Returning home can be both physically and mentally challenging. Above all, use caution. You may be anxious to see your property but do not return to your home before the area is declared to be safe by local officials. Be cautious when entering your home after a disaster. When you go inside your home, there are certain things you should and should not do. Enter the home carefully and check for damage. Be aware of loose boards and slippery floors. The following items are other things to check inside your home:
- Call your insurance agent. Take plenty of pictures or videos of damages. Keep good records of repair and cleaning costs.
- If you had to leave your home, return only when local authorities advise that it is safe to do so. If a building inspector has placed a color-coded sign on the home, do not enter it until you get more information, advice and instructions from local authorities.
- If you have children, leave them with a relative or friend while you conduct your first inspection of your home after the disaster.
The site may be unsafe for children, and seeing the damage firsthand may cause them great emotional stress.
- If you smell gas or hear a hissing or blowing sound, open a window and leave immediately. Turn off the main gas valve from the outside, if you can. Call the gas company from a neighbor’s residence. If you shut off the gas supply at the main valve, you will need a professional to turn it back on. Do not smoke or use oil, gas lanterns, candles or torches for lighting inside a damaged home until you are sure there is no leaking gas or other flammable materials present.
- Checking for structural damage and cracks outside of your home on the roof, foundation and chimney before you enter. If it looks like the building may collapse, leave immediately.
- Check the ceiling for signs of sagging. Water from fire hoses,wind,rain or deep flooding may wet plaster or wallboard. Wet plaster or wallboard is very heavy and dangerous if it falls.
- Check the floor for signs of sagging. Keep in mind that plywood and other flooring that was damaged by water could collapse under human weight. Avoid walking on sagging floors. If small sections of floors are sagging, place thick plywood panels or thick, strong boards on the floor to cover the damaged area. Be sure the wood extends at least 8–12 inches on each side of the sagging area.
- Sparks, broken or frayed wires. Check the electrical system unless you are wet, standing in water or unsure of your safety. If possible, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If the situation is unsafe, leave the building and call for help. Do not turn on the lights until you are sure they’re safe to use. You may want to have an electrician inspect your wiring.
- Appliances. If appliances are wet, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. Then, unplug appliances and let them dry out. Have appliances checked by a professional before using them again. Also, have the electrical system checked by an electrician before turning the power back on.
- Objects, such as furnishings or building parts that have been damaged, may be unstable. Be very cautious when moving near them. Avoid holding, pushing or leaning against damaged building parts.
- Water and sewage systems. If pipes are damaged, turn off the main water valve. Check with local authorities before using any water; the water could be contaminated. Pump out wells and have the water tested by authorities before drinking. Do not flush toilets until you know that sewage lines are intact.
- Clean up household chemical spills. Disinfect items that may have been contaminated by raw sewage, bacteria, or chemicals. Also clean salvageable items.