Saturday, October 1, 2011

Drinking Water In a Disaster or Emergency

In this post I'll discuss about the NUMBER ONE most important thing in order to survive any natural or man-made disaster, drinking water. Now we all know how to get water when society is running like it should and you can just open your faucets or go get some bottled water at the store, but what happens when you open the tap and nothing comes out and all the stores are either locked up tight or simply destroyed. Before radiation, famine, disease or anything else gets to you, the first and most important thing will be to secure a clean and safe source of water. In this optic, there is two different mentalities, some people are into storing massive jugs of water in their house and car just in case something happens, and other people keep no storage of water but store water filters and disinfecting cleaning tablets instead. Like in most things, there is an in between. Personally I use a bit of the two as both have advantages and disadvantages. For example, having stored water is space consuming and heavy, but you have it with you ready to drink instantly. Having stored supplies to produce clean water requires that you find some sort of water supply to purify and then requires you take the time to purify it in the field, but has the advantage of being lighter and more compact. I will discuss each strategy one by one with what equipment is available and then come back and tell you about my setup for water storage and purification.

Solution #1 (Water Storage):
In a way the most practical but also heaviest means of having a good source of water is carrying already filtered and sanitized water with you. Depending on where you live and how much space you have reserved for survival water storage, it can sometimes be a big problem. However when we talk about water storage, it doesn't mean do fill huge blue plastic drums with water and keep one in your car wherever you go. It can be as simple as keeping a couple of standard US Military 1 Quart canteens (as seen on the picture left) filled with water and a drop of Clorox to make it last longer. I find this option a lot more particle because 1 quart of water (946ml) also happens to be the minimum emergency ration of water for one adult for one day. You can thus easily calculate how much days of water you want to have on hand for emergency use, all in an easy to transport package. The US Canteens are very tough and can easily survive a fall from a couple of stories onto the ground, if you fill them to only half, they also float very well. They stack themselves very well in a box and are easy to distribute when they are needed. Personally I have 3 wooden boxes with 24 canteens each for a total of 72 canteens. This gives a nice 72 adult portions of water which in my opinion gives me enough time to find a more sustainable source of water or until rescue arrives and distributes more water supplies. 72 Canteens can sustain 5 people for more than 2 weeks which is plenty enough.

Water purification for storage:
In the optic of storing water there is certain things that you should do in order to make sure your stored water is good and healthy when you are ready to drink it. There is plenty of commercial products out there which are all quite expensive that basically add chlorine to your water to keep bacterial growth down during storage. A side note on chlorine, it is NOT dangerous to your health or bad for you, chlorine is actually needed in your body in great quantities (2300mg per day in adults). It is drinking pure  bleach that is bad because it is more than you body will ever need. When using Clorox or any other brand of bleach to purify water, only use regular bleach, not scented or with other additives. The only big disadvantage which is also what makes bleach environmentally friendly is that it neutralizes itself over time. In one year bleach loses half its power, and so on, so the most often you rotate your water supplies the better but if you do like me and put 150% the recommended dosage shown below (3 drops for ever water canteen) you should be able to store city water for easily a year with no problems whatsoever. According to Clorox, one gallon can effectively treat 3800 gallon of contaminated water. With the price of 1 gallon of Clorox at around 5$, treatment price is at 0.1 cents per gallon. Not much specialty water treatment tablets even come close to this! If the water is cloudy or you sincerely think it is very contaminated, double the dose of Clorox. Below is a table with the recommendation from the Red Cross on the amount of Clorox to add to water to kill bacteria:

  • 2 drops of Regular Clorox Bleach per quart of water
  • 8 drops of Regular Clorox Bleach per gallon of water
  • 1/2 teaspoon Regular Clorox Bleach per five gallons of water

NBC Canteen Caps:
On a side note, I love the US 1 quart canteens because if you own a gas mask, you can also buy a US Issue NBC Canteen cap. NBC which stands for Nuclear Biological Chemical is a standard for emergency equipment designed to protect you against these three threats. These NBC caps screw onto all one and two quart US canteens and allow you to connect your gas mask's drink tube to your US canteen allowing you to drink without removing your gas mask which is a good idea since there is probably a good reason you are wearing this gas mask in the first place. They sell for around 19.99$US each and they can be bought off eBay. Here is a link to my personal stash.

Solution #2 (Water Purification):
The second solution to having clean water on hand is the most complicated but also the most compact and easy to transport. Having with you the means of turning dirty cloudy water into pure clean water perfect for drinking and free from all bacteria and viruses. Now, there are two categories within water purification, either chemical purification like the Clorox method above or physical filtration. There is no way to happily enjoy your water with any one of these methods, both of them need to be used together to get your perfect glass of water. If you example you use the chemical method and effectively kill all bacteria and viruses, your water will be safe but it will still be cloudy and may contain floating pacticles which is not very attractive. The opposite is also true, if you physically filter out your water it will look perfectly clean but tiny viruses may have passed through the filter and will still contaminate your water.

Physical Filtration:
Physical filtration is the means of forcing water through a filter and preventing anything else than H2O from passing through. In the filtration world, nothing is better than a ceramic filter, it is robust, has great filtration capabilities and is easily cleanable. My favourite portable filtering pump is the ''Katadyn Pocket'' which is the top in the filtering world in term of reliability performance and most importantly, durability. There is nothing worse than a broken filter when you are really thirsty. In an emergency situation, it could be deadly. This is what the company Katadyn has to say about their high performance filter pump: "The classic. This robust water filter made of heavy duty materials is ideal for long lasting continuous use even under extreme circumstances. The silver impregnated ceramic element is effective against bacteria and protozoa. The Katadyn Pocket is the only water filter with a 20 year warranty. Includes: Prefilter, bottle clip and carry bag". A good filter can carry a hefty price but it is well worth the investment. Just don't forget to buy an extra filter cause there ain't going to be many around in an widespread disaster! The main advantage to a ceramic filter is that they are very easy to clean and then you can just leave them in the sun to dry. Here is a link to the Katadyn website if you want to read more on it. Personally I don't have the funds (855$US) right now to buy myself a Katadyn Pocket and 2 replacement filters right now, but it is definitely in my plans for the future.

Chemical Filtration:
I know I have already discussed the Clorox trick to treat water and it works fine except it may be not very practical to carry a Clorox bottle in your bag all the time. There are different chemical makeups available that all try to do the basic task of killing every living thing in your water. There is Iodine, Chlorine, potassium permanganate, and halazone tablets on the market today. The two most popular are Iodine and Chlorine. Personally I prefer the Chlorine ones because they tend to be more effective even in cold water where Iodine can be much less effective. And in the Chlorine tablet world, proven reliable is a tablet called ''Chlor-Floc''. First of all I'll say that this is not a tablet but a little packet of powder. I love this product because the army uses it so they have done studies on it before buying it and equipping their troops which is a little reassuring and as the picture on the box suggest. They are made for the 1 quart US canteens I'm using. It's simple as 1 packet for 1 canteen. These tablets do two things, first they kill anything alive in your water and secondly they clear the suspended particles in your water chemically and puts them in the bottom of your canteen by using a flocculating agent. If you want to see what a flocculating agent does in real-time look at this youtube video, the process looks magical. Like I said in the Clorox section, tablets are a lot more expensive than using bleach, these Chlor-Floc tablets come up to around 31 cents a litre against 0.1 cents a gallon for bleach.

To conclude, your emergency water plan should comprise a mix of water storage and portable water treatment. Do not neglect on any of the two options because the two are needed. For the filtration part, keep tablets and a filter handy as they work together. When it comes to last resort, you can use only tablets, and can do an initial filtration using a shirt or bandana. Keep reading for future posts!


  1. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


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  2. Whether in a flood, an earthquake or a war zone, water is one of the necessary things for survival. Keeping it clean and sterilized is one way to keep families safe from water-borne diseases.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  6. Most of the tips I have are more survival related, but I have a couple suggestions.

    We have a lot of cold water creeks here (snow melt/glacier melt) so I plan a treat for when we return to the vehicle. We place bottles of our favorite beverages in the water and secure them with rocks. We we return later that day/several days later, we have our favorite cold, drinks ready to go.