Disaster Preparedness and Response

Always call 911 if you are in immediate danger and need emergency help.

debris-disaster

This page lists general information for homeowners, communities, schools, and facilities, that can apply to many different disaster situations. Much of this information is repeated on pages about specific types of natural events or disasters. More about how EPA responds to natural disasters.

On this page:

General:

Individuals, Homeowners:

Communities, Schools, Facilities:


General:

What You Can Do

Planning – Preparing for natural disasters can greatly reduce the risks to health and the environment. Hurricanes or floods can contaminate drinking water sources. Forest fires or volcanoes harm air quality. Tornadoes or earthquakes, by damaging factories or storage facilities, can release contaminants where people live or into the environment.

  • Individuals and homeowners can plan ahead to protect health for themselves and family members.
  • Communities, schools, and businesses can plan ahead to reduce risks and possible costs of storm-related spills or cleanup.
  • Learn about making an emergency plan, from Ready.gov

Recovery – Understanding risks will help speed recovery efforts and help keep problems from becoming worse. Improper use of portable generators or heating devices can release deadly carbon monoxide to indoor air. Ice-melting agents used improperly can pollute waterways. Large amounts of debris can present serious disposal problems for state and local communities. Owners or operators of damaged facilities may be responsible for reporting spills.

  • Individuals and homeowners can learn more about what, and what not, to do to protect health of themselves and family.
  • Communities, schools, and businesses can learn more about address large-scale risks and be aware of any legal requirements they may have under applicable regulations.

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Report suspected spills, contamination, or possible violations.

  • To report oil, chemical, or hazardous substance spills, call the National Response Center 800-424-8802.
  • Report a suspected environmental violation online. When you don’t have Internet access, call the US EPA office for your state.
  • For pesticide poisoning, call 911 if the person is unconscious, has trouble breathing, or has convulsions. Otherwise, call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222.

Generator Safety

People get sick or die each year from carbon monoxide or “CO” poisoning due to unsafe use of generators.

Learn about government emergency messages before you need them:

  • FEMA Wireless Emergency Alerts – FEMA works with US cell phone carriers to send free emergency texts to cell phones (that can get text messages) within range. You don’t have to sign up to receive the messages.
  • Emergency Alert System – is a public warning system that uses existing TV, radio, cable, and other systems to send critical messages to the general public. Messages are local or national, depending on the situation.
  • NOAA Weather Radio – is a nationwide network of radio stations broadcasting continuous weather information directly from the nearest National Weather Service office. NWR broadcasts official Weather Service warnings, watches, forecasts and other hazard information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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Individuals, Homeowners:

Returning home: Dealing with Debris and Damaged Buildings

Drinking water recovery

Home wastewater

  • What do I do with my home septic system after a flood? Do not drink your well wateruntil it is tested and safe. Do not use (flush) the sewage system until water in the soil absorption field is lower than the water level around the house. If you have a small business and your septic system has received chemicals, take extra precautions to prevent contact with water or inhaling fumes. Proper clean-up depends on the kinds of chemicals in the wastewater.

Limit contact with flood water

Flood water may have high levels of raw sewage or other hazardous substances. Early symptoms from exposure to contaminated flood water may include upset stomach, intestinal problems, headache and other flu-like discomfort. Anyone experiencing these and any other problems should immediately seek medical attention.

Mold

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Communities, Schools, Facilities:

Facility wastewater – Communities or facilities

Disaster debris

Communities should plan ahead to handle exceptionally large amounts of disaster debris from damaged or destroyed buildings, supplies, trees or other green waste, carcasses, or other materials. Disposal problems can result from large amounts of debris but also from hazardous or toxic substances in the debris that can contaminate air, water, land, and food if not handled properly. Burning large amounts of debris to reduce volume may not be an option. More information on disaster debris.

Hazardous waste and homeland security

Pesticides, chemical and oil spills, hazardous waste

  • Call the National Response Center 800-424-8802 (24 hours a day every day). For those without 800 access, please call 202-267-2675.
  • Industries and businesses that encounter spills or discharges in the aftermath should contact the National Response Center immediately. You or your organization may have legal requirements for reporting or for taking other actions, depending on the spill.
  • National Pesticide Information Center: 1-800-858-7378. Pesticide contacts
  • Report spills or environmental violations

Renovation and rebuilding

Lead-safe work: By law, contractors need to use lead-safe work practices on emergency renovations on homes or buildings built before 1978. Activities such as sanding, cutting, and demolition can create lead-based paint hazards. Lead-contaminated dust is harmful to adults, particularly pregnant women, and children.

Asbestos: Anyone working on demolition, removal, and cleanup of building debris needs be aware of any asbestos and to handle asbestos materials properly. People exposed to asbestos dust can develop serious lung health problems including asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. Although the use of asbestos has dramatically decreased in recent years, it is still found in many residential and commercial buildings and can pose a serious health risk.

Underground Storage Tanks

During a flood, underground storage tank (UST) systems may become displaced or damaged and release their
contents into the environment, causing soil, surface water, and groundwater contamination.

Fuel Waivers

EPA works with the Department of Energy to address fuel supply disruptions caused by disasters or emergencies, by issuing fuel waivers for certain fuel standards, in affected areas.