Sanitation Preparations in a Grid-Down Scenario

Our society has become the proverbial ‘house of cards’ that can collapse as the result of any number of very possible events. Many of these events could lead to the disruption of the municipal sanitation systems that the majority of Americans have come to take for granted.

  • An economic event could result in sanitation systems going down due to lack of maintenance.
  • A terrorist attack could damage sanitation systems such that they become unusable.
  • A loss of electrical power could cause sanitation systems to simply go offline.
  • A disruption of transportation systems could disrupt delivery chemicals required by municipal sanitation systems.

Any of these scenarios (and many more) could result in many Americans suddenly being faced with dire threats to health due to the diseases that inevitably arise in the wake major disasters everywhere. Having sanitation preparations in place is just as important (if not MORE important) than having emergency food supplies on-hand!

As history has demonstrated repeatedly, inadequate sanitation invariably leads to the development of such life-threatening disease as cholera, typhoid and dysentery (shortly after the major earthquake that struck Haiti thousands of bodies of those killed by disease were being bulldozed into mass burial pits).  It is incumbent on every responsible person to be ready to address basic sanitation needs that will almost certainly arise in the advent of a major disaster.

Sanitation consists of infrastructure, standards and procedures that relate to personal and community hygiene.  Examples of each include:

  • Equipment and Infrastructure – septic tanks, outhouses, shovels, latrines and chemicals used to treat waste.
  • Standards – sanitation-related policies such as:
    • not locating a latrine within a certain distance of an inhabited structure.
    • the location of latrines relative to food and water sources.
    • quarantine polices for those who are ill or could possibly be infected.
    • limiting the number of individuals who can make use of a septic system based on the rated capacity of the system.
  • Procedures – bathroom hand-washing, hand-washing before handling food, treatment of human waste and the disposal of dead bodies

Sanitation Infrastructure, Supplies and Equipment

If you are fortunate enough to live on a property that has its own septic tank then, as long as the septic system is properly maintained, many critical sanitation needs are already addressed.  If not then you must plan on proper treatment and disposal of human waste.  Ultimately all human waste should end up buried in a location that is not near a food or water supply, and before being buried it should be treated to reduce odor and the presence of flies and other insects (it is not uncommon for flies to transfer disease-causing micro-organisms from exposed sewage to humans).  Reducing odors not only makes any outdoor latrine less unpleasant to anyone in the area, but also reduces the presence of flies.  In the most primitive latrines odors are typically controlled by sprinkling a handful of lime powder and/or wood ash over the exposed sewage or by simply covering it with a thin layer of dirt.  Screened vent pipes are often added to enclosed latrine structures (e.g. “outhouses”) to further minimize the “fly problem”.

NOTE: Bleach and other disinfectants should never be used to treat human waste as they will inhibit the natural decomposition of the sewage.  In particular disinfectants should never be introduced into a septic system, as they will kill the microbes in the septic system that cause the sewage to decompose.

As an alternative to having an outdoor latrine it is also possible to fit a large plastic bucket with a seat such that it can be used as an emergency toilet, with the contents of the bucket regularly emptied into a pit and covered with lime, ash or dirt to control odor.

Sanitation Standards

In general, the following sanitation standards should be adhered to:

  • Latrines should not be located uphill from any water source, and should, in general, be located at least 100 yards from any food or water source.
  • Latrines should be located at least 6 meters from any human dwelling.
  • Pits dug for latrines should not be dug to a depth greater than 6 feet above the level of the local water table.
  • Livestock should be located at least 100 yards from any food or water source.
  • Any new additions to the survival group should be quarantined for at least 2 weeks before they can fully integrate with the group.

Sanitation Procedures

  • Hands should be thoroughly washed with soap and water by everyone after urination and or defecation (particularly after defecation).
  • Hands should be thoroughly washed with soap and water by anyone before handling any food (preferably with an antibacterial soap).
  • Emergency toilets should be emptied and cleaned at least twice per day.  Preferably the cleaning should be with a bleach and water solution.

Following these simple standard and procedures should greatly decrease the opportunities for sanitation-related diseases to erupt in a survival community in the wake of a major disaster.

The book “When There is No Fema” (available for purchase on this web site) provides detailed information about the preparations you can make to meet the sanitation needs of your family in the aftermath of a major disaster.


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