When it is safe to approach the site:
Local authority will allow access. Normally they are very understanding about the desire to get to the site, but broken power lines, sewers, any infrastructure can be very dangerous after a disaster, so it’s important to rely on official judgment as to when it is a good time to get to the site.
Prepare for the worst. A lifetime collection of personal possessions and living space that has been ruined can be emotionally devastating, but it is not the end of the world. If one has escaped with one’s life, that’s a pretty good start. If one has escaped with no serious injuries, that’s even better.
This first step works for all types of disaster. The following steps will be separated as to type.
While waiting, it is a good idea to prepare for the first visit. This means personal comfort and personal equipment. A few minimal items are essential for this step. Skoshi Tiger recommends the following:
Toilet paper and paper towels;
Waterless hand cleaner;
First aid kit;
Hat or cap;
Safety glasses, use them!;
Work boots or heavy shoes, gym shoes not a good idea;
Dust masks, a little dab of Vicks inside will facilitate breathing;
Long sleeved shirt;
33 gallon plastic trash bags;
Spray paint cans in a few colors;
Notepad or loose leaf binder (this will become your journal)
The journal is essential. There will be thousands of details that need to be remembered. In a situation such as this, there could well be ten thousand details. Journal means daily record. It is important to take a few minutes every four hours to jot down everything. A journal pays off when least expected.
Check the Forms pages for what should be recorded.
One more note on equipment:
If possible, a gasoline operated generator (500 W. or better) is very helpful. It may not be needed for a long period of time, but it can make inside or night work easier, and it accelerates the time frame by eliminating the need for power grid electricity.
A chain saw and battery operated tools come in very handy as well. Wet-dry shop vacs can vastly improve the speed of the work.
Before you enter the property:
Take a look around. Check parking availability. A clear space for emergency vehicles is essential, plus there must be access for any clearing help.
Also, if there is anything unidentifiable, don’t touch it. In fact, on this visit, it is a good idea to refrain from touching, lifting, moving anything till the assessment step has been completed.
Photograph everything. Start with the approach to the site, and move in deliberately. Shoot the street, both ways, then shoot the driveway leading into the site. If the driveway is blocked, move around it after shooting a picture of it.
Notice all damaged trees, shrubs, landscape. Photograph it and write it down or record it on your vid-cam or pocket recorder.
As you approach the structures, standing or not, photograph everything. Be sure to watch your steps, and set up the shots standing still. No point in compounding the problem with an injury, i.e. snakebite, broken limb.
If something looks remotely unsafe for walking----don’t. Do not touch fallen wires. Even though wires may look dead, no one is ever sure until they are checked.
Smell the air without the mask. If you smell gas, call the supplier after you leave. Wait for an okay to return.
If everything appears to be safe, walk the entire perimeter of the site, stopping every ten paces to shoot pictures toward the interior and away from the site in the opposite direction. Take notes as you go. Be methodical. These pictures could be worth a lot later. Disasters are odd occurrences. Things move in all kinds of directions, and it is surprising what you find---where you find it.
It is a good idea to close in on the structure with deliberation, slowly. Shoot pictures as you move in. Stay alert and do not hurry, no matter what draws attention.
Next walk the perimeter of the structures shooting toward the interior on the first trip, then shoot pictures looking away from the structure.
You will see many things, and you will want to gather them up, but for now, be patient. This job is assessment. Don’t get distracted. Collect information, and collect yourself. This is not a happy moment, but it is necessary, and it will calm you down.
Under no circumstances (unless someone’s alive and hurt inside) should one enter the destroyed area. You are neither ready nor equipped to go inside. Look, assess, learn.
Take a moment to write or record anything you remember about the structure while it is still fresh in mind. Under the Forms page, find printable forms that will help record every detail.
Once the assessment has been accomplished, it is time to contact the insurer or disaster agencies. They will be really busy, but getting into the queue is crucial. It will take time to see these people, but don’t be in a rush, and don’t let the stress of the situation rule. Calm breeds calm. Press with deliberation, but without anger.