How do I find my family?

In the event of a large-scale disaster, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has established the National Emergency Family Registry and Locator System (NEFRLS), which has been developed to help reunite families who are separated during a disaster. The NEFRLS system enables displaced individuals the ability to enter personal information into a website database. The information can then be used to locate others and to register your location so others may locate you during a disaster. A person can use NEFRLS as a search tool after they register to search for missing family members. If a registrant has designated an individual to allow review of their personal information, then a friend or loved one can search NEFRLS if they know personal information about the registrant to identify who they are. The system is only activated to support presidentially declared disasters and mass evacuations and is not active at any other time. To register with NEFRLS, or if you wish to find out about someone's status, call 1-800-588-9822 or visit:

Another way to connect with friends and family members or to let them know that you are safe, is by posting messages on social media websites like Facebook or Twitter.

The American Red Cross also maintains a database to help disaster survivors find family members. Again, this database is for large scale disasters that involve multiple families and is not applicable for single family disaster occurrences. The American Red Cross Safe and Well Website is an internet-based tool that families can integrate into their family communications plan when preparing for disasters. The Safe and Well site is a public website that allows those affected by disaster to register themselves as "safe and well" by selecting and posting standard messages for friends and family that indicate they are at a shelter, home or hotel, and will make contact when they are able. Concerned family members who know the person's current phone number (home, cell or work) or a complete home address can search for the messages posted by those who register. To connect, go to

Cell Phone Tips

In the event of a disaster, cell phone call volume increases significantly. This can cause network systems to become congested, which can prevent phone calls from being made or received. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has provided the following information regarding cellular phone usage after a disaster, which can be viewed on their website at

Recommended Practices for All Users

  • Limit non-emergency phone calls. This will minimize network congestion, free up "space" on the network for emergency communications and conserve battery power if you are using a wireless phone
  • Keep all phone calls brief. If you need to use a phone, try to use it only to convey vital information to emergency personnel and/or family
  • Try text messaging, also known as short messaging service (SMS) when using your wireless phone. In many cases text messages will go through when your call may not. It will also help free up more "space" for emergency communications on the telephone network
  • If possible, try a variety of communications services if you are unsuccessful in getting through with a cell phone. For example, if you are unsuccessful in getting through on your wireless phone, try a messaging capability like text messaging or email. Alternatively, try a landline phone if one is available. This will help spread the communications demand over multiple networks and should reduce overall congestion
  • Wait 10 seconds before redialing a call. On many wireless handsets, to re-dial a number, you simply push "send" after you've ended a call to redial the previous number. If you do this too quickly, the data from the handset to the cell sites do not have enough time to clear before you've resent the same data. This contributes to a clogged network
  • Have charged batteries and car-charger adapters available for backup power for your wireless phone
  • Maintain a list of emergency phone numbers in your phone. If in your vehicle, try to place calls while your vehicle is stationary
  • Have a family communications plan in place. Designate someone out of the area as a central contact, and make certain all family members know who to contact if they become separated
  • If you have call forwarding on your home number, forward your home number to your wireless number in the event of an evacuation. That way you will get incoming calls from your landline phone
  • Be sure that you have at least one corded telephone that is not dependent on electricity in case of an electrical power outage. Cordless telephones usually will not work if there is a power outage
  • If you have a camera phone, use the camera to take, store, and send photos of your damaged property to your insurance company

Who Can I Call if I Have Lost a Pet?

If you have lost a pet, visit your local animal care and control shelter or rescue DAILY. You will know what your pet looks like better than a shelter worker working with a description. The main San Mateo County resource that can assist you with a lost pet is the Peninsula Humane Society (650) 340-7022.

Immediate Housing Needs

After a disaster, you may need to be relocated to a temporary residence while your home is being rebuilt. For immediate housing needs in multiple family disasters, the San Mateo County Human Services Agency, in partnership with the American Red Cross and other volunteer agencies may set up temporary shelters for people who cannot return to their homes. Listen to your radio or watch local media for the location of the nearest volunteer agency facility. For health and space reasons, pets are permitted at public emergency shelters, but must be contained outside the facility. Contact 211, local animal shelter, or humane society for additional shelters to take pets in an emergency.

Homeowners With Insurance

Most homeowners’ insurance policies have a provision that pays for relocation. This provision is commonly referred to as additional living expenses (A.L.E.). Check with your insurance carrier for the time allowed for relocation. Relocation coverage typically ranges from 1 to 2 years and may be extended in cases of Federally declared disaster areas. Your insurance adjuster or representative may recommend a relocation company, or you can contact a company directly. A relocation service will have resources to help you locate homes, townhouses, condominiums, apartments, hotels, mobile homes, and travel trailers. The goal of the relocation service is to find a temporary residence close in size, quality, and vicinity of your home. You will be asked to sign a lease for the projected time of repairing your home. The insurance company will either pay the costs directly or reimburse you for the rental cost incurred. The relocation service should furnish the home with everything you need, including beds, sofas, tables, chairs, office equipment, T.V.'s, appliances, cutlery, kitchen utensils, and a wide range of other items.

What if I Rent My Home?

If you are renting the property that has been damaged or destroyed, immediately call your landlord and/or property manager to inform them of the loss. If your home is deemed uninhabitable, you may be able to get your deposit refunded. If you have a written lease, there may be language covering your rights if property is destroyed or damaged.

If you have renters’ insurance, your policy may cover your personal property damages and possibly additional living expenses. Call your insurance company to file a claim. Some of the resources previously mentioned may also have programs to help with financial assistance specifically for renters without insurance.

In the event of a declared disaster, FEMA has a program called the Transient Accommodation Program designed to reimburse disaster survivors for short term transient housing in places like hotels or motels. If coverage is available, you must provide receipts to show the costs you incurred to live in transient accommodations.

For more information on disaster housing, you can view the information provided by the National Disaster Housing Strategy Resource Center at

Disaster shelter cots and red cross blankets