Five steps to obtaining disaster assistance

by | Dec 14, 2022 | 2022 Twelve Days of Thanks and Giving, Leaders, News, Wildfire


On the fifth day of Thanks and Giving, we give to you … five tips for getting the help you need after a disaster.

In our last post, we talked about four sources of disaster assistance, emphasizing that there is no one source for help. Today, we offer you five tips for getting started on navigating the stressful, confusing, and intimidating process of getting help.

These tips draw on the collective advice we gathered from people who had started and led a grassroots response to help their community in the face of COVID-19. The resulting “Seven Tips for Being Effective in a Crisis” were intended to help people start a community response, but we think the first five apply equally to helping find the help you need.

Tip 1: Just start!

Take a step. Take another. Keep going. Don’t let not knowing hold you back.

–– COVID-19 leaders study | Creative Crisis Leadership 

Finding help may seem daunting because there are so many sources that it’s difficult to know where to start. The worst thing to do is to give up before you start.The best thing to do is to start with a few places and go from there.

We recommend the following first steps.

  1. See what your local authority offers. They may have a website listing resources specifically available to you. For example, Sonoma county in California, posts recovery resources for residents affected by wildfires.
  2. Call your insurance company.
  3. Contact your local Red Cross chapter.
  4. Use FEMA’s to see what federal assistance may be available. 

Tip 2: Don’t be afraid to fail

If you do something, you may succeed. If you do nothing, you’ve already failed.

–– COVID-19 leaders study | Creative Crisis Leadership 

Do not be intimidated by the difficulty of asking, the complexity of an application, nor assume that you will not qualify for assistance. There is no shame and little harm in asking. You might be pleasantly surprised!

And the insurance company did send somebody out. And I’m saying, “I don’t think you need to come out. There’s no damage here.” And the guy went around with his white glove, or whatever he did. And said, “No, you got all this, this needs to be …,” whatever, [they] handed us a bunch of money.

–– Three CZU Fire Survivors Tell Their Stories

Tip 3: Don’t go it alone

Get others to help. Collaboration will make it easier, and help you do more.

–– COVID-19 leaders study | Creative Crisis Leadership 

As we said in our last post, “The first source of help is right next to you.” The people around you are going through what you are going through. They are probably seeking much the same information about disaster assistance that you are. Save time and energy by pooling your knowledge. Share what you’ve found and find out what they’ve already learned.

Moreover, obtaining disaster relief can be exhausting and stressful. Sharing the process with others who are experiencing the same stresses can be motivating and uplifting.

There’s a growing consensus among emergency response researchers that in communities where social ties are strong and there is a sense of connectedness, residents are more readily able to rebound after a disruptive event such as an earthquake, hurricane, tornado, wildfire, or illness.

–– How to rebound from disasters? Resilience starts in the neighborhood

If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together.

–– African Proverb

Tip 4: Build on what you have

Use the skills, resources, and relationships that are available to you. Develop new ones as you go along.

–– COVID-19 leaders study | Creative Crisis Leadership 

When meeting with neighbors, take stock in what skills you each have and take advantage of each other’s skills. Those with good internet research skills can take the lead on online searches. Those with extensive social networks can seek out information from that network.  Those with membership in community organizations can explore the resources they offer.

Tally the social connections you have collectively. Find out who has connections to people in positions of knowledge and expertise. Fostering these connections for the community can be a powerful tool in the undertaking of obtaining disaster assistance.

“A community that has trusted ties to decision-makers can also receive about 20 to 30 percent more money for building back after a disaster than communities that do not have those connections.”

––  How to rebound from disasters? Resilience starts in the neighborhood

Tip 5: Focus

Tackle one problem at a time. Don’t try to do everything at once.

–– COVID-19 leaders study | Creative Crisis Leadership 

Yes, there is a lot of assistance out there. This can be confusing. Furthermore,

… not all of the help is immediately available, and not everyone can access the aid easily. Also, eligibility for the programs can differ depending on the circumstances.

–– Here’s the disaster relief Hurricane Ian survivors can request, but it’s not always easy to get | CNN 

Figuring out what assistance to pursue when can be overwhelming and exhausting. So, begin by assessing your needs, prioritize them, and start with the most important ones. Do you need fundamentals like shelter, food, water, and utilities? Then start with those. Once you have obtained your top priorities, or at least performed the actions necessary to obtain them, then you can move on to the next, and the next, and the next….

When pursuing assistance, take the time to be thorough so as to give yourself the best chance of getting what you want.  Consider, as an example, that FEMA had 83,000 assistance applications within a week after Hurricane Ian. With so many applicants for FEMA to consider, you want to make it easy for their assessors to approve your request. So, make the effort to find out what makes a good application. Talk to experts and look for sites, like the following, that can help you through to a successful application:


There you have it –  five tips to help you make your way through the effort of getting help. We hope you never need them, but should disaster strike, we hope this helps.

To celebrate the thanks of Thanksgiving and Giving Tuesday, today, we give a very special thanks to the eleven remarkable individuals who gave us their time during our COVID-19 research project and whose collective insight produced our “Seven Tips for Being Effective in a Crisis.”


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