Emergency Preparedness for Beginners
By Brett A. Fernau
Part 3: Bugging In – What you need to survive at home – Water
Read Part 1 and 2 of this series first. In those articles I discuss what you will need to survive the initial disaster event and what you will need to get home from wherever you are when that event occurs. This, Part 3, is the first article on what you will need to survive at home in the event of a short-term and temporary situation where power and water are not available. By “short-term” I mean a few days up to a couple of weeks without access to the usual sources of power and water, but with the strong possibility that both will be restored fairly quickly. When power, water, and communications are interrupted you are “off the grid.” The “grid” is that publicly-owned infrastructure that supplies you with electricity, water, cable and broadcast TV, and telephone communications, both hard-wired, land lines and cellular.
A long-term, off-grid, emergency situation is a much more complicated and difficult subject to address and consider, and is not for beginners. You will quickly overwhelm yourself, if you delve too deeply into it. For now, don’t do it. We’ll talk about it later, once you have learned the basics.
The Rule of Threes is one of the first things you need to know in preparing for an emergency situation. The Rule of Threes is: You can survive for 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water and 3 weeks without food. So, the first thing you need to do to begin preparing your home base for a disaster is to create some water reserves. Under normal conditions, you should plan on using one gallon of water per person per day just for drinking. In very hot conditions, the level of usage may climb to two gallons per day. Start with one gallon per person per day. So, for a family of four, you would need four gallons of water per day, 28 gallons for a week, and 56 gallons for two weeks. Again, this is just for drinking. This does not include water for cooking, cleaning, or sanitation.
Probably, this already seems overwhelming to you. How and where will you store a fifty-five gallon drum of water that weighs 440 pounds? Where do I get a barrel? How long will the water last inside of it? How will I get the water out of it? How much will that cost me? Stop!! You don’t have to do it all today. Let’s hope that if there is a disaster where you live, that it won’t happen right away. With that hope in mind, you still should start stocking up on some water right away. You can buy a case of bottled water at the grocery store the next time you go shopping. Stash that case in a closet with a note attached to it that indicates the date you purchased it. The plastic in which that water is packaged does not last forever, so you will need to rotate your water supply periodically, about every six months if you are storing bottled water in those flimsy containers. You could put a reminder on a wall calendar to remind you to use and replace that case of water when the six months has passed. I started storing tap water in one liter bottles that previously contained sparkling mineral water. The plastic of these bottle is a little thicker than the standard bottled water containers since it has to hold the pressure of the carbonation (the fizz). I bought some inexpensive plastic crates from a local discount department store. The crates hold 12 bottles each, or about 3 gallons per crate. They are stackable so they don’t take up much floor space, but they are heavy when you get them stacked up.
There are other ways to store water. Plastic drums designed for water storage are available in a variety of sizes from 5 to 55 gallons; pumps are available to get the water out of the drums. The home water delivery companies use those 5 gallon bottles. You can store those and use and replace them as appropriate. There are water containers available at sporting goods stores that are square or rectangular, hold from 3 to 5 gallons and can fit into the back corner of a closet. It is recommended that any water that you store in plastic containers not be left sitting on a concrete floor as there can be some leaching of toxins from the concrete into the water. Use wooden pallets or platforms to keep your water containers off of the concrete. If you live in an apartment, keep a close watch on your water containers so they don’t start leaking down into your neighbor’s apartment below you.
If you have a water source available nearby, such as a pool, a lake or river, or a well with a manual pump, you are one of the fortunate ones. But even then, you will need a way to treat that water to make it safe for drinking. After a disaster that disrupts the public water system, any water that isn’t in a container that you filled or purchased and know is safe for drinking, should be treated. That includes tap water. There are a variety of water purification methods and systems available. You should plan on having and being able to use more than one method. All methods have their own plus points and minus points and you should understand those before you decide upon which method or methods you use. Distillation removes pretty much everything from your water, but its long-term use for drinking is not recommended since it takes minerals from your body on its way out. Boiling clear water for 10 minutes is a highly recommended way of purification. You can clean up muddy or dirty water by straining it through a cotton rag to remove the particles; then, you will need to boil it or filter it to remove the contaminants. The liability of boiling water is that it takes fuel to bring the water to a boil. If you have unlimited fuel, then boiling is a workable method of purification. There are some very good high-tech filters available that claim to remove 99.99 percent of contaminants. Do your own research and decide if that might be an option for you. Chemical purification tablets are another option, as is bleach added to clear water. Follow the instructions carefully to use the tablets. For bleach, be sure to use the unscented product. There are a couple of different ratios out there about how much bleach to use per gallon of water. Somewhere between 8 and sixteen drops seems to be the standard, but do your own research and testing to make sure you get it right. Both the chemical tablets and the bleach method require you to allow the water to sit for a time (30 minutes for bleach) before it is safe to drink, and you need to stir up the mixture after you’ve added the tablets or bleach.
For the short-term, have enough water on hand to keep you going until municipal service is restored and declared safe for drinking. For the long term, consider more than one of the above options