Disaster recovery resources

Last updated on February 20, 2024

Those impacted by an emergency can use this guide to help in their recovery.

You’ve been through a traumatic event (earthquake, flood, fire or tsunami) and the danger is past. But in your mind, you may still see the event clearly – and feel fear and anxiety. These feelings are normal. They’re a natural reaction to a traumatic event. The key is to remember that you have survived. These feelings will diminish and for most people, completely disappear. It will take time, and you may need help, but you can put the natural disaster behind you.

Meanwhile, there are so many things to do. Follow our steps to recovery to help get your life back in order.

Steps to recovery


1. Take care of yourself and your family

Disasters can cause emotional and physical reactions. Most people caught in a disaster usually feel confused and may not “act like themselves” for awhile. They may tremble or feel numb. Immediately after the disaster, it is common to feel bewildered, shocked, and relieved to be alive. That’s why it’s important to take good care of yourself and your family in the days and weeks ahead.

You should try to:
  • Rest often and eat well
  • Make a list of tasks and do one job at a time. Decide what needs to be done right away
  • Get as much physical activity as possible
  • Accept help from others. Ask for help and advice on practical matters relating to your finances, your job or other concerns
  • Give someone a hug – touching is very important
  • Think about the coping skills you have used at other difficult times, and use them now
  • Focus on positive memories


It’s important to be aware of your children’s reactions. They might start thumb-sucking or bed-wetting, become clingy or fearful. Children might withdraw and try to be brave, when they really need your reassurance. To get yourself and your family back on track, talk about what’s happened. Here are some suggestions:
  • Encourage children to express themselves. They may want to do this by drawing or playing instead of talking.
  • Take their fears seriously, reassure them and give them additional attention. Admit to them that you also felt afraid and may still be experiencing some feelings of fear or anxiety, but that with time and possibly some outside help you will work it out together.
  • Tell children what you know about the situation. Be honest but gentle. Talk to them about the disaster.
  • Keep children with you whenever it is possible to do so, even if it seems easier to look for housing or help on your own. At a time like this, it’s important for the the whole family to stay together.
  • Expect regressive behaviour and be tolerant of it.
  • Give them tasks to do, something that gets the family back on its feet. 
  • Watch for health problems and signs of stress, such as nightmares and depression. Seek help if you need it. 
  • Continue with regular routines (teeth brushing, bed time stories) and chores (picking out their own clothes to wear, etc.).
  • Avoid or minimize watching news reports of frightening events.
  • Recognize that when you suffer a loss, you may grieve – over the loss of personal treasures, your home, your security, a pet. You may feel angry. You may not sleep or eat well. These are normal grief reactions. Give yourself and your family permission to grieve and time to heal.

Warning signs of stress

  • Short tempers, frequent arguments
  • Greater consumption of alcohol
  • Getting upset over minor irritations
  • Difficulty sleeping, bad dreams
  • Aches, pains, stomach problems
  • Apathy, loss of concentration
  • Depression

Useful links

  • Visit a Red Cross Support Center or call 1-800-863-6582 to make an appointment
  • Ministry of Children and Family Development at 1-877-387-7027 to access services for children, families and caregivers, including mental health services

Mental health resources

These mental health and wellness services provide short-term emotional support to callers and match people with professional help available locally or elsewhere in the province. 

Virtual mental health supports

Virtual services (such as crisis lines) are available for those experiencing anxiety, depression or other mental health challenges. Or search the Help Starts Here website for more information on mental health and substance use supports.


2. Important first steps

Do these things as soon as possible after your home has been damaged or destroyed. Do them before you leave the property, if you can.

  • If you rent or lease the home, contact the building owner or manager.
  • Get your family settled. If your home is unlivable, and you cannot stay with family or friends, you can go to temporary housing arranged by local authorities. Following a large disaster, the local government may establish temporary housing in secure Group Lodging facilities where possible. Try to keep the family together – togetherness provides mutual support.
  • If you are insured, contact your agent, broker or insurance company (see step 7). Do this as soon as possible to get your claim underway. Most policies cover the cost of shelter, food and clothing for the reasonable time needed to repair or rebuild your residency up to policy limits.
  • Remove valuables and essential items. Do not enter the home until you know it is safe, or have received instructions to enter the area (see step 3). Try to retrieve the following items:
    • Important legal documents
    • Identification
    • Vital medicines
    • Eyeglasses and hearing aids
    • Credit cards
    • Cheques
    • Insurance policies
    • Money
    • Jewellery
    • Photos and other items of sentimental value (particularly important for children)
  • Secure the property. It’s your responsibility to make sure the house is secured against further damage. If you rent, the landlord or property manager should be responsible for this. If you own the home, here’s what to do:
    • Board up broken windows and smashed doors
    • Cover holes in roof and walls
    • In the winter, drain water lines if the house won’t be heated for awhile
    • If your property is looted, contact the police immediately. Tell them what was stolen. This report may be needed to file an insurance claim for theft, distinct from any disaster damage claim.
  • Notify people if you move, even temporarily. Be sure to give your new address to:
    • Post office
    • Banks
    • Schools
    • Newspapers and magazines you subscribe to
    • Credit card companies
    • Utility companies (hydro, gas, telephone)
    • Family and friends

3. Re-entering your home

If you have been forced to leave your home because of the disaster, you will want to go back in, if possible, to retrieve possessions and take stock of damage. Being well prepared and proceeding cautiously will help you stay healthy and avoid injury when you re-enter your home.

Stay out of damaged buildings, return only when authorities say it is safe. Stay tuned to your local radio or television station.

Assemble supplies

  • Battery-powered lantern or flashlight (nothing flammable)
  • Camera or video camera and notebook to record damage for insurance purposes
  • First aid kit (in case of injury)
  • Tools (such as crowbar, hammer, saw)
  • Drinking water
  • Trash bags
  • Hard hat and gloves (rubber or heavy gloves)
  • Hard-soled boots or shoes
  • If your home was flooded, bring large containers to soak bedding and clothing, and lines to hang them on to dry
  • Pails, mops and sponges, if your home was flooded
  • Liquid chlorine bleach (household laundry bleach containing 5-6% chlorine)

Before going inside

Walk carefully around the outside of the house. Carefully check for signs of damage or danger.

  • Look for loose power lines. Stay away from fallen or damaged electrical wires
  • If you smell the “rotten eggs” odour that is the tell-tale sign of gas, call the gas company right away. If the gas meter is outside, turn it off at the main valve. Do not go inside
  • Check the foundation, roof, chimney and steps for damage. Look for broken or cracked basement walls. Unnoticed damage could lead to fire or injury from falling debris
  • Don’t go inside if there is standing water around the house. The water could carry electric current
  • Take pictures of the outside damage for insurance claims

When entering the building

Use extreme caution. Move carefully inside the house. Building damage may have occurred where you least expect it. Carefully watch every step you take. Take pictures of the damage inside, both to the house and its contents, for insurance claims.

Check for gas leaks. If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window and quickly leave the building. Turn off the gas, using the outside main valve if you can, and call the gas company. If you turn off the gas for any reason, it must only be turned back on by a professional.

Look for electrical system damage. If you see sparks or broken or frayed wires, or if you smell burning insulation, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker – if you determine that it is safe to do so. If you have to step in water to get to the fuse box or circuit breaker, don’t do it – call an electrician or your local electric company for advice.

Check for sewage and water line damage. If you suspect sewage lines are damaged inside your property, avoid using the toilets and call a plumber (for damage outside your property, you may need to call the local authority). If water pipes are damaged, contact the local authority and avoid using water from the tap. (See more on this topic in step 4)

Watch for animals. Small animals that have been flooded or burned out of their homes may seek shelter in yours. Use a pole or stick to turn items over, watching for animals. Use caution when opening drawers and cupboards.

Disinfect standing water. If your home was flooded, it is important to disinfect all standing water in the home, including the basement. Measure 2 litres (2 quarts) of liquid chlorine bleach and distribute it evenly over any standing water. Stir the bleach and water together as much as possible. Repeat every four to five days for as long as the water remains.

Keep track of your expenses and time in cleaning up. Keep all receipts from cleaning supplies, rental equipment and any cleaning firms you hire. Record the number of hours you and your family or friends spend cleaning up the property each day. These records will be useful if you are making an insurance claim or applying for disaster financial assistance.


4. Food, medicine, water and sewage

Food and medicine

The motto to remember is: if in doubt, throw it out. Contamination from water, heat, smoke and fumes can spoil foods and medicines, making them dangerous to consume. It is cheaper to replace the item than to jeopardize your health by taking a chance.

  • Refrigerated food: Refrigerators keep food at 4 degrees C (40 degrees F). If the temperature inside the fridge has gone above that level, discard all the food. If you are unsure about the temperature, throw the food out. If your fridge was exposed to floodwaters, throw out the entire contents, including all meats, fresh fruit and vegetables.
  • Frozen food: Frozen food is probably safe, unless the freezer was exposed to heat from a fire, to floodwaters or has been without power for an extended period. If you are unsure about the exposure, throw the food out.

If the electricity is off, keep the freezer closed. It has enough insulation to keep food frozen for up to three days without power. It's considered safe to refreeze food that has partially thawed, if it still contains visible ice crystals. However, partial thawing and refreezing will reduce the quality of the food. Discard anything that has completely thawed, has reached a temperature above 4 degrees C (40 degrees F), or has questionable colour or odour.

  • Canned food: Tinned goods should be good for consumption unless the can has bulged, is badly dented or has rusted – throw these ones out. All undamaged canned goods should be washed and disinfected if they have been exposed to flood waters or smoke. Food stored in glass jars that have been exposed to heat should be thrown out as seals may have been broken.
  • Medicine: Check with a doctor or pharmacist before taking any medicine that may have been damaged or exposed to flood waters. Ask him or her about how to properly dispose of medicine.

Water safety

Water very quickly becomes a precious and rare commodity following major disasters. It is a good idea to shut off the water supply until you hear from the proper authorities that it is safe for drinking. Shutting off the main water valve will isolate your water system, eliminating the loss of water and possible contamination from the public system. You can obtain safe water from undamaged water heaters or by melting ice cubes.

If you are on a well or cistern, and it has been flooded or damaged, assume that the water in your home is not safe to drink. You will probably need to disinfect the well or cistern, or have it repaired. Contact your public health inspector or local authority for instructions.

Water Purification

Until your water has been confirmed safe for drinking, you have three options:

  • Alternative water supply – use bottled water or water from another source that is known to be safe
  • Boiling water – keep the water at a rolling boil for at least six minutes
  • Chlorination – disinfect water with unscented liquid chlorine bleach.
    • Add the bleach to the water using an eyedropper bottle, and use the eyedropper bottle only for disinfecting
    • Thoroughly mix the bleach with the water and allow it to stand for 30 minutes. The water should then have a slight chlorine odour. If it doesn’t, repeat the process and allow it to stand for another 30 minutes
    • You can also purify water with chlorine tablets, available where camping supplies are sold. Follow the instructions on the container
4.5 litres (1 gallon) of water to be treated Drops of unscented liquid chlorine bleach
Clear water 8 drops
Cloudy water 16 drops

Sewage disposal

Do not use your sewage disposal system until you know it is capable of handling waste.

  • Sewer system – if your home is connected to a municipal sewer, you will be notified when the system has been restored. As a temporary measure, you can line the toilet with a plastic trash can liner and dispose of the bag as necessary
  • Septic system – septic tanks can be damaged by major disasters, although flooding does not seriously affect septic tanks. Avoid having the septic tank emptied if the ground is saturated. The surrounding water pressure may propel an empty tank out of the ground
  • Outhouse – ensure that the outhouse is still positioned over the pit. If the outhouse has been washed away, or collapsed, cover the open pit with sturdy boards to prevent accidents and the spread of disease. If water is in the pit, add 2 litres (2 quarts) of unscented liquid chlorine bleach every three to four days until the water disappears

5. Cleaning up

The kind of cleanup you face will depend on the type of natural disaster you survived. Your home and the contents may look beyond hope, but lots of belongings can be restored. If your house is livable, the first job is a thorough cleaning and drying. If you need help cleaning up, contact a professional that specializes in fire and water damage restoration.

General cleaning tips

In addition to these general tips, we also provide specific tips to clean up after a flood or wildfire.

  • Tackle one room at a time.
  • Use the two-bucket approach: one bucket for cleaning solution and the other for rinse water. Change the rinse water frequently.
  • Protect your hands – wear rubber gloves
  • Clean walls from the bottom up so you can easily see where you have already cleaned
  • Follow a three-step process.
  1. Clean the room or item
  2. Disinfect it to kill germs and the smell left by floodwaters or smoke
  3. If necessary, get rid of mildew, which shows as fuzzy splotches


  • Carefully follow directions on cleaning products. When using them, wear rubber gloves and goggles, keep children and pets away, and keep the materials away from flames. Make sure you have proper ventilation
  • Never mix ammonia with bleach or any other cleaning products
  • Do not use bleach on aluminum or linoleum

6. Replacing documents and money

 You may be able to replace lost personal documents for free.

ID and documents list
Item How and where to replace

Birth certificates Marriage certificates Death certificates

1-888-876-1633 or visit a Service BC office

Divorce papers

Supreme Court where the decree was filed

Driver’s licences

1-800-950-1498 or visit a driver licensing office

Insurance policies and auto registration

Your insurance agent

Immigration and citizenship  Request online

Military discharge papers

Library and Archives Canada 1-866-578-7777

Citizenship papers

Citizenship and Immigration Canada 1-888-242-2100 (see note #2 below)

Permanent Resident Card 

Citizenship and Immigration Canada 1-800-255-4541 (see note #2 below)


Local passport office (see note #2 below)

Income tax records

Revenue Canada


Your lawyer

Medical records

Your family doctor

Medical Services Plan

Health Insurance BC

604-683-7151 (Vancouver) or 1-800-663-7100

(see note #2 below)

Social Insurance cards Employment Insurance papers

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada 1-800-206-7218

(see note #2 below)

Canada Pension Plan papers

Old Age Security cards

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada Income Security Programs 1-800-277-9914

(see note #2 below)

Land Titles

Provincial Land Titles office

Animal permits/licences
Hunting/fishing licences

1-877-855-3222 or visit FrontCounter BC

Bank books

Your bank

Money (partially or completely destroyed)


www.bankofcanada.ca - bank note redemption service (see note #1 below)

Canada Savings Bonds (completely or partially destroyed)


www2.csb.gc.ca/eng/service_bondholders_lost.asp (see note #1 below)

Credit cards

Issuing companies


Issuing company or your lawyer

Caution: If your home was damaged by fire and your documents are in a safe, do not attempt to open it until it is cool to the touch.

Note 1: If your home was damaged by fire or water, gather up any remains and put them in a package to protect from further damage as they may be useful for claim or reference purposes.

Note 2: A useful website with information on replacing identification is Service Canada


7. Insurance

This section is for insured households.

Take an inventory

You will need to provide a list of lost or damaged items as part of your insurance claim. Review your insurance policy so you understand what items to list. If you had a household inventory or video before the disaster, retrieve it for the insurance adjuster. If you didn’t, or if it was destroyed, ask your insurance agent for a blank inventory form – it can help when recalling what you've lost.

Record serial numbers of appliances and household equipment, if possible. Note the approximate cost or value of each item. If possible, take close-up photos or video footage of damaged rooms, furnishings and property.

Once the inventory is complete, submit it, along with a proof of loss form, to your insurance company.

Be sure to prepare a new inventory once you move back in. It may be written, photographed or recorded on tape or video. Keep a copy away from home either in a safety deposit box or with another family member or in a fire and water resistant safe.

Keep all receipts

Keep a copy of your inventory, all receipts related to living expenses and repairs, permits, inspection forms and any other papers in one place. You may need them for insurance purposes.

Notify your mortgage company

You have a responsibility to tell your mortgage company about the results of the disaster and to keep them informed about what’s being done to restore the property. They may have forms for you to fill out, and they may want to inspect the property. It is to your mutual advantage to work together. This also applies to total loss of other items destroyed (for example, a car with an outstanding loan guarantee).

Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) helps individuals and businesses with insurance questions and concerns. Call 1 844-227-5422


8. Repairing your home

This section is for insured owners of homes that can be repaired and lived in again.

If your house has been damaged by a natural disaster – flood, fire, tsunami, earthquake – you will need to look for a reputable contractor to help with repair and restoration.

Inevitably, the demand for qualified contractors after a disaster usually exceeds the supply. As a result, some consumers find that they’ve hired part-time contractors, who may not get the job done in a reasonable time; inexperienced contractors, who may not do the job well; or dishonest contractors, who are seizing the opportunity to make quick money.

Understandably, anxious homeowners and landlords are eager to get their property back in shape.

Here are some precautions to take in the rebuilding process:

  • Contact your local authority (municipality or regional district) to find out what steps you need to take to submit plans for rebuilding your home and to get a building permit. Keep in mind that homes must be rebuilt to today’s building code standards, not to the standards that were in place when the house was originally built.
  • Your insurance adjuster may recommend reputable contractors to do the repairs, or you may get recommendations from friends, relatives, neighbours or co-workers.
  • Deal only with licensed and insured contractors. Verify the track record of any roofer, builder or contractor you are thinking of hiring. Ask for recent customers and call them.
  • Take your time about signing a contract. Ask for a written estimate that includes any oral promises the contractor made. Get a copy of the final, signed contract before the job begins.
  • Resist dealing with any contractor who asks you to pay for the entire job up front. Pay only by cheque or credit card - and pay the final amount only after the work is completed to your satisfaction. Do not pay cash. Consider a hold back payable a set number of days post completion to ensure that the work is suitable.
  • Remember that damage to water, sewer, power or natural gas installations inside the house must be repaired under permit and inspected by the appropriate agency.

Business and Agriculture links

Business and agriculture recovery programs

  • Agri-Business Planning Program provides support for disaster recovery planning to help implement an immediate and long-term disaster recovery plan. The program will provide access to basic financial analysis, specialized business planning and coaching services.
  • Community futures provides on-the-ground supports for businesses. Businesses having a difficult time managing cash flow, planning for the future, selling their business, or seeking other supports are encouraged to contact their local office to learn about the range of supports available.
  • The 2021 Flood Recovery Program for Food Security will provide funding to farmers for help with the impacts of flooding on their crops and livestock. It will help with the costs of infrastructure repair and cleanup and returning to production.

Indirect business support