Recovering From Disasters

The 2017 hurricane season has produced a record-breaking number of massive storms that led to severe flooding and damages across the United States and the Caribbean. A widely publicized mass shooting in Nevada and wildfires in the western United States have also recently occurred. Recovery efforts in these areas are ongoing. This webpage contains information and resources to help during the recovery process in the aftermath of disasters.  

Disaster Reactions

Disasters, both natural and human-caused, affect people and communities in different ways. As you begin to rebuild and recover, remember that it is very common for disaster survivors to have reactions to their experiences. Disaster survivors may show physical and emotional signs of stress, and disasters may affect them financially. Sadness, grief, and anger are just some of the common emotions survivors may experience. Reactions to the disaster may occur not only in people with direct experience of a disaster, but also in those who were indirectly affected through repeated exposure to media coverage of the incident.

Most disaster survivors are resilient and will recover with no additional assistance. However, some people may need a little extra help during the recovery process. Certain groups or populations may be at greater risk for developing severe reactions to a disaster or traumatic event. For more information or additional help in recovering, visit the SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline's webpage on warning signs and risk factors for emotional distress.

Phases of Disaster

While each survivor experiences a disaster as an individual, he or she also experiences it as part of a community. This webpage illustrates a community's response to disasters.

Phases of Disaster Graph

Suggestions for Coping After a Disaster

According to SAMHSA, the following stress management activities may help ease disaster-related stress. For more information, check out SAMHSA’s Tips for Survivors of a Disaster or Other Traumatic Event: Managing Stress.

Talk with others who understand and accept how you feel. Reach out to a trusted friend, family member, or faith-based leader to explore what meaning the event may have for you. Connect with other survivors of the disaster or other traumatic events and share your experience.

Body movement helps to get rid of the buildup of extra stress hormones. Exercise once daily or in smaller amounts throughout the day. Be careful not to lift heavy weights. You can damage your muscles if you have too much adrenaline in your system. If you don’t like exercise, do something simple, like taking a walk, gently stretching, or meditating.

Take deep breaths. Most people can benefit from taking several deep breaths often throughout the day. Deep breathing can move stress out of your body and help you to calm yourself. It can even help stop a panic attack.

Listen to music. Music is a way to help your body relax naturally. Play music timed to the breath or to your heartbeat. Create a relaxing playlist for yourself and listen to it often.

Pay attention to your physical self. Make sure to get enough sleep and rest each day. Don’t leave resting for the weekend. Eat healthy meals and snacks and make sure to drink plenty of water. Avoid caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol, especially in large amounts. Their effects are multiplied under stress and can be harmful, just making things worse.

Use known coping skills. How did you handle past traumatic events like a car crash or the death of a loved one? What helped then (e.g., spent time with family, went to a support group meeting)? Try using those coping skills now.

Helpful Links for Recovery Information

In addition to the resources that follow, for people experiencing emotional distress related to a disaster, SAMHSA offers toll-free crisis counseling and support through the Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990.

Contact SAMHSA Disaster Technical Assistance Center (DTAC) staff at dtac@samhsa.hhs.gov for more information on disaster preparedness, response, and recovery for government agencies, local organizations, nonprofits, and the general public.

General Public

SAMHSA's Tips for Survivors of a Disaster or Traumatic Event: What to Expect in Your Personal, Family, Work, and Financial Life identifies common effects of disasters and other traumatic events on various aspects of life, suggests steps to take in coping, and lists signs that a disaster survivor may need professional mental health support.

The SAMHSA tip sheet Tips for Survivors: Coping With Grief After a Disaster or Traumatic Event describes grief, suggests ways to cope, and distinguishes grief from complicated or traumatic grief. Resources for additional information and support are also provided.

This American Red Cross webpage helps survivors handle the financial challenges they may face after a disaster. Tips are provided for handling insurance claims, cash flow, bills, and debt, as is information about agencies to contact to replace important documents, from a driver's license to a Social Security or Medicare card to a will.


SAMHSA's Tips for Talking With and Helping Children and Youth Cope After a Disaster or Traumatic Event: A Guide for Parents, Caregivers, and Teachers presents common reactions of children and teenagers to a disaster or other traumatic event, offer tips for how adults can support children and teens in coping, and lists resources for additional support.

A SAMHSA DTAC podcast, Helping Children and Youth Cope in the Aftermath of Disasters: Tips for Parents and Other Caregivers, Teachers, Administrators, and School Staff (49 minutes), is designed to help important adults in the lives of children and youth to be aware of reactions to expect in children and youth after a disaster, as well as approaches to supporting children and youth in coping.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) has resources available for various audiences to help children recover after a disaster or other traumatic event.

This National Council on Family Relations webpage contains information to assist children after a disaster.

First Responders

In Adjusting to Life at Home: Tips for Families of Returning Disaster Responders, SAMHSA presents key points to consider for families in which a member is returning home after serving as a disaster responder. The tip sheet suggests steps families can take to help the responder's return home to go smoothly and identifies signs of the need for behavioral health support, as well as signs of positive change a responder may show after returning from an assignment.

The SAMHSA DTAC Self-care for Disaster Behavioral Health Responders (57 minutes) podcast discusses the stressors that disaster behavioral health responders may face, best practices in self-care for responders, and tools responders can use to assess their levels of stress and coping. The podcast also covers steps that supervisors can take to promote and support responder stress management.

SAMHSA's Tips for Health Care Practitioners and Responders: Helping Survivors Cope With Grief After a Disaster or Traumatic Event indicates ways in which first responders can talk with and support disaster survivors in experiencing and coping with grief.

Older Adults

The SAMHSA Disaster Behavioral Health Information Series (DBHIS) includes a collection focused on disaster behavioral health preparedness and response for older adults.

This Texas Department of State Health Services webpage provides information to help older adults recover emotionally from a disaster.

This Missouri Department of Mental Health Document (PDF | 296 KB) contains information to assist older adults during the recovery process after a disaster.


Users can find links to sites that offer assistance for businesses, local governments, and communities with various disaster-related needs on the Other Recovery Help webpage at DisasterAssistance.gov.

This FEMA webpage contains information and links to resources for people whose businesses or farms were damaged in disasters.

This U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation webpage provides tips and resources for businesses to help in the disaster recovery process.

Tribal Communities

The SAMHSA DBHIS collection American Indian and Alaska Native Tribal-specific Resources features resources for disaster responders and others working with tribal organizations, as well as for American Indian and Alaska Native communities.

The American Indian & Alaskan Native Disaster Preparedness Resource webpage from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response contains information and resources for tribal communities to assist with disaster response and recovery.

This Tribal Community Disaster Recovery webpage provides information on disaster response and recovery for tribal communities.

Last Updated: 01/16/2020