Tips for Disaster Survivors

This last week was the 10th anniversary of the fire that effected thousands of people here in Southern California including our family. I was at my mom's and we were trying to troubleshoot something that was going wrong with the AC in the house that was rebuilt after the fire. She got out a large scrapbook that was filled exclusively with pictures of the house during construction. We were able to go through the book and look at what was inside of the walls to help with the issue we were having.

Although we don't look through the book a lot, through the years we've looked at that book several times and we are always grateful the book exists. This weekend my mom said she probably would never have taken so many pictures, but because I live 120 miles away she went to the house every night and took lots and lots of pictures of everything and then emailed them to me so I'd have something to talk to the contractor about the next day (and there was always lots to talk about).

This made me think that it would be a great tip to tell survivors to take pictures of everything, especially before insulation and drywall is installed so you can see where those pipes and wires are once they're covered up. It will be an invaluable resource later!

We all wish there was a simple answer to this question. After a loss there are a dozen things that all need to be done at once in addition to the full life you had before the fire. In reality, the best first thing to do is to come to the realization that you are not an insurance expert and be open to learning.

Once you are ready to learn, find a great resource. It is our hope that you can use our website as that resource. Not only do we have a great, free eBook "A Survivor's Guide to Insurance" we also have lots of other information that can be of help such as the Handout section.

To better answer the question, I will pick 5 things I think are of most help early on in the recovery process.


  1. The Ultimate Goal is to gather enough information to value your claim as accurately and thoroughly as possible and to collect all of the money owed to you by the insurance company.
  2. Get a copy of your insurance policy and start getting familiar with it by reading it over and over again.
  3. Start a claim diary where you write down all of the interactions you're having with your insurance company and others related to the recovery process (government officials, contractors, etc.)
  4. Start your personal property inventory now.
  5. Take the money from the insurance company. Money that comes to you is not to be considered payment in full unless that fact is explicitly stated in the paperwork you receive with the check. DO take the money, but DO NOT sign a release on the spot, including a Proof of Loss. If a release or a Proof of Loss is presented to you, take it with you and read it over thoroughly before signing. Even better would be to take it to an insurance expert for review.


Today on my way to work I heard an interesting segment on NPR about rituals. One sentence out of the broadcast reminded me of a book I read, Emotional Recovery After Natural Disasters. They were talking about a study done recently on how rituals were important in our lives and the one sentence that stood out said that completing rituals after a loss can make a person feel better (which everyone facing a large loss needs). It was similar to advice given in this very good book by Ilana Singer who started counseling disaster survivors following the 1991 Oakland Hills fire.

It is a book I highly recommend to every disaster survivor. Even if you can't face reading an entire book yourself you can assign one of those really helpful friends and family members to read it for you and tell you about it over lunch (or a series of lunches). It will help you and your friend both understand what you're going through.

The two reviews on Amazon are both glowing as well as this blog post that I recently found. The wrap up of the NPR broadcast I heard (along with a video of a Google Hangout) can be found HERE. Enjoy!

If you feel like you need help, the author offers counseling anywhere in the world via the phone. You can contact her at