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Picking up the Pieces: Finding a Job After a Natural Disaster

Two people worrying

Disasters like wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding and earthquakes can steal the footing right out from under you. And having to find work while you’re mourning and rebuilding can feel almost too overwhelming.

Given our size and the range of climate and terrain across America, it’s not too surprising that we rank second among countries with the most natural disasters. It’s difficult for most people to fully comprehend what it’s like when the power goes out, homes and businesses are reduced to rubble, jobs are lost or suspended, and the infrastructure that keeps a community running in an orderly fashion is dealt a major blow. What happens when you wake up the next day? Where do you go for food, water, shelter — for money? How do you begin to pick up the pieces?

The three phases of a disaster

If you live in an area stricken by disaster, the details of life during the recovery become clear all too quickly. An initial wave of first responders — the Red Cross, nonprofit volunteers, the National Guard, local police and firefighters — provides rescue and relief and helps meet basic needs. After the area is stabilized and the first responders and volunteers move on to the next disaster, the cleanup, engineering, planning and building professionals move in. The final phase of disaster recovery is planning for and mitigating future disasters.

So where do you fit into this landscape? The good news for locals is that lots of jobs are available in each phase of disaster recovery, requiring workers with a wide range of backgrounds and skills. These jobs can give you the chance to rebuild your finances, learn new skills, make valuable connections and even jump-start a new career —while rebuilding your community.

What are disaster recovery jobs?

Rebuilding a community from the ground up requires all sorts of work, ranging from specialized functions like document recovery, environmental engineering to jobs requiring more general skills like answering phones and entering data. We’ve been on the ground matching workers with community needs in the wake of many recent natural disasters, and we’ve found the following job opportunities to be in high demand:

  • Debris monitors oversee and track the removal of debris resulting from wind, flood or fire, providing a crucial function in virtually any disaster situation. The position can be filled by workers with a range of backgrounds and skill sets, but can be physical, making industrial or warehouse experience a plus.

  • HAZWOPER is an acronym for Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response, and technicians certified in this methodology are in high demand whenever a physical structure is compromised. Getting the OSHA-required training for this certification initially requires completion of a 24-40 hour course, followed up every year with an eight-hour refresher course.

  • Insurance adjusters and catastrophic claims representatives are needed to process massive numbers of claims in a short period of time, and sometimes they remain in a disaster area for many months to complete the required work. Insurance adjusters need to become certified in the state in which they work, but the requirements can generally be completed quickly and the work is lucrative.

  • Call center representatives positions can be an opportunity if you like working with people. They have the important job of being the frontline representatives of companies involved in disaster relief, and they can also provide direct assistance to disaster victims.

  • Carpenters, electricians and inspectors are in top demand during any rebuilding process and often can find work in the area for years after a disaster. Due to the demand, workers entering the trades may be able to start out assisting skilled tradespeople and develop skills on the job.

  • Administration and data entry professionals are central to the success of large groups of workers coordinating to plan and rebuild a community. It’s a great opportunity if you’ve got office or administration experience.

Disaster workers are up to the challenge

Disasters are challenging — and so is disaster work. You might have to travel on short notice and work long hours in difficult conditions, which may include living without basic amenities such as running water. Witnessing major destruction can be shocking and emotionally draining, but rebuilding can also be uniquely rewarding, exposing you to new experiences, giving you a sense of purpose and bonding you with co-workers. It might just be easier to come to work in the morning if you know you can change the lives of fellow citizens and community members on a daily basis.

What makes a good disaster worker? In our experience — and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — having strong problem-solving skills and an ability to adapt quickly are crucial qualities. Coordinating lots of people and moving parts is key to the disaster relief and recovery process, so strong organizational and communication skills are also fundamental.

“When the hurricane started making the news, that’s when we started getting ready to go.”

We understand how hard it can be to return to normalcy after a natural disaster strikes. Here are some resources to help:

Please feel free to use our job board as a resource for jobs in your location — whether you’re displaced or finding new jobs locally.