Water for Disaster Preparedness
Let’s discuss water for disaster preparedness; after all you can’t live long without it. In a disaster situation it is critical to provide a means for continuous, clean drinking water. While water is one of three essentials of life (Water, Fire & Shelter), one could make the argument that water is the most important during a disaster scenario. With just a 5-10% reduction of body fluids, the human body will suffer multiple detrimental effects up to and including death. If we follow the rule of 3’s (3 minutes without air, 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food), it becomes clear just how critical water is to our survival. The World Health Organization has estimated that an individual in an emergency (disaster) situation requires a minimum .5 gallons of water per day just to survive! This estimate does not take into account the water requirements for hygiene or food preparation. Furthermore, this estimate does not account for local climate, activity level or general health of the individuals. A good rule of thumb to follow is that you need to provide approximately 2 gallons of clean drinking water per person, per day in a disaster scenario.
So what are the ways we can ensure access to ample supplies of clean drinking water during a disaster scenario? Simply stockpiling water for disaster preparedness is the most reliable way to ensure we have clean drinking should a disaster arise. However, there are some considerations to address if you plan to stockpile water. First, if you are given prior warning to an impending disaster, you may find that purchasing bottled water may not be as easy as going down to the local market. Other people in the affected area will be attempting to gather water also, resulting in diminished supply and possibly increased prices. It is far more prudent to stockpile water long before a possible disaster scenario arises. The other consideration for the stockpiling of water for disaster preparedness is rotation. Generally speaking commercially available bottled water has a shelf life of 6-12 months. This doesn’t mean it cannot be consumed outside of this window, but it should be purified again before consumption. As you purchase water for your stockpile, you should mark the date of bottling and the” use by date” so that it can be clearly read. As the “use by date” approaches, simply consume the water and replace it with an equal amount of newly bottled water. This practice will ensure that you have an adequate supply of fresh, clean drinking water on hand at all times. If you are not able to stockpile water prior to a disaster scenario or you are unable to access your stockpile, you will have to be prepared to gather drinking water from open sources (non-treated).
There are a variety of open sources that we can obtain clean drinking water from. However, the water from most of these open sources will need to be filtered and/or purified prior to consumption. About the only open source of water that is generally safe to drink is rainwater. However if there are any atmospheric contaminants present, the water will need to be filtered prior to consumption. If rainwater is collected and/or stored in open, unsanitized containers it will need to be filtered and purified before drinking. Lakes, rivers and snow provide an excellent source of water; however, all water gathered from these sources must at least be purified prior to consumption. Additionally, water that is murky or cloudy should be filtered prior to purification. Under no circumstance should you ever drink sea water. Sea water requires special processes to remove enough sodium to make it potable (drinkable). While it is possible to make sea water safe to drink in a disaster scenario, that’s a topic for another discussion.
Now let’s talk about filtration and purification for a bit, as there is often a great deal of misunderstanding surrounding these two words. First we need to define these two terms for our purposes. This will help in understanding the very important differences between them and the possible impacts to our health during a disaster scenario. Filtration is the removal of organic and inorganic particles suspended in water. Purification is the killing of living organisms suspended in water. From these definitions, you should be able to see that simply filtering water or purifying water does not always make the safe to consume. It is always best to both filter AND purify water that is gathered from open sources prior to drinking it!
So, what are some of the methods to filter water? Commercially available backpack, pump style water filters are an excellent and extremely portable means to filter water. These types of filters can be found at just about any outdoor or surplus store and range in price from $50.00 to over $300.00. While these filters remove most of the harmful particles and organisms found in open source water, it is very important to remember that the resultant water is NOT purified and therefore may still contain small hazardous organisms. Another, major drawback of this type of filter in a survival scenario is the filter element itself. If it clogs, gets damaged or is otherwise no longer properly functioning you may be S.O.L. Frequent maintenance and testing of your pump style water filter should ensure that it performs as needed in a disaster scenario. Another means to filter water is by an earthen, gravity feed filtration system. Building one of these systems is extremely easy and requires very few materials. In the simplest of explanations, unfiltered water is poured through a container (bottle, bucket, bag, etc.) of earthen material of decreasing granular size (gravel then pebbles then sand) to remove most of the particles (note: how fine a particle that you are able to filter out will be dependent on the construction of your filter) suspended in the water. The most significant draw back with these types of filters is that they are generally not very portable once constructed. Fortunately, all you really need to transport is the container as rocks and sand are generally easy to find.
Purifying your freshly filtered water (Did you notice that I said purifying filtered water?) is very easy and can be achieved by one of several means. The additional of chemicals (iodine or chlorine based purifying agents) is perhaps the easiest means to purify your water. It is import to observe the instructions regarding dosage amounts and waiting time to ensure that your water is properly purified and that you do not ingest unsafe amounts of the purifying agent. Boiling filtered water is also an easy and effective means to purify water before consuming it. A frequently ask question regarding the boiling of water is “How long do I have to boil water to make sure it is safe to drink?” Well, according to the Wilderness Medical Society, water temperatures above 160° F kill all pathogens within 30 minutes and above 185° F within a few minutes. So in the time it takes for the water to reach the boiling point (212° F) from 160° F, all pathogens will be killed and your filtered water is safe to drink (just be sure to let it cool down first!). A relatively new method of water purification is the use of ultraviolet light. These types of purifiers can be found at many outdoor or surplus store and range in price from $50.00 to $150.00. The major drawback of this type of purifier in a disaster scenario is that they are battery powered. If you run out of juice……you run out of purified water! Another consideration is that these types of purifier only work with clear water. So you will need to filter your water very well for this method to be effective.
So there you have it, the very basic 411 on high quality H2O. Strangely enough……I seem to be rather thirsty at the moment!
Instructor William Green
Elite Training Center
1628 South Pacific Coast Highway,
Redondo Beach, CA 90277