Natural Disaster Recovery Guide-Part 3

By Dwight Bain

What can people expect in the weeks ahead?
"Hurry up and wait," will be the motto that a lot of people will think about in the days ahead. This is because the daily life activities like filling up a gas tank, taking a warm shower, or driving through a busy intersection with working traffic lights, have been dramatically disrupted. Life is usually out of balance for weeks or sometimes even months after a major disaster, and while no one likes it, we all have to get through it.

There may be long lines for many of the basic products or services necessary to survive or care for our loved ones; so prepare now for the fact that may be difficult at times. Major storms can kill hundreds of people, shatter billboards, rip traffic lights from their poles, splinter trees, shred awnings or screen rooms, rip apart electric-cable-phone-Internet transmission lines, snap off traffic signs, seriously damage thousands of homes and cause millions to sometimes even billions of dollars in damage where they hit, (like Hurricane Katrina did to the Gulf coast a few years ago). The more people and communities that are seriously affected the longer it takes for some things to even be evaluated for repair and significantly longer than that for them to be replaced. It is wise to mentally prepare for the fact that the damage from a major storm could take weeks to clean up and months to perhaps even a year to rebuild from.

Know that this will be hard on everyone involved but we can get through it with a lot less stress if we work together. Here's a formula to help victims recover from this type of crisis event faster. It spells out the word "P.A.T." which stands for

Patience- Things are going to take a lot longer than normal. Focus on the reality of why things are disorganized or confusing after the storm, instead of getting angry at everything that doesn't go your way. The more you let your anger build, the more likely you will dump it on the people you love. That is irresponsible and wrong, so don't do it! Deal directly with the pressure of this recovery time by building a deeper understanding of the situation and what you can actually do about it, instead of feeling angry and helpless about what you can't do anything about right now during this time of disaster recovery. Being moody and continually irritated will not make things better for anyone, but it can make a bad situation worse for everyone involved. Why add more stress to an already over-stressed situation?

Attitude-In a crisis situation you can't afford to waste even a drop of valuable resources like water or gasoline-and you should be equally cautious about wasting emotional energy by worrying about things you can't change. It's time to go with the flow of difficult situations, instead of trying to fight against it. You can't control the fact that this difficult situation has happened, and if you try it hyper-control something as big as a natural disaster it will only lead to greater levels of anxiety and stress for you. Better to keep focused on positive things like counting your blessings instead of counting your problems. Anxiety, stress, worry and chronic sleep loss can take a bad situation like this one and turn it into an abusive, or out of control one in a matter of days. Protect your attitude and you will significantly protect your ability to deal with the challenges that lie ahead.

Trust-This one is hard because people tend to feel angry and resentful in the days and weeks after a critical incident. However, it is essential to know that the construction and recovery crews responsible to take action to repair the daily life activities we tend to take for granted, (like electricity, water, gas, phone and cable services), are already working 24/7 shifts to accomplish that important goal of rebuilding basic services that were disrupted by the disaster.

This includes staff from the power company, phone company, tree services, cell phone providers, cable television workers, Internet providers, insurance adjusters, FEMA workers, the department of transportation workers replacing signs and traffic lights, fire fighters, police officers, doctors, nurses, school board officials, grocery store workers, gas station attendants, yard debris collectors and on and on. Trust that everyone is doing the best that they can to get things back on track. Emergency repair crews often work double time to get our homes, schools and businesses back on track-count on it. Even better, stop and thank them with your kids if you have a chance. A kind word of “thanks” goes a long way to reduce the stress and frustration that these professionals feel in rebuilding and maintaining essential services in our community.


Is it okay to talk about what happened to our family with others?
Silence is not golden in a critical incident, rather, it's dangerous. One of the best things you can do to help yourself and help others is to tell your story. Talk about where you were when the storm came through. Talk about how you and your loved ones made it through the crisis to the other side. Keep talking and make it a point to listen carefully as you hear the stories of others who survived this terrible storm. This is important for everyone involved, kids, grandparents, moms, dads, employees, employers, firefighters, police officers, nurses, teachers, students and on and on. Everyone has a story about how they got through a major disaster and telling it helps them heal and may give you a new chance to connect with your family, neighbors and coworkers in a powerful way. Also, don't miss asking your own pastor, priest, rabbi, or spiritual caregiver to share their story; since many times these professionals are so busy listening to the needs of others, they neglect to take time to reduce the stress that they feel.

Why do some people seem to become bitter or hateful after a crisis like this one, instead of just being grateful to be alive?
A major disaster “dumps out” whatever is inside of a person, so you will see the best and the worst of behavior happening in the days ahead. A critical incident or natural disaster that overwhelms an entire community creates an equal sized emotional reaction in people, so be prepared for some unusual reactions in yourself and the people around you. Sometimes people who were the most hurting before the storm will act wonderful and kind on the other side of recovering from this type of traumatic event. It's like they find a hidden strength in a crisis and reach out to others in a new way. Others just go numb and will seem to act like robots. Some people will get loud and others will become unusually quiet. There are many reasons for the wide range of emotional response; with a common factor being how many difficult and traumatic experiences they may have already witnessed in their lives. Hopefully, some people may have already sorted through these deep hurts and strong emotions before a killer storm hits. If so, they may have a deeper understanding of the need for compassion to others in a crisis. They understand about the storms in life and react with kindness, sometimes it may even seem to come automatically for them to reach out with positive emotions instead of being critical.

Other people can get completely cutting, hateful and mean in everything that they say and do, even if they weren't that way before the storm. They may even try to chase you off with a broom if you try to help them clean up the broken limbs in their yard! Don't panic, they probably aren't having a breakdown, rather it's likely a behavior some people call being ‘hardhearted.’ This comes from year’s worth of unresolved past hurts being piled up and never addressed or resolved. Try not to take it personally if the criticism comes your way. Remember the rule that "hurt people- hurt people" and then take their negative comments with a ‘grain of salt’ while still attempting to maintain integrity in caring for others who may be able to receive the offer of a helping hand to get through this difficult time.


What is survivor guilt and how does it negatively impact people?
Thousands of people who didn't lose power, have their homes damaged or lose basic services often feel uncomfortable with being blessed instead of being grateful for their blessings. Remember to manage your affairs at home and then at work in a responsible way, and to pace yourself through the process. Doing too much/too soon can exhaust you and limit your ability to live out your priorities in your immediate family. Helping others at the expense of protecting and helping your own family seems right after a disaster, but it is wrong because it misplaces the important priority of caring for those closest to you first, (there are emergency exceptions to that rule at times). Best is to pace yourself in the race to recover and rebuild. Hurricane or flood seasons come to an end, but if you over do-things you may end up hurting yourself and make your own future a lot worse. If your home is okay and you can get to work, be the happiest person in your neighborhood and if you only suffered minor storm damage don't allow the inconveniences of daily life, like having to do without hot water or cable television for a while, get you down.


So many people are worse off than me- how can I decide who to help?Help others when you can, but not at the expense of making your situation worse. A simple way to decide who to help and when it might be wrong to offer assistance is to consider these three key elements.

Evaluate Relationship-First determine your level of relationship to the people in need. Begin with ‘self-care’ and practice the steps to keep yourself safe in the recovery and rebuilding process. If you get seriously hurt trying to help someone else, you haven’t really helped anyone and in fact may make a bad situation much worse for everyone. Once you know that you are safe and stable, then reach out to offer help your closest relationships, which are usually the people you live with or around. This includes your family, children, marriage partner, elder adults who may live with or near you and your dearest friends. Not everyone outside of your closest ‘circle’ may need your help or assistance, but it’s wise to ask them just in case.

Once you get past those closest to you, then you can reach out to offer assistance to those in need you may know in your neighborhood, church or workplace. After you are able to help the people you know at that level of relationship, then you can reach out to those you may be less connected to in your community, state or region of the country. Everyone has needs, and it is for certain that everyone affected by the disaster will need some level of help to get through this storm recovery process. ‘Lone rangers’ wear out fast and eventually can’t help anyone, so help others when you can and allow them to help you as the level of relationship allows. No one can rebuild after this kind of disaster alone and as you come alongside to help others, or allow them to help you a greater sense of relationship and connection will develop which makes you both stronger.

Measure Resources-If you are attempting to reach out to help others, you need to first evaluate what resources you have to work with. These are the very limited supplies of time, energy and money. Most people have to maintain responsibility to the important elements of their jobs no matter what the storm damage may have done to their place of business. So If you are in a situation that requires a 50 or sometimes even 60 hour a week commitment during the storm rebuilding process, you will have very limited supplies of time and energy at the end of the day to help others in need. Wise financial planning may have given you a nest egg to draw from, but no one has enough money to solve all the crisis events in our world. If you don’t have the resources of time, energy and money to responsibly care for you and those who depend on you, it would be wrong to spend those resources on strangers. Don’t let the crisis events of others you may see on a television news story get in the way of caring for those closest to you. As you wisely manage your home resources in connection to your circle of closest friends and family members – everyone can grow stronger after the storm.

Do the Right Thing- After you have determined the level of relationship in need and then measured the resources available to help, then you are ready to apply these three questions necessary to wisely help others impacted by the storm.

1) Is there a Rule? Consider if this situation falls under the guidelines of an accepted standard in our society, such as a law, statue, spiritual principle or guideline. For instance, if I’m in a hurry and racing to get to a store to buy storm supplies and cause an automobile accident it’s clearly my fault and I have to pay for the damages. However, many issues that arise out of a disaster aren’t very easy to understand and don’t fit into commonly known laws, statutes or principles. When that happens, ask yourself the next question.

2) Is it Responsible? Does the situation that you are considering getting involved in make common sense or seem to be a wise use of time, energy or money as discussed earlier? If it seems impulsive or poorly thought out, wisdom would suggest that waiting until a better plan could be developed would bring better and longer lasting results. This approach also helps prevent a lot of accidents after a disaster because considering the responsible path may prevent bad decisions that were well meaning, but brought more problems than solutions. Like when a well meaning person buys a chainsaw to cut a tree off of a neighbor’s house and hasn’t stopped to realize that they have never used a chain saw! There are often more accidents or deaths in the days after a major disaster because of irresponsible or impulsive decisions. Prevent that by taking time to seriously think through what your involvement will actually accomplish. As a wise carpenter once said, “measure twice-cut once.”

3) Is it Reasonable? Consider the real reasons that have led you to believe that you are the best person to jump in to help others in this situation. Do you have the skill set, the experience or training to perform certain tasks that you are considering? An example of this would be well meaning people who show up to help after an accident, but don’t have the medical training to even know what to do, or people who really want to help with patching holes in roofs or removing tree limbs tangled up in power lines. It is unreasonable and irresponsible to place yourself into a dangerous situation that you aren’t prepared to deal with. A better approach is to assess what you reasonably can do right now and then do it. (Some examples would be calling 911 to get someone medical help, or waiting in line for ice and bottled water for a neighbor, or doing five loads of laundry for someone who doesn’t have electricity, or letting someone use your cell phone to call their family members to let them know that they are safe after the storm, or offering to buy lunch at a fast-food restaurant for a tired mother with small children who just need to get out of a hot house for a few hours to take a break). There are countless things that you can do to add value in a crisis situation without being in the wrong place at the wrong time; which creates problems for others. Taking reasonable action brings positive results.

Following these steps will allow you to grow stronger through the storm, while helping others to grow along with you on the journey of rebuilding a community after the storm.


What should people consider when first returning to their homes after being evacuated before the storm?
You need to mentally prepare for the loss by remembering that things in this life can be damaged by wind, water, fire and falling trees. Our lives and the lives of those that we love are much more valuable than anything in our homes. Whatever the destruction looks like now, remember that it can and eventually will be repaired in time. Keep repeating to yourself phrases like, "It's just stuff anyway," or "the more things you have, the more things have you," or even "our family is safe-and that's all that matters since the rest is just a house that can be replaced." Changing your mind about things will allow you to control your most powerful asset, your own internal drives, personal beliefs and choices, which is the emotional "grid": that all other emotions go through. Change that, and you will be able to make even more positive changes in your daily life.


What final thought can you give to encourage us through this recovery process?
Stress can lead you to a greater level of success if you allow it; which is the primary focus you need to grow through a difficult situation like this one. You will make it through the crisis and you will survive if you take action to connect to your supports, use positive coping skills and develop the mindset of looking for strength beyond the storm. The biggest part of this process is to reach out and link arms with others who were impacted by this storm just like you were. Supporting others gives you a significantly greater level of strength than if you ever tried to stand alone through the crisis. Finding strength in storms by linking arms with others is what the massive Redwood trees in California do to withstand incredible pressure.

Redwoods are massive trees…many are over 300 feet high, and yet only have root systems that go 4-5 feet deep. Why don't they fall over in a gentle breeze? Simple. The mighty Redwoods never grow alone. They link their roots together and withstand ten times the stress and pressure because they are not alone in the storm. They need each other to stand strong and so do we. A major crisis gives us a chance to stand strong together, just like the Redwoods do. This is our time to get focused, build healthy coping skills into our daily life and be surrounded by strong people who have the heart and resources to stand firm by living out what they believe. And it’s time for you to stand alongside them as we all come together to rebuild our community after the storm.

No matter what the size of crisis event, you can find strength after the storm because moving beyond the stress is the beginning of finding greater success. Following the action steps in this resource guide will allow you to begin building strength back into your personal and professional life in spite of the storms. As you grow stronger you can tell others, which will encourage them to press on as they rebuild their lives, right next to yours. Stronger people create stronger communities and that is the journey you have already begun. I encourage you to stay with it as you build an even stronger life after the storm.


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"Reprinted with permission from the LifeWorks Group weekly eNews, (Copyright, 2004-2011), To subscribe to this valuable counseling and coaching resource visit www.LifeWorksGroup.org or call 407-647-7005"

About the author- Dwight Bain is dedicated to helping people achieve greater results. He is a Nationally Certified Counselor and Certified Life Coach in practice since 1984 with a primary focus on solving crisis events and managing major change.

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