By Jonathan B. and Kylene Anne Jones
A magnitude 7.5 earthquake has struck your area. All utilities have been interrupted and it may take months to restore them. An Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) has crippled our country leaving most without basic utilities. A pandemic has incapacitated a significant portion of the population, crippling the infrastructure due to lack of manpower and leaving you without utilities for the duration. Pick a scenario or create your own. The result is the same. What are you going to do without water, sanitation, and garbage pick-up? The leading cause of illness and death in both natural and man-made disasters is inadequate sanitation, poor hygiene practice, and contaminated and insufficient water supplies.
In this article, we will focus on critically important sanitation practices. Due to the nature of this subject, or perhaps because we have become spoiled, we often neglect thinking and planning for sanitation needs in our preparedness efforts. Yet, it just might make the difference between life and death. Consider the following information as you plan for the sanitation needs of your family:
Personal Sanitation – It is vitally important to maintain good hygiene in an emergency situation. Use good standards of cleanliness including; brushing your teeth, washing your face, combing your hair, showering/bathing or washing your body with a clean wet cloth (or baby wipes) if water is scarce. Remember to wash your hands! Good personal hygiene will help prevent the spread of disease and help maintain personal health and comfort.
Basic Sanitation Kits – will vary from person to person depending on individual needs. Here are a few ideas: lots of toilet paper, feminine products, sanitizing chemicals, plastic buckets (with tight-fitting lids), a variety of garbage bags, disposable gloves, duct tape, disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer, baby wipes, spray deodorizer, toothbrush and toothpaste, and soap. There are many other helpful products you can add to this list. This list is only a place to begin. Personalize your sanitation kits to the members of your family. Remember to include items for special needs such as diapers.
Solar Showers – are inexpensive and can provide a much needed warm shower by simply exposing the black shower bag to the sun for a few hours. While not a necessity, a warm shower can make life worth living.
Shower in a Box – is a good option when water is scarce. Baby wipes are a great way to take a sponge bath. Wipes are relatively inexpensive and have a long shelf life. They have many uses and can be discarded after use, preventing additional laundry. Regular bathing, even with baby wipes, can prevent the spread of germs, make others comfortable around you, and prevent sores from developing.
Waste Disposal – We only need to look at the garbage cans of our neighbors (or perhaps ourselves), to realize most of us generate a significant amount of waste. What would you do if your faithful garbage man didn’t come for weeks or possibly even months? Any type of disaster could easily disrupt that service. Garbage is a prime breeding ground for bacteria, insects, and rodents. It also attracts other unwanted pests. Develop a backup plan in the event you have to hold on to your garbage for awhile. Your plan may include some or all of the following strategies:
Waste Separation – Separate cans, glass, and plastic from burnable items and wet garbage. Wet garbage breeds bacteria and draws insects and animals. Mixing garbage contaminates all of it. Reduce bulk by smashing cans, flattening boxes, and compacting whenever possible. Store lots of quality garbage bags. Trash cans or barrels with tight-fitting lids have many uses and might come in handy for storing garbage.
Composting – Establish a composting area away from your home as it will attract insects and flies. You can compost yard waste, kitchen scraps, shredded paper products, and cardboard. Do not compost: human waste, dog or cat waste, meat or grease, and poisons or other chemicals. Compost any manure from animals that do not eat meat. Turn your compost pile to facilitate decomposition. This will create a rich, dark soil loaded with nutrients for gardening.
Trash Burning – Burning is not preferable due to safety and environmental concerns, but may become necessary. Cereal boxes, paper plates, cardboard, etc. may be used to fuel small fires for cooking. Cooled ashes may be added to a compost pit or used to control odors in an outhouse. Use great caution when burning anything to ensure safety of people and property. Burn trash in appropriate conditions and locations. Do not burn plastic, Styrofoam or other items that release toxins when burned. Consider storing real paper plates instead of Styrofoam because they can be burned.
Burying Trash – A prolonged crisis may require some garbage to be buried. If this becomes necessary, bury garbage as far away from your home as possible. Dig a hole at least four feet deep. Cover with at least 18 inches of soil to prevent insect and animal infestation. Consider digging the hole and covering with a large piece of plywood to allow additional garbage to be added as needed. You may need to secure it with large rocks or heavy objects to prevent animals from accessing it. Layering with soil, ashes, lime, or borax may help in controlling odors.
Human Waste Disposal – Mother Nature’s call can not be put off for long regardless of the nature of the emergency or crisis. In fact, these circumstances may actually make the call more frequent and intense! Take time to carefully consider these basic toilet options or explore more of your own. Purchase an inexpensive option immediately and work toward a nicer option as funds permit.
Each person generates approximately five gallons of human waste each week. This waste, if not managed properly, becomes a source of odor, illness, and other problems. Never throw human waste on the open ground. If no other alternative is available, bury it in deep trenches and cover with at least 2-3 feet of soil. Make sure to avoid burying in high water tables as it may contaminate the water supply. Consider the toilet options listed below, make a plan, and get the supplies needed to ensure you can safely manage the waste your family creates.
Luggable Lou or bucket toilet – may be a good option for a lightweight portable toilet that you can grab along with your 72 hour kit. Keep basic supplies inside so that it is ready to go – toilet paper, baby wipes, garbage bags, disinfecting wipes, feminine products, spray deodorizer, and chlorine bleach or sanitizing chemical. Line the bucket with a plastic garbage bag. Mix one cup liquid bleach (or sanitizing chemical) with two quarts of water and pour into the lined bucket. Add a little more disinfectant after each use. Change the bag when it is 1/3 – 1/2 full. Carefully tie the top and place in a larger lined can. Close the lid after each use to control odors. This will definitely work for an emergency, however, the smell is offensive and it is not our favorite option.
Possible disinfectants (sanitizing chemicals) include: Enzyme 300 (made for use with Luggable Lou), Luggable Lou liner with bio-gel, sodium hydroxide (blue liquid in chemical toilets), liquid chlorine bleach, Pine Sol, ammonia (never mix ammonia with bleach!!), baking soda, alcohol, laundry detergent, or other disinfectant. Poo Powder or WAG bags are nice, but pricey solutions. The Poo Powder instantly solidifies to prevent messy spills and controls germs and odors. A WAG bag contains Poo Powder and may be used multiple times. The bag is engineered to break down in 6-8 months to make disposal environmentally friendly. Some of these sanitizing chemicals work much better than others – the goal is to minimize odors and germs.
Permanent Port-a-Potty – your household toilet can be easily converted to a port-a-potty in an emergency and provide a familiar, inexpensive toilet option. This option assumes that you have been able to stay in your home and do not have sewage backing up through your toilet.
Turn off the water supply to the toilet tank. Then empty the toilet bowl. Lift the lid and seat. Place a garbage bag in the bowl and duct tape the edges around the back and sides of the bowl. Use the toilet as usual. Pour a small amount of disinfectant into the bag after each use to help prevent the spread of germs and disease. You may want to add sawdust or Poo Powder to solidify liquids. The bag may be used several times before changing.
Change the bag by lifting the lid and seat. Carefully remove the bag by loosening the taped edges, twisting the edges of the bag together and seal the bag. Place an empty plastic bucket right next to the toilet and lift the bag into the bucket. Use this bucket for transport to avoid accidental spills. Place bag in a large bucket with a tight-fitting lid. Store outside if possible. Cover entire toilet with a 30 gallon trash bag to control odor. Air fresheners or room deodorizers may also be helpful.
Chemical Toilets – These toilets are a great option and are regularly used by boaters and campers. They use very little water and the chemicals help to keep the smell and spread of disease to a minimum. Be sure to store plastic buckets with tight-fitting lids to store waste until you can safely dispose of it. . Be sure to store the appropriate chemicals for the toilet. The chemicals do have a limited shelf life. Check with the manufacturer.
Trench Latrine – If an outdoor toilet becomes necessary, a trench latrine can be constructed in a short amount of time. Be sure to locate it away from the home and all water sources. Create some type of shelter to provide protection from the weather and for privacy. Dig a trench 1 foot wide x 4 feet long and 2 1/2 feet deep. Add a little bit of soil or lime after each use to help control odor and flies. When the trench is filled within one foot of the surface, sprinkle with lime, fill with soil, and mound with an additional foot of soil. This toilet is used by squatting or straddling the trench.
Deep Pit Latrine – An extended crisis may require a more long term solution. A single-seat latrine may be built over a trench that is 2 feet wide x 2-6 feet long x 6 feet deep pit using available materials to create a shelter and seating area. Make sure the seating area is large enough to prevent it from collapsing into the pit. It is important to consider potential ground water contamination when locating a site or the depth of the latrine. Be sure to sprinkle with soil or lime after each use and before closing the pit.
Composting Toilet (sometimes called biological toilet, dry toilet, or waterless toilet) – is frequently used in remote locations such as cabins. A composting toilet system converts human waste into a fertilizer or useable soil through the natural breakdown of organic matter back into its essential minerals. This compost is not safe for use on vegetable gardens. Composting toilets are very expensive, but use little or no water and are nearly odorless.
Septic System – If you are fortunate enough to be on a septic system you may avoid the necessity for backup toilets if your system remains intact. Be sure to perform regular routine maintenance on your system. We recommend you still have a contingency plan in the event your system fails or you are required to evacuate.
Storage – In the event you are confined to a shelter, make sure you have buckets with tight-fitting lids for short-term storage of human waste. Remember to plan for 5 gallons of waste from each person. That can add up to a lot of buckets!
Sewage Backflow – There may be a potential for sewage to backflow into your home in some emergency situations. If this occurs, you have most likely lost your home due to the potential of disease and the stench associated with raw sewage. Evaluate your risk and, if necessary, consider installing some type of back-flow prevention valve.
Pest Control – Sharing our space and provisions with disease-spreading pests can make any situation worse. Our precious supplies can be quickly contaminated if pests are not controlled. Pest control must be an important consideration in your sanitation planning.
Insect control – Prevent breeding grounds by keeping the area clean. Standing water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes, which are known vectors for the spread of diseases. Carefully package all food storage to prevent infestation. Use care to prevent bedding from being contaminated through poor personal sanitation. Don’t stop doing laundry! The old saying, “Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite” was adopted for a reason. Store insect repellent and insecticides safely and away from foods.
Fly control – Keep area free from garbage and waste products. Cover food and clean dishes to prevent contamination by flies. Store fly swatters, fly strips, fly traps, etc. for use as needed. Actively strive to keep living area free from flies as they are prone to spread disease.
Rodent control – Keep storage areas clean and organized. Store traps and poisons to use if necessary. Take time to package food storage to prevent infestation. Rodents can quickly access foods stored in Mylar bags. Consider putting the Mylar bags in plastic buckets for extra protection. Food stored in boxes, bags, and Mylar bags are at risk of infestation. Storing food in #10 cans is a great way to protect the contents.
The Challenge: Good sanitation practices always make sense. However, in an emergency situation, it is especially important to implement good sanitation techniques. It can make the difference between sickness and health, and possibly even life and death. Our challenge to you is to carefully think through the sanitation needs of your family. Educate family members as to the importance of good sanitation practice and how it applies to your family plan. Create a workable plan, set realistic goals, and get to work to accomplish those goals. We challenge you to do something TODAY!!