be on file. Once you have your driver’s license in hand, you should have sufficient proof of identification for everyone else.

References and Resources

National Archives: Military Personnel Records

U.S. Bureau of Printing and Engraving: How To Submit A Claim

The Dolans: How to Recover Important Lost Financial Documents



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Categories: General News

About Author

Matthew C. Keegan

Matt Keegan is a freelance writer and editor as well as publisher of "Auto Trends Magazine", an online publication. Matt covers campus, consumer, business and financial topics on various websites and weblogs, and has been published in the "Houston Chronicle", "Sam's Club Magazine" and "Wisconsin Golfer".