Emergency Preparedness for Beginners – Part 5 – Bugging in: Sanitation

Emergency Preparedness for Beginners
by Brett A. Fernau

Part 5 – Bugging in: Sanitation

You’ve made it home where you have water and food supplies to live on until the emergency situation is over and normal services resume. What if it takes more than just a few days before your city water system resumes operations? You know that your toilet depends upon the water you get from the city or county to operate, right? What if there is pressurized water available from the city, but that water is contaminated in some way? If you are in earthquake country, as I am, there is the possibility that both water lines and sewer lines will be broken under the street and will be mixing together. This means that the water pouring out of the tap or into the toilet will be unusable for drinking, bathing or cleaning. The only thing that water would be good for would be flushing the toilet. If you have no water at all coming into your house, the only water you will have to operate your toilet will be that water you will have stored for drinking. If you don’t know how long you will be without potable water (water that is safe to drink), you would be wise to conserve your supplies rather than flushing them down the toilet.

If you suspect that the water and sewer lines in your area are broken and that your water supply is contaminated by sewage, don’t open any taps in your house. Go outside and shut off the water at the curb. You should already know where that valve is and have a tool that will enable you to turn it off. If you don’t know the location of your water shut-off valve, find out now, before you go any further. By shutting off the water at the curb, you prevent the possibly of contaminated water from getting into your household system and thereby contaminating any water that may be left in your water lines. If you keep the water in your household system clean, you can use that water for drinking, including the water in the toilet tank (not the bowl, of course) and in the hot water heater (if you have one). Forgive the digression back into the subject of water, but this is important information for you to have.

If you still have pressurized, though contaminated, water available from the municipal water lines outside your house, you can allow that water back into your system after you’ve used or saved the clean water in the system by draining it into container for future use. Remember, though, that once you allow the contaminated city water into your household water system, you will only be able to use that water for flushing the toilet. Any other use of that water will require you to purify it by filtering, boiling or distilling. Even using the contaminated water for flushing your toilets would only be possible if the sewer system survived the earthquake or whatever other disaster you are dealing with. If that is not the case, if the sewer lines are collapsed or compromised to the point where they are not working, you will have to use other methods of waste disposal.

If you are to survive and stay healthy for any length of time over just a couple of day, you will need to figure out how do dispose of your waste. Waste includes, urine, feces, uneaten food, empty food and beverage containers, remains of dead animals and even humans, and whatever else there is that will attacked insects or harbor and breed disease. You will also need to figure out ways to keep yourself and your eating utensils clean. This all falls under the complicated, difficult and important topic of sanitation.

Since you have had the foresight to prepare for the disaster you are facing, you will have food to eat and water to drink. You will also need to be prepared to dispose of the waste products that will be created as a result of that eating and drinking. If you can’t flush it down the toilet, you will have to find another way of disposing of it. Certainly you will have to get the waste products out of your living space. With no sewer system to easily dispose of your bodily wastes, you will then have to bury them. You will want to bury them as far away from your living space as possible and in a location that will not contaminate any water source that you might have in your area. The easiest way to get your bodily wastes into the ground is the old fashion concept of the outhouse or pit latrine. This is simply a hole in the ground that you use as a toilet. You will need to devise some sort of cover and lid system for your latrine to keep the smell under control. There are also chemical toilets available, which would work for the short term. But you will still have the problem of disposing of the waste at some point. You can line a 5 gallon bucket with a plastic garbage bag and top it with a toilet seat; or you can line your toilet with a plastic bag. You will still have the problem of where to dispose of the waste.

As I said, waste disposal is a complicated problem. It must be handled immediately, though, or you will have the even bigger problems of disease, unbearable stench and uncontrollable insect infestations. Think this through, do your research and have a plan before the disaster strikes. I see a couple of problems that I don’t see solutions for yet. If you end up digging a latrine in your back yard and a couple of weeks later, the city services come back on line, what do you do with it at that point? Do you just fill it in and pretend it’s not there, or do you call someone in the sewage business and get their help in handling it. When civilization returns, your temporary potty may now be considered a toxic waste problem.

In addition to disposing of you waste materials, you will need to keep yourself and your eating utensils clean and as germ-free as possible. Keep your hands clean by washing them with potable water. Don’t put your fingers in your mouth or your eyes. They will be dirty. You will be dirty. In a grid-down emergency, the first thing you do is ration water, your drinking water. You are going to have to get used to being dirty and smelly until you get some sort of clean water system in place. You can keep yourself healthy by keeping your hands as clean as possible. Wash after using the latrine. Wash before eating. Keep your cooking and eating utensils clean. Stock up on some hand sanitizer and some baby wipes. You can keep yourself clean with those for a while. Keep your living and cooking areas clean. You will have to take sponge baths as you won’t have water for showers. You might have to settle for washing feet, crotch, armpits, face and hands if you water supplies are short.

As I said, think this through. Look at where you live. Is there someplace on the property where you could bury waste? Do you have a shovel to dig a pit? What kind of soil do you have? Will you need a pickaxe to dig into it? Sanitation and waste disposal may well be your biggest problem in a disaster. It must be solved and solved quickly, though, or you will quickly succumb to the diseases that result from untreated waste products.

Emergency Preparedness for Beginners – Part 3 – Bugging In: Water

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