The lack of sanitation facilities following a major disaster can quickly create secondary problems unless basic guidelines are followed.

Preparedness Tips

If the water lines are damaged or if damage is suspected, do not flush the toilet. Avoid digging holes in the ground and using these. Untreated raw sewage can pollute fresh groundwater supplies. It also attracts flies and promotes the spread of diseases.

  • Store a large supply of heavy-duty plastic bags, twist ties, disinfectant, and toilet paper.
  • A good disinfectant that is easy to use is a solution of 1 part liquid bleach to 10 parts water. Dry bleach is caustic and not safe for this type of use.
  • If the toilet is not able to be flushed, it can still be used. This is less stressful for most people than using some other container. Remove all the bowl water. Line it with a heavy-duty plastic bag. When finished, add a small amount of deodorant or disinfectant, securely tie the bag, and dispose of it in a large trash can with a tight-fitting lid. This large trash can should also be lined with a sturdy trash bag. Eventually, authorities will provide a means to dispose of these bags.
  • Portable camp toilets, small trash cans, or sturdy buckets lined with heavy-duty plastic bags can also be used. Those with tight-fitting lids are best.

Tips for Staying Clean in an Emergency Situation

As much as possible, continue regular hygiene habits such as brushing your teeth, washing your face, combing your hair and even washing your body with a wet washcloth. This will help prevent the spread of disease and irritation as well as help relieve stress.

  • Keep your fingers out of your mouth. Avoid handling food with your hands.
  • Purify your drinking water. Use chlorine bleach, purification tablets (check the bottle for expiration dates), or boil for 10 minutes.
  • Sterilize your eating utensils with heat. You can also rinse dishes in purified water that has additional chlorine bleach added to it. (Use 2-1/2 teaspoons of bleach per gallon of purified water.)
  • Keep your clothing as clean and dry as possible, especially under-clothing and socks.

Insecticides and deodorants should be used when necessary to control odors and insects breeding in containers that cannot be emptied immediately. At least 2 pints of household bleach solution should be kept on hand for disinfecting purposes.

Keep on hand an extra supply of toilet tissue, plus a supply of sanitary napkins. If there is illness in the house that requires rubber sheeting or other special sanitary equipment, make sure that adequate supplies are available. At least a week's accumulation of daily newspapers will come in handy for insulating bedding from floors, and lining clothes against cold, as well as for the sanitary uses already mentioned.

If you have a baby in your home, you may find diaper laundering a problem under emergency conditions. It is best to keep an ample supply of disposable diapers on hand for emergency use. Or, any moisture-resistant material can be cut and folded to diaper size and lined with absorbent material.