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Emergency Water: Store it Now!

I notice on Facebook people are talking about getting ready for hurricane Irene and storing supplies. An emergency that gives you days of warning to prepare is my favorite kind. Unfortunately though, emergencies don’t always give us warning like that. So let’s take a clue from our collective attention to this storm bearing down on the east coast of our country and talk about our families’ emergency water supply.

If you are in the immediate path of the storm and you do not have any stored water at all, nor any containers to store water in, you need to buy water.  But this is an expense not all of you have to bear.  Everyone has water right now and storing water is easy. With the right containers and information, you can do it yourself.

First a word about contamination.  The reason for storing water in most instances, is not because there will not be water available, but because the available water is likely to be contaminated. Contaminated water is very dangerous.  A small amount – mere drops — of water containing disease-causing organisms can induce serious illness, especially in infants and the elderly.  Besides this kind of contamination, water supplies can be infiltrated by various inorganic substances that are poisonous to humans but that dissolve in water. Your municipal water supply is treated to remove disease-causing organisms and filtered to remove dangerous substances; you take it for granted that what comes out of your tap is potable (safe for drinking). But storms or floods can overwhelm your municipal supply and allow sewage to infiltrate the water system causing biological contamination or allow chemical poisons to enter the water.

That is why you may be told by authorities to boil water during an emergency. Boiling water kills organisms in the water.  Note however, that boiling water does not remove chemical contaminants. Only distilling water can do that. Distilling is boiling water, catching the steam, and then condensing it (turning it back into water). You have to factor in that both boiling water and distilling water require a heat source and some equipment. A pressure cooker can be used as a distiller in an emergency, and a distiller can be fashioned from aluminum foil and just about any pot, but can you imagine being in an emergency and having to deal with trying to distill drinking water? What a pain! And if there are prolonged power outages, or damage to generators and pumping equipment, your municipal water supply may lose water pressure and then you wouldn’t even have anything coming from the tap to boil or distill. Now you see why getting emergency bottled drinking water into affected areas is always a priority. It just shows how much trouble you can save yourself – and how much you can relieve stress on emergency responders — if you store a good supply of potable water for your family.

The important point is that you have water right now and that being the case, you should start storing water right now, whether you are in the path of the hurricane or not. FEMA and the Red Cross both recommend that you have a minimum of three days of potable water stored for your family — that would include your pets. Please be aware that the three-day recommendation is based on FEMA’s calculation that emergency supplies will be coming into your area, no matter what happens, within three days.

I recommend that if you possibly can, you store more water; in fact, store as much as you can for these reasons:

FEMA’s calculation may be off for any given event.

In an emergency, you, your family, and your home are most likely the safest when you are in it with your family. If you are pressed to have to go get water, you decrease your safety, especially if an emergency results in any civil unrest.

If your own supplies are in place, you can assist your immediate neighbors.  Be especially mindful of women alone with children and the elderly or disabled. (In fact, why not check on them now and encourage them to have water stored, helping them with information and the practicalities of it if they need such help.)

Being able to care for your own family’s needs — and help your neighbors — reduces stress on emergency responders, freeing them to assist those who did not or could not prepare or whose stores suffered loss.

If you are in the path of the storm and you have not stored water yet — or if you have stored water and would like to avoid using up your stored supply for a short term emergency, here is what you need:

One gallon of potable water person per day for cooking, drinking, personal hygiene.

Enough potable water for pets based on their number and size.

Several gallons of water for toilet flushing per day in the event that water pressure is lost. This does not have to be potable water. (In a flood condition, you might not be able to flush your toilet, even if you have water. See this link for tips on handling that problem: http://disaster.ifas.ufl.edu/PDFS/CHAP04/D04-14.pdf )

You can store potable water right before the storm hits by filling large cooking pots. You can store water for toilet flushing by filling buckets, and filling the bathtubs — clean tub with bleach first. If you are without water pressure for several days, family members can sponge bathe using the tub supply and the water can then be poured into the toilet to flush it. Set buckets out to catch rain water as soon as you have an empty container. Rain water caught in clean pots or any food grade container can be used for drinking or cooking. Caught in buckets or plastic bins or other non-food grade containers, it can be used for flushing or bathing. Sponge bathe young children to make sure they don’t ingest possibly contaminated water. Large buckets or large plastic bins/tubs are great for this.

You should have a good supply of potable water on hand in portable form in case you have to evacuate. Evacuation should be done only if you are ordered to leave, or you determine that the situation is really unsafe. Wouldn’t it be a shame to have to leave your home unprotected and put yourself and your family through the discomfort of evacuation for no other reason than that you did not prepare to shelter for some days in your own home? The first line of that preparation is a water supply. But having some of your water in small portable containers is essential in case you have to get on the move.

Storing water in portable containers is also the best way for most people to accomplish the long term storage of emergency drinking water, since smaller containers can be stashed in many places. What containers, then, and how do you store it?

FEMA recommends buying commercially bottled water and storing for up to six months. You can prepare your own bottled water by using plastic soda bottles.  The University of Georgia and Georgia Cooperative Extension Office say that water in plastic containers — commercially prepared or prepared at home according to their guidelines — is good for 5 years. Storage away from light is very important in affecting how long plastic containers maintain their integrity. Here are the sites for you to do your own reading:

http://www.fema.gov/plan/prepare/water.shtm

http://www.fcs.uga.edu/pubs/current/FDNS-E-34-3.html

Remember, any emergency or disaster that impacts your water supply, will very likely leave you without electricity. So why not print this information right now.

What are you going to do today to make sure your family has an emergency water supply?


Mary Kochan, former Senior Editor of CatholicExchange, is Editor-at-Large  of CatholicLane.com.

Raised as a  third-generation Jehovah's Witness, Mary worked her way backwards through the Protestant Reformation to enter the Catholic Church on Trinity Sunday, 1996.  Mary has spoken in many settings, to groups large and small, on the topic of destructive cultism and has been a guest on both local and national radio programs. To arrange for Mary to speak at your event, you may contact her at kochanmar@gmail.com.

  • You can fill your washing machine with water as well. Don’t forget zip loc bags, bathroom sinks, mudroom sinks, watering cans etc. Melted ice works when no longer needed to keep perishables cold.