How to prevent injury, illness or death while cleaning up after a disaster

On the thread “The second survival – How to go on after the crisis is over“, hikermor made a significant comment regarding the fatalities and serious accidents that can occur after the disaster during the clean up and recovery process.

What hikermor introduced on that thread warrants it’s own topic and thanks to Gideon who suggested the new topic title above, we now have a new topic started.

This is the quote from hikermor: ”Perhaps it is worth mentioning that fatalities and serious accidents resulting from clean up efforts following a hurricane, etc. typically are equal to the total rug up during the storm.”

The second survival thread deals with the emotional/psychological aspects of recovery after crisis.

This thread is so we can examine safety issues of recovery after the crisis.

What kind of safety issues could we potentially face?

How do you safely deal with matters of downed power lines or other electrical hazards? How do you prevent a fall from a roof when attempting to repair it?

What kind of tools or gear can help keep us safe?

What should we do with wet damaged debris? What about mould? How do we prevent infections or waterborne disease because of contaminated surfaces or sewage infested water?

This could be an excellent way to share first hand information on how we coped safely in the aftermath of a disaster, or what lessons we learned when we didn’t cope safely.

The following is my post from the second survival thread which deals with how to stay safe around electrical hazards.

Begin Quote:

hikermor and Bob – Excellent points. 

One should also know how to deal safely with electrical hazards such as downed power lines. Or, if trapped in vehicle and a fire starts, how to safely exit a vehicle where there is risk of electrical hazard. 

Electrical Safety

Also, keep contaminated footwear and gloves out of the house. End Quote

Bob also made several excellent comments on safety issues on the second survival thread.

I was going to wait longer for hikermor to start this thread, but wasn’t sure how long that would be, so with credit to hikermor for introducing the topic, Bob for his comments on the other thread and to Gideon for the title, I’d like to offer it now.


  • Comments (29)

    • 7

      Great topic that is not thought of very often. After a hurricane, tsunami, or a flood, you have to be extremely careful of wading through the water afterwards. Usually it is murky, full of debris, and pretty much everything you can think of contaminate-wise. All the gasoline, oil, urine, feces, and other nasties from your sewers, roads, gutters, and other waste places are swept through by the water and now that is all swimming around you.

      Any small cut, which is extremely likely because you are walking through broken glass, metal, boards, and more, will get infected extremely fast. Once you get to a safe and dry place, do a very thorough exam and treat every scrape and cut.

      • 9

        Brad, just to add something newcomers might not think of;

        Also diligently check hands especially involving cuticals (sp?). 

      • 4

        Great point bob! Don’t lose a finger because your hangnail got infected. Check your hands especially close. Even if I had something like dry and cracked skin on my hands, I would watch them really carefully if they had been in dangerous water. 

    • 6

      Bradical and Bob – Your posts got me thinking that I need to change up the rubber boots and gloves on hand.

      I searched “steel toe and puncture proof rubber boots” and came up with a couple of examples. I like the idea of puncture proof soles and metatarsal protection. It would very easy to get points above the toe crushed in certain situations.

      Gear Cor Boots


      LeHigh Safety Boots

      For gloves, I found a good introduction about how to choose safety gloves depending on the situation:

      Superior Glove Choosing Gloves

      I’m not a height person, so I cling like a koala bear to a ladder. I looked up instructions on ladder safety and how to use various ladders safely. I’m printing this one out and putting it in my prep binder of hard copy instructions/info.

      Workplace Safety and Prevention Services

      There are also a variety of ladder stabilizers and stand offs that can help make ladder use safer.

      There are also fittings for multi-stored houses that can be installed in advance such as roof jacks to make ladder use safer and prevent the roof gutters from being crushed.

      • 8

        Ubique, that’s good thinking on the boots. Puncture resistant and steel toe. Also a good idea to have high boots that can keep your feet dry if going through flood waters. I think that I might want lower boots as well though if the waters were like waist high. Having high boots wouldn’t keep your feet dry at that point and your boots would just fill up with water and be super heavy. 

        Looks like that glove site you linked to has some free samples of gloves that you can request. If anyone gets a free sample, they should let us know and how the gloves are that they get.

      • 5

        Good point on the high boots, Bradical. I need to add chest waders. (Smacking my forehead – we had these on the farm). There are also hip waders, but the waterproof chest waders would deeper water. I added a link:

        Chest Waders

        For the boots, I like the idea of the instep being covered by a steel plate. Debris falling on a foot is a sure way to get into more trouble fast.

        I didn’t read the part about free samples – I was on the fly looking up the items. 

        Gloves and footwear are bumped up on my priority list. The items I have on hand would work to a point, but I like to be prepared for worst case scenarios – over built rather than under built.

      • 6

        Edit to above re chest waders – A very important safety point – chest waders with the attached boot can be dangerous if you fall over in the water while wearing them.

        From a person I know who worked in public works, I am relaying their message which is use hip waders and tape the boots to waterproof or if using hip waders, don’t use the ones with attached boots.

        Also from same person, if the water is that deep that chest waders would be needed 1) best to avoid 2) if absolutely necessary to go in, then a rope and spotters to stabilize you, but they strongly recommend avoid deep water.

      • 10

        Ubique, Brad, Unless it’s an emergency evacuation, private citizens cleaning up debris in floodwaters must really think this out. Deep still water can develop a current faster than Superman’s flight somewhere. A car can’t handle 12″ / third meter of a heavy current nor can a person remain standing. Am not even hinting at the need for a life vest.

        Related; Geographic specific to Virginia’s flood plain, flood waters can have the bugs and snakes also. Here the waters will have everything from the stringes w/ used needles to the railroad ties with the thick spikes. (Please save the fish nets for me – even if torn and slimy.)

        My SOP is to ensure no electricity can enter place and then dedicate time to dwelling inspection/repair. Will mimic Noah and wait for receding waters.

        Glove selection could also use an axiom. The thicker the better and then some XXXXX rubber glove on top.  Everything’s in the water.

      • 3

        I agree with you bob. You don’t want to be messin around in flood waters more than you need to and it is better to wait for the waters to recede.

        There are some situations where you have to be in them like if you are trying to swim/walk your way to safety or like if a family member is trapped in a flooded house and you are trying to get them out. 

        Great link to those chest waders ubique. Smart idea that I hadn’t thought of.

      • 6

        Hi Bob, You are absolutely right. I got onto the waders because I was thinking protection from unclean water. I can see now how it could encourage someone to go into deep water and that isn’t a safe thing to do.

        Thank you for setting that straight and for relaying important information about how floodwaters, or the objects in them behave.

        The safety gloves I read about also come in a kevlar type to help prevent punctures from needles. Thank you also for the axiom about the gloves. I will remember that when purchasing the new ones.

        You are very knowledgeable about this Bob and bring up points that many of us wouldn’t think of. Please continue sharing on this topic.

    • 6

      Remember you can always improvise protective gear when cleaning up from a disaster. Wrapping your legs in cardboard or extra clothing can protect your legs from brushing against things and minor scratches. A bicycle helmet can protect your head against falling things when going through rubble while trying to free your child from a collapsed building after an earthquake. A wet cloth around your mouth will be better than nothing to protect your throat and lungs against smoke from a fire.

      Make sure to try and attempt to remain calm when cleaning up a disaster. The adrenaline dump, fear, anxiety, worry, and stress of the disaster is going to cloud your judgement and you may make stupid mistakes and get you hurt. Slow down and take your time (if possible).

      • 4

        Good points on the improvisation, Carter Murphy. Gear can be damaged or lost and knowing how to substitute everyday items in advance can save precious time.

        Also good advice to remain calm amid the chaos. The best thing I can think of is to breathe steadily, slow down as you said, and methodically work through the situation.

      • 10

        I like that term “adrenaline dump”, Carter. This term is an independent peril not that different than results from a panic attack.

        Hikemor introduced us to the post-peril dangers like otherwise preventable injuries.

      • 6

        Bob – During a panic attack, researchers discovered that one hemisphere of the brain “shut down” (the image was dark).

        They had a person who was experiencing a panic attack use a small round object, like a tennis ball or smaller and not too light. Hands in front, close enough to comfortably pass the ball back and forth without dropping it.

        The person then passed the ball between their hands using a rhythmic “one and two and one and two” count. By engaging both hemispheres of the brain, through this simple movement, they found a way to break a panic attack by getting both sides of the brain to “fire”.

        It worked for me before diagnosis and treatment when I was struggling to manage PTSD symptoms. At work, I could improvise with a pen and pass it back and forth during a meeting or at my desk and no one knew. Also, have passed it on to others who had success with it.

        I hope hikermor continues here with what he started on the other thread. I have stressed that the credit is to him (and you) for starting the discussion.

        We prep for the disaster/crisis, but I know that many of us haven’t been as in depth in our consideration of post-peril dangers. There are the dangers that exist if we evacuate as well as SIP.

        LBV made a good point on Bill Masen’s NZ earthquake thread about her family experience in it. Sometimes, the danger can come in the form of family members (or friends) who are not taking the situation seriously and reacting as we would want or expect them to react.

        Even the irritation of dealing with that situation could divert attention and focus away from more important matters at hand.

      • 4

        Ubique, Interesting re the countermeasure to defeat panic attack.

        Evacuation preparedness is so neglected …..

        All credit to Hikermore.  He is initiator and lead author.

      • 8

        Bob, It was from NLP (neurolinguistic programming) a think tank group started by Bandler and Grinder. I saw it on a TV documentary where they postulated that if people who excelled at various things could be studied for how they achieved their success, that it would be possible to replicate it. It developed further from there and used techniques commonly known.

        There have been some who discredited them. I have no idea if they ever became involved in MLM as some search results claim.

        Wiki NLP

        I bought one of an NLP book from a used book store. It is part of a variety of tools I use.

        I keep an open mind, but not so open that my brain falls out. I think what they did makes sense. They were using modelling techniques to teach people how to perform or do better. Some of their methods could help in mental side of preparedness.

        If anything, I got an effective way to manage a panic attack.

      • 5


        Ubique, not directly related but some good info will probably be found via some surfing around.

        I personally have my own view and it was stated by Jerusalem King Koheleth: 

        “For as wisdom grows, vexation grows;

        To increase learning is to increase heartache.”

        I’m a follower of the Freud, Rank, Ernst Sellins school of thought re the mind.  

        Much, if not all, is in their writings.  Freud’s “The Uncanny” (1919), augmented by Rank and Sellins, got me 100% focused. Can’t place this heavy stuff here.

      • 6

        I have never seen a detailed analysis of post disaster injuries but i strongly suspect that many were operating well beyond their competence, pushed by time constraints and the absence of those qualified to deal with the problem at hand.  Probably lacking was the right kind of protective gear.

        It is important to equip yourself properly, from head to toe and know the limits to your skills and knowledge.

      • 3

        Thank you for the link Bob. The quote is so true. A follower of Rank that I saw didn’t recognize c-PTSD or refer for it. It all ended well. 

        I learned from each attempt over a 10 year period to understand the world I inhabited, and stopped mourning the world I lost. The final healing came from writing about what I could not speak to anyone and was done in the spirit of helping others.

        A social disorder is what it is. It was a struggle to venture out of the cave and sign up here.

      • 4

        Ubique, The 10 year learning journey worked, from the cave to here at the inn and elsewhere.

        Once the concept that life is difficult – and accepted as perpetually difficult –  then, in substance, life is no longer difficult. It just doesn’t matter.

        You have arrived.

        “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”

        Martin Buber (1878 – 1965)

      • 5

        “What a long, strange trip it’s been” – Jerry Garcia

        Always a James fan,

        “Great emergencies and crises show us how much greater our vital resources are than we had supposed.” William James

      • 4

        Two of my favorites, Ubique.

        Down here, CDC recommends we frequently wash hands for virus control for a minimum time no less than time to sing the “Happy Birthday” song. My substitute song is “Just keep truckin’ along”. 

      • 4

        Good point  – We can keep our spirits up in the face of disaster or times of stress by something as simple as substituting a song while washing hands.

        Great idea.

    • 5

      My only relevant experience is in dealing with ash.  Last Fall we had about a 1/4 inch coating, maybe more.  It’s surprisingly nasty stuff and sticks around for a while.  Even the smallest tasks that I thought could be accomplished (like taking out the trash) usually resulted in a face full of the stuff.  An N95 or P100 was the way to go.  Masks that don’t seal let a lot in around the edges.  Our local public health officer pointed out that toxic sludge is much better to deal with than toxic particulates.  Hosing everything down (including plants and as much of the trees as I could) made a big difference.   We eventually got some rain that cleaned things up. 

      • 4

        AT – Thank you for bringing up the issue of ash and how you handled it.

        Really good to know.

    • 5

      I checked CDC website and found this reference.

      How to clean up safely after disaster

      Work slowly, in teams and take breaks is part of their advice and I think a good reminder during stressful times.

      • 4

        CDC has good and well presented info. 

    • 5

      Another point to consider during clean up is the affect of stress on the body = heart is a muscle. Stress + exertion does not make for a good outcome.

      I think it is wise to treat is like snow clearing. Shovel sensibly and don’t go above your physical abilities. Ask for help.