Flight Ops

Flight Ops

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Disaster Prep Wednesday: Water, Water, Water

So, being the largely urban or suburban dwelling creatures we are, most of us in the U.S. are accustomed to having a ready source of clean drinking water at our beck and call. Turn a faucet handle and water flows.

But what if that water source stops due to a storm or earthquake or something else and you are without tap water? Heck, I saw that National Geographic"American Blackout". The show makes some valid points - like how valuable water becomes when you don't have any.

It is possible to live in South Texas or Florida or New York in the summer without air-conditioning, but you really, really need water.

FEMA has some good advice at Ready.gov "Water":
You should store at least one gallon of water per person per day. A normally active person needs at least one gallon of water daily just for drinking however individual needs vary, depending on age, physical condition, activity, diet and climate.

To determine your water needs, take the following into account:

- One gallon of water per person per day, for drinking and sanitation.
- Children, nursing mothers and sick people may need more water.
- A medical emergency might require additional water.
- If you live in a warm weather climate more water may be necessary. In very hot temperatures, water needs can double.
- Keep at least a three-day supply of water per person.

We all know that "3-days" thing is based on how quickly it is believed that outside help will arrive where you are to bring you aid. Best case. Experience says it takes longer. Think Katrina, Sandy, etc.

So, if you are somewhat of an optimist (look, if you are really an unbelievable optimist you probably aren't reading this anyway) then the the FEMA minimum might just do the trick for you. If you have four people in your family and they are all hale and well-met, then you ought to have 12 gallons of water stashed about your abode to cover those 3 days. Good luck with that.

If you lean to the pessimistic side you will want more.

How much more?

That depends, doesn't it?

Let's suppose you have an accessible and protected water heater that has a 40 gallon capacity. In an emergency that could be tapped (they all have spigots) and provide a family of 4 with enough water for about another 10 days. If your water heater is bigger, the more days you might have.

But let's go with the 3 day supply thing.

What should you be doing during those 3 days? Acquiring more water, that's what.

Nat Geo provides some thoughts here. Here are some other ideas:
  1. If it is raining, set up somethings to catch rainwater. You may still to purify it, but it's free.
  2. Locate nearby reservoirs, streams and springs before a disaster. You can carry a couple of gallons of water back to your base for purification.
  3. Make sure you have some chlorine bleach in your disaster kit for water purification. It only takes afew drops per gallon, so you can keep several small containers around.
  4. You might want to invest in a simple (but not cheap) camping water treatment kit. REI has a good guide on How to Choose a Water Filter.
  5. Depending on the distances involved in carrying water from its source to your base, it could be worth your time to experiment using the time-honored "carrying pole" so that two five gallon jugs of water are not ripping your arms from their sockets (see illustration nearby). As you may know, the handles on buckets are designed to hurt your hands. Save yourself such troubles. 
  6. If the nearest water is seawater, you will need to desalinate it. Small scale desalting can be done as described here, one cup at a time per day. But you can put out more than one such kit.
  7. For nasty lake or river water, one option is to buy a portable distiller using heat, as described here, which will, it is asserted also work with sea water.
As the Red Cross says in Food and Water in an Emergency:
Avoid water with floating material, an odor, or dark color. Use saltwater
only if you distill it first. You should not drink flood water.
In the very worst case, it's time to think like a downed bomber crew, folks. Hit those pages of the survival manuals on water gathering. Here are the "water gathering" pages from the Army's FM 3-05-70 (pay no attention to the "!" in the Scribid title, it's just a cute glitch - but do pay attention to the content):

You might note the Manual suggests multiple stills to met each individual's needs. So, more people means even more stills.

So, got water?


  1. For about $25 dollars you can get enough powdered chlorine to disinfect thousands of gallons of water. The powdered chlorine will keep for years if it kept properly. If you keep the sealed CL2 container, measuring cups, assorted plastic bags, CL2 test strips and any other stuff you think of in a 5 gallon bucket with a lid you have about everything you need for making drinking water except for the water. Finding a source of water to start the process could be the hard part.
    From WW-2 there are records of non-filtered pond water being dosed to at least 30ppm to make this water drinkable. It must have tasted horrible but it was safe to drink. For a comparison, pool water is usually around 1 to 3ppm

  2. Mark,

    Cresson Kearny’s "Nuclear War Survival Skills" has a chapter on the subject. See: http://www.oism.org/nwss/s73p919.htm

  3. Be careful with chlorine, While it will kill harmful bacteria, it also will kill the good ones in your gut, witch can be just as harmful in the long run.

    Also there is another true and proven way to make water safe, Boiling. If you have a fire and a pot, you can make safe drinking water. Better yet, if you make sure the water is clean.have both chlorine, pot, and fire treat the water with chlorine, then boil it (in that order).

    While we talking about water, it remind that any waste deposal site should by as far away from your water source as possible.