What to Do the First 24 Hours After a Disaster

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(Editor’s note: Today I am reposting an excellent essay from Jim Cobb’s Survival Tip Tuesday series on Facebook. This one happens to be Survival Tip #14, and he has one for each day this month. Jim has written several best selling books, available on Amazon. For more of his posts, follow Jim at jimcobbsurvival)

Written by Jim Cobb

The first 24 hours after a disaster hits is a critical time frame. How you handle those first few hours can mean success or failure. There are several objectives that must be met in order for you and your family to not just survive, but hopefully thrive.

The order in which you tackle these areas will be at least somewhat contingent upon the situation at hand.

First and foremost in any emergency or crisis is the safety of you and your family. It only after that is at least reasonably assured that you should look toward completing any sort of “to do” list.

Gather Information

By definition, you can only make an informed decision if you have information to act upon. Use every resource available, including radio, TV, and the Internet. The NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric) broadcasts, often referred to as “weather radio,” may be used to transmit official emergency announcements. The National Weather Radio service partners with the Emergency Alert System to broadcast information that is critical in a crisis. For this reason, one of your first investments should be a weather radio.

Look into amateur (ham) radio as well. The licensing process isn’t difficult and the benefits are tremendous. Ham operators are often the backbone of emergency communication in a disaster. On top of that, many operators will do everything they can to help someone who is genuinely interested in obtaining their license. Most counties have a ham operator club of some sort and that would be a great place to start.

Bear in mind that news outlets often get as much information wrong as they do correct in the initial stages of a disaster. They are all in a rush to be the first to announce the smallest bit of information and in their haste sometimes run stories without properly vetting the information. Rumors get reported as fact and stories can snowball from there. Social media is even worse. But, social media can still connect survivors to one another and allow eyewitness information to be shared.

Consult a variety of sources, if possible, and cobble together the facts presented in order to get a true picture of what’s happened. Use that information to determine your best course of action.

While you’re at it, do what you can to let others know about your individual situation. Utilize telephone, texting, and social media so people know if you’re safe or if you need assistance.

Assess Resources

Just as you take stock of the crisis and gather information about what’s going on around you, you need to take stock of your individual situation. Determine what resources are available to you and whether there are any gaping holes that could hinder your survival.

• Is your home safe or has it been damaged in the disaster?

• How much food and water do you have on hand?

• If any family members take prescription medications, how long will the current supply last?

While some of that seems like it would be information you should know ahead of time, bear in mind that we cannot accurately predict the nature of the disaster that might be coming someday. It is not unheard of for a truly well-stocked prepper to lose some or all of their supplies due to flooding, for example, or another type of damage directly related to the crisis at hand. Despite our best efforts, we’re not infallible.

Deal with Perishables

Assuming the grid is down, the food in the refrigerator and freezer isn’t going to last. A full refrigerator will stay cold for about four hours. A full freezer will keep food frozen for a day or two.

If the freezer is half full, figure 24 hours or so. Of course, the more often you open the door to the fridge or freezer, the quicker it will warm up inside.If your freezer isn’t usually full, it is a good practice to fill 2L bottles with water and put them in the freezer. A full freezer doesn’t have to work as hard, thus this will save energy. Plus, the bottles will help food stay frozen longer during a power outage. On top of that, the bottles are a source of clean water in an emergency. When filling the bottles, leave a couple of inches of head space to allow for expansion as the water freezes.

Keep in mind that food doesn’t go from good to bad in an instant. You have a little time to decide what to do with the perishables. There are a couple of options to consider.

If you have the means to preserve food, such as pressure canning or dehydrating, get to work. Put as much of it up as you can so it doesn’t go to waste. This will also augment whatever shelf stable foods you already have stockpiled.

The other approach is to consume as much of it as possible before it goes bad. Drink the milk and eat the yogurt. Warm up the leftovers from last night’s dinner and have them for breakfast or lunch. Cook up the hamburger or steaks. Invite the neighbors over if you have enough to share. It is far better for that food to go into someone’s belly than the trash.


Once everyone is safe, fed, warm and dry, start documenting what happened. Photograph and video any damage to the home or possessions. Take photos from multiple angles and when shooting video feel free to narrate what the viewer is seeing. Upload those files to some sort of cloud storage right away, just in case your phone is later lost or damaged. One easy way to do this is to simply email the files to an account you can access remotely.

Notify your insurance agent as soon as is feasible. You might be able to get the claim process started online, if you still have access to the Internet. Either way, it is a good idea to have the phone number for reporting a claim saved in your contact list on your phone.

Clean Up

As soon as is practical, begin the cleanup process. While you might not be able to deal with everything, at least not initially, do what you can to put things back in order. In some cases, there might not be a whole lot that needs to be straightened up, of course. But in the aftermath of severe storms and such, there may well be downed branches or trees, debris strewn about, that sort of thing. These can be safety hazards so the sooner they are dealt with, the better. Be very careful about possible downed power lines and such.

About Jim Cobb:

Jim Cobb has been a prepper since long before that term ever came into use. He’s been studying, practicing, and now teaching survival and preparedness for about 30 years. Jim has written several books on the subject, including Prepper’s Home Defense, Prepper’s Long-Term Survival Guide, and Prepper’s Financial Guide. He the Editor in Chief for both Prepper Survival Guide and Backwoods Survival Guide magazines.

Follow Jim at https://www.facebook.com/jim.cobb.739/.

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