Sanitation and Hygiene In An Emergency

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

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 ground water 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, the city 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

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 bottle for expiration dates), or
    by boiling for 10 minutes.
  • Sterilize your eating utensils by heat.
    You can also rinse dishes in purified water that has additional chlorine
    bleach added to it. (Use 2 1/2 teaspoons bleach per gallon of purified
  • Keep your clothing as clean and dry as
    possible, especially under-clothing and socks.

If, during an emergency situation, you develop vomiting or diarrhea, rest
and stop eating solid foods until the symptoms ease up. Take fluids, particularly
water, in small amounts at frequent intervals. As soon as can be tolerated,
resume eating semi-solid foods. Normal salt intake should be maintained.

Keep Basic Hygiene Supplies Handy

These basic supplies should be kept
in your Safe Room, Go Pack and Car.

  • Cornstarch


  • Fingernail clippers and files
  • Sanitary napkins
  • Insect repellent
  • Toilet paper
  • Moistened Towelettes or Baby Wipes
  • A few bath towels
  • Small hand-held mirror


  • Liquid all-purpose soap
  • Vaseline Petroleum Jelly
  • Liquid Chlorine Bleach
  • Ammonia (disinfecting aid)

Emergency Sewage Disposal

Water flush toilets cannot be used when water
service is interrupted. The water remaining in the fixture is not sufficient
to flush the wastes down the sewer. Clogging may result and your living
conditions then become just that much more uncomfortable.

Even if water is available, local authorities may ask you not to use flush
toilets, wash basins, and other fixtures connected with soil pipes. The
sewer mains may be broken or clogged, which would make it impossible to
carry off such waste; or water may be needed for fire fighting or other
emergencies. It is necessary for every family to know emergency methods
of waste disposal in case such conditions arise.

Failure to properly dispose of human wastes can lead to epidemics of such
diseases as typhoid, dysentery, and diarrhea. At the same time, sewage
must be disposed of in ways that will prevent contamination of water supplies
used for drinking, cooking, bathing, laundering, and other domestic purposes.
Here are simple steps that any family can take to prevent such dangers
and discomforts.

Temporary Toilet Provisions
Right after an emergency, or during one, you will probably not have the
time and tools to prepare a complex emergency sanitation system. If there
is a delay of several days in restoring sewage service to your neighborhood,
you may find that disposal is a big problem. Your first task is to make
some temporary toilet provision for your family, especially the children.
Almost any covered metal or plastic container will do. You can use a covered
pail, a 5-gallon bucket, or a small kitchen garbage container with a foot
operated cover for an emergency toilet. Anything that has a cover and
will hold the contents until you can dispose of them will serve for sanitary
purposes at first.

Emergency Sewage Storage
Keep on the premises at least one extra 10-gallon garbage can or other
waterproof container with a tight fitting cover. This should be lined
with paper and/or a plastic bag. And the lid should be fastened to the
can to prevent its loss. Such a can may be used for the emergency storage
of body wastes until the public sewage system can be put back into action,
or until other arrangements can be made. Empty your emergency toilet into
this storage can as often as necessary. A small amount of household disinfectant
should be added after each use. If you live in an apartment, you may not
have a large garbage can or room to keep one. In that case, two smaller
covered pails or other containers will do just as well.

Solutions for Apartment Dwellers
Persons in city apartments, office buildings, or homes without yards should
keep a supply of waterproof paper containers on hand for emergency waste
disposal. Where flush toilets cannot be used and open ground is not available
for the construction of privies, such disposable containers offer a practical
method of emergency waste collection and disposal. Building managers should
plan for the collection of such containers and for their final disposal.
Before collection, the used containers may be stored in tightly covered
garbage cans or other water tight containers fitted with lids. Homemade
soil bags for this purpose can be prepared very easily by putting one
large grocery bag inside another, and a layer of shredded newspaper or
other absorbent material between. You should have sufficient grocery bags
on hand for possible emergencies. A supply of old newspapers will come
in handy for other sanitary uses also, such as wrapping garbage and lining
larger containers.

Controlling Odors and Insects
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.

Other Supplies
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.

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