Getting Safe Drinking Water in an Emergency: The Facts

Posted by on Jun 25, 2010 in 72 Hour Kit, Emergency Preparedness, Long-Term Storage, Survival, Water Storage | 2 comments


The new millennium has come with a fierceness we have not seen, perhaps ever.  The last decade of disasters, including a tsunami, hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, earthquakes, and floods, have woke many of us up to this simple fact: WATER is a critical component of preparedness for any emergency situation.  Clean water is essential for emergency medical treatments, drinking, food preparation, and sanitation.  Government agencies (FEMAUSGS, OES, etc.) and relief agencies such as the Red Cross, have elevated recommendations for preparedness from the traditional “three days of self-sufficiency” to “five to seven days minimum and seven to fourteen days recommended” in recently published planning scenarios.

Why is water a key in these recommendations?  Experts indicate that some aqueducts and reservoirs may be inoperative for up to 3-6 months, and the piping systems required to distribute the water to homes and businesses could also be severely disrupted for long periods of time.  An all too painful reminder: The fall 2009 Reusable Industrial Packaging Association (RIPA) meeting was held in New Orleans.  I toured the NOLA community to discover it is still reeling five years after hurricane Katrina brought it to its knees.

Definitive care specialists have shown the importance of water on our wellbeing.  A loss of only 5-10% of a person’s body fluids can result in moderate shock that may become life threatening if left untreated.  The simple fact is that human body can not survive even one week without water.  In general terms, the body requires four times as much water as food.  For persons trying to respond to or recover from an emergency, body fluid loss can occur rather quickly depending on temperature, activity level, emotional state, and/or possible injuries.  A basic treatment for shock is to maintain body temperature and to give fluids, especially water.

It is important that an adequate supply of water be properly stored BEFORE an emergency so it is readily available without the need for filtration, boiling, or treatment.  Keep water stored for emergencies free from bacterial growth and other contaminants.  A recent Utah State University study showed much of the water they tested that was stored contained bacteria, 11% contained E-Coli.  They make two key recommendations: store the water below 21 degrees C and that all stored water have chlorine bleach added (16 drops per gallon – 3 tablespoons per 55 gallon drum) to ensure safety for emergency use.  In short, treat water with a preserver prior to storage or empty and replace regularly with fresh, clean water.  Store in a cool, dry area, away from direct sunlight.

Ideally, water should be stored in three forms: 1) In portable containers, suitable for dispensing, for personal drinking, food preparation and sanitation.  2) In large volume drums or containers with a dispensing pump for all uses.  3) In small portable containers or medical or first-aid use as needed.  The best material for 2.5 to 55 gallon water storage containers is food grade polyethylene that meet the US Department of Transportation (DOT) specifications.  While the containers may have components made from other materials, only polyethylene touches the water.  On smaller, pre-filled, packages, look for products with “sterile” packaging and a minimum 5 year shelf life.

The easiest way to store the bulk of your water is in 55 gallon polyethylene (plastic) water drums (Food and Drug Administration, FDA, approved for storing drinking water).  The drums available at MBC are the best industry has to offer and are designed to have weight stacked on them when filled with water.  This allows one to stack your food on them, thus saving space while keeping your food and water together.  Some survival experts recommend two 55 gallon drums of water per person.  This, along with collecting “rain water”, should be suitable.  When you consider most households use in excess of 100 gallons of water per day for drinking, bathing, laundry, dishes, sanitation, etc., this isn’t a lot of water.

Water that we take for granted when things are normal, become absolutely essential for life and a vital resource in any disaster.  The lessons we have learned this past decade have taught us if we take our water supply for granted, we will regret it.

2 Responses to “Getting Safe Drinking Water in an Emergency: The Facts”

  1. I want to share my experience on this blog post because I have seen similar experiences that make the general public realize the importance of bacteria and chemical free water. I have been in the water treatment industry for twenty years and have seen some unusual problems over the years. When testing water from the tap or backyard water wells I have rarely seen healthy, high quality water. What really concerns me is when people assume that those carbon type refrigerator water filters can continuously create bacteria and chemically free water. In reality they in fact make the water worse as they absorb contaminants until the carbon becomes saturated then reintroduces bacteria and chemicals back into your drinking water. The methods used to filter and clean your kitchen tap or well water consistently are possible. This technique is a two tank system using a combination of resin and charcoal. Using 2 tanks are invaluable because one tank flushes the other one clean, then they rotate and repeat to keep the filter system at peak performance. There is just one manufacturer utilizing this advanced system, Kinetico. They spend more money on research and development than any of the other companies that use off the shelf parts to manufacture their water filtration systems. Not trying to throw a big sales job out here but every one of the Kinetico water systems have a ten year warranty which covers all the working parts. Most of the other brands are offering a lot of crazy warranties out there but you have to read the fine print as they only really warranty the outer container. Blogs and forums are a good resource for discovering water purification products that minimize cost and produce consistently superior results. Unfortunatley in the last several years there’s only been a handful companies trying new methods. Most companies seem to be interested in products that need you to buy replacement filters constantly.

  2. Thank you for your input.

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