General Information for Disaster Preparedness and Response
ALWAYS CALL 911 if you are in immediate danger and need emergency help.
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:
- What you can do
- Report suspected spills, contamination or possible violations.
- Generator Safety
- Know how to get emergency alerts and messages before you need them
- Drinking water recovery
- Home wastewater
- Limit contact with flood water
- Eliminate standing water where mosquitos can breed
Communities, Schools, Facilities:
- Information for water and wastewater facilities
- VIDEO: Drinking water and wastewater utilities are vulnerable to damage and service disruptions from flooding. This overview video helps small and medium utilities plan for flood resilience.
- Disaster debris
- Pesticides, chemical and oil spills, hazardous waste
- Renovation and rebuilding
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.
- 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.
People get sick or die each year from carbon monoxide or “CO” poisoning due to unsafe use of generators.
- ALERT: Generator exhaust is toxic. Always put generators outside well away from doors, windows, and vents. Never use a generator inside homes, garages, crawl spaces, sheds, or similar areas. Carbon monoxide (CO) is deadly, can build up quickly, and linger for hours. More information.
- Listen: Public Service Announcement about carbon monoxide
- Read more: Carbon monoxide poisoning after a disaster, from CDC.gov
- en español: Proteja su vida y la de su familia: Evite el envenenamiento con monóxido de carbono (español) – conozca los síntomas del envenenamiento con monóxido de carbono. | Más: Tormentas de nieve y hielo
Know how to get emergency alerts and 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.
- en español: Alertas – Sistema de alerta de emergencias (de FEMA)
- 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.
Returning home: Dealing with Debris and Damaged Buildings
Drinking water recovery
- Boiling water information – To kill all major water-borne bacterial pathogens, bring water to a rolling boil for 1 minute. Boil 3 minutes at elevations above 5280 ft (1 mile or 1.6 km). Getting and disinfecting drinking water.
- What do I about water from household wells after a flood? Do not turn on the pump due to danger of electric shock. Do not drink or wash with water from the flooded well until it is tested and safe to use. Read more about flooded wells.
- Make a kit of supplies. Keep at least a 3-day water supply per person -and don’t forget pets. More about making a plan, from Ready.gov.
- What do I do with my home septic system after a flood? Do not drink your well water until 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.
- What do I do with my home septic system after a flood? Do not use the sewage system until water in the soil absorption field is lower than the water level around the house. If you have a home-based or 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. Read more about septic systems.
- Reentering a flooded home, from CDC.
- Mold cleanup: Mold can cause serious health problems. The key to mold control is moisture control. After the flood, remove standing water and dry indoor areas. Remove and discard anything that has been wet for more than 24-48 hours.
- Mold cleanup in schools and commercial buildings. Information for building managers, custodians, and others who are responsible for commercial building and school maintenance.
- Basic mold hazards. Cleaning up mold. What to wear
- More about mold from Centers for Disease Control
Eliminate standing water where mosquitos can breed
Mosquitos can sharply increase after a flood, due to the sudden availability of standing water which they require for breeding — even very small amounts of water. As flood waters recede be sure to drain, overturn, or empty areas — no matter how small — to reduce mosquito breeding areas and help reduce the spread of mosquito-borne diseases.
- Get rid of standing water in rain gutters, old tires, buckets, plastic covers, toys, pools, or any other containers.
- Empty water from damaged materials that aren’t usually outdoors, such as discarded furniture, household items, bookshelves, building materials, trash, etc.
- Drain wet areas and puddles of water, or fill them with dirt.
- More ideas for controlling mosquitos
- Why? The importance of controlling mosquito-borne diseases, such as West Nile Virus or Zika
Communities, Schools, Facilities:
Facility wastewater – Communities or facilities
- Suggested activities to help facilities prepare for severe weather conditions. Please note, the linked information is written for hurricane preparedness but much of it will still apply to many types of preparedness.
- EPA offers tools communities can download to help plan for for disaster or security threats to water systems. More about community water-based resiliency tools.
- Suggested post-hurricane activities to help facilities recover from severe weather conditions. This information is written for hurricane recovery but much of it will apply to many situations.
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.
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
- How to Report Spills and 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.
- Important information about lead-safe clean-up and renovation
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.
- More about the dangers of exposure to asbestos
- Asbestos Standard for the Construction Industry, from OSHA
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.
- Learn what UST owners or operators can do to minimize risks from damaged USTs on human health and the environment during flooding.
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.