Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Crisis Diaries by Captain Frogbert...Survive & Cope

The Crisis Diaries #1.
by Captain Frogbert
Sat Aug 11, 2007 at 09:24:18 AM PDT
Floods, fires, tornadoes and hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, not to mention man-made disasters from bridge collapses to nuclear accidents to terrorist attacks. We cannot know when the next “Big One” will happen; where it will be; whether we will be a part of it.

Thanks to Bush, the only thing we can be certain of is that it will be worse than it needs to be.

The safest thing to assume is that, if a crisis occurs, you will be on your own for an unspecified period of time.

This is the first of a series of diaries on contingency and crisis planning. They will describe the kinds of things you should consider doing NOW, before the worst happens. At the end of the diaries there will be a list of useful links to emergency planning information and resources.

We live in a world of almost invisible (or at least un-appreciated), yet tightly balanced interdependencies. Most of us simply expect water to come out of the tap, the lights to go on when we flip the switch and food to be available at the market or restaurants when we want it. These things are so everyday and ordinary that they just are: the commonplace parts of our daily lives to which we give little or no consideration. Few of us consider how or why these things happen or how little it would really take for them to fail.

Happily, most of us have never and, God willing, will never experience that sinking feeling of watching our lives, our world and our expectations collapse around us. And yet... it can happen. To us. We are not immune. No matter how much we try not to think about it, pretend we are different, blessed, lucky. Special.

What’s a river in Egypt got to do with it?
Denial is actually a state of hope. The hope that today will be like yesterday. Or, at least, not much worse. Hope that the bad things will pass us by. That life won’t change. Not today. Not soon.

Denial is magical thinking. The belief that if I don’t think about something bad, it can’t happen to me. If I don’t name the monster, it can’t eat me. That planning for the worst is, somehow, asking... hoping for the worst.

But just because I have a first aid kit doesn’t mean I hope to cut myself. It just means that, if and when I do, I’ll have what I need to take care of it: stop the bleeding, prevent infection, stop it from turning from a nasty cut into... something worse.

Hope for sun, plan for rain
That’s what contingency planning is about. Thinking ahead. Imagining what might happen. Hoping for the best, but understanding that bad things happen and taking measures to mitigate them.

So, hoping that God blesses you and your loved ones and keeps you all happy and safe, here are few ideas that may help you plan for the rainiest of days...

Act now, upgrade later
Just because you can't afford or can't find the best solution or your favored solution doesn't mean you shouldn't act now. If you can't get a 55-gallon water barrel, buy a bunch of 5-gallon jugs. Upgrade later. Prepare as soon as you can. Don't put it off. Something bad may be brewing while you read this.

Which is not to say you should run out this afternoon and spend your life savings on survival gear. Just take steps now; as many as you feel comfortable with taking. Any preparation is better than none. And better than wishing, later, that you had done something.

The first line of defense
The best place to be, in times of crises, is almost always at home. Therefore a significant portion of your planning for a crisis should involve home readiness. Preparing for a crisis at home just means taking the time to think about and plan for what you would need to stay put for two weeks or a month or (God forbid) more. There are a number of issues to consider: food and water, waste removal, light and heat, clothing, safety and defense and entertainment. The solutions to these issues will vary depending on the nature of the crisis, your resources and your location.

You NEED water
While you can last a few weeks without food, you won’t make it past three days without water. Remember the rule of threes: you can survive three weeks without food, three days without water and three minutes without air.

Water will almost always be the hardest part of your supplies to keep enough of. Try to have at least a month’s worth of water on hand. If you can, keep three month’s.

How much water?
You will need at least two quarts of water PER PERSON in your household for each day you plan for. That’s 14 quarts per person, per week – for a family of four, 56 quarts every week. And that’s just the bare minimum you’ll need for drinking. Plan on twice as much – a gallon a day per person – to cover cooking and basic personal hygiene. For a family of four figure on storing 120 gallons for a month.

When storing water for long periods you should observe a few safety protocols. Always store water in clean food-grade containers, preferably those bought, by you, solely for that purpose. Don’t use empty milk jugs, soda bottles, old paint thinner cans or the bath tub unless you can’t avoid it. Various companies sell 30- and 55-gallon plastic barrels for water storage. If you can afford it, buy several. Also buy a hand-cranked pump. Pumping the water out is easier and more sanitary than dipping the water out with a pan or by hand. A 55-gallon barrel is pretty big and you’ll need at least two to store a month’s worth of water for a family of four.

Camping suppliers sell collapsible five-gallon jugs which are quite good for short-term storage.

Improvised water containers
If you’re using improvised containers use only food-grade containers that have an air-tight seal: soda bottles, juice jars, etc. Don’t use milk jugs except for very short-term storage; the lids don’t seal well after they’ve been opened. Food-grade containers made of plastic will have “HDPE” (high-density polyethylene) stamped on the bottom and a recycling rating of 2. Glass containers are fine, but can shatter in an earthquake or if roughly handled.

Always wash your containers thoroughly with soap and water, then fill them with water treated with 1 tablespoon of chlorine bleach per gallon (do not use bleach that has scents or softeners in it; just plain chlorine bleach). Let the bleach solution sit in the bottle for two minutes (slosh it around a bit, too), then pour it out and rinse the bottle thoroughly with water. Finally, fill the container with your drinking water. Fill the bottle to the very top – so there is no left air in the bottle – and tighten the lid on as tight as it will go. Don’t forget to wash the lid along with the bottle. Remove the plastic seal inside the lid and wash it thoroughly before you put it back (if you don’t take it out and wash it, there can be food residue behind it where bacteria can breed and contaminate your water).

Once you have your large storage container(s) filled with tap water, drop in either a commercial water treatment tablet, available from the same place you got the barrels, or 1/8 teaspoon of household bleach per gallon (4 teaspoon’s for a 30-gallon barrel and 7 for a 55-gallon). (Don’t use bleaches with scents or softeners as these are not safe to drink. Use only plain chlorine bleach.) You can also use commercial water purification tablets of the sort used by campers to treated river water. Follow the instructions on the box.

Pre-packaged water
If large-scale storage is out of the question, you can buy one gallon or larger jugs of water at your local box store for about a dollar a gallon. You can also buy water in smaller containers, though the smaller the container the more you’re paying by volume.

Water boxes (the kind made for kid’s school lunches) and mylar water packets are also a viable choice. Water packets certified by the US Coast Guard will last up to five years as long as they don’t spring a leak (some brands are better than others about leaks. Do some research before you buy in quantity). Such packets usually contain four ounces of water, so stocking up can be expensive – 16 packets make two quarts, so you need 64 packets for a family of four, per day, just for drinking.

In any case, you should refresh your stored tap water every six months and replace your bottled water once a year (make sure you check the fill date on the bottles when you buy them. You don’t want to buy water that’s been sitting in a warehouse for a year before you buy it).

It’s probably best to use a variety of storage options: a 55-gallon barrel (or several 2.5- or 5-gallon jugs) for cooking and washing water, bottled water for casual drinking and mylar water packets for your bug-out bag and vehicle supplies.

Date all your supplies and note the replacement dates on your calendar.

“Shop” from your stock
The best way to keep your water supplies fresh (at least your bottled water) is to use them first and do your shopping to replenish them. This ensures that your water supplies are always fresh. But remember: Don’t get lazy and use your supplies as a backup larder and then forget to restock. Always replenish. Don’t plan to do it “Later.” Do it right away, the next time you shop, as you use up your emergency stock.

Finding emergency water
If you haven’t stocked up and a crisis hits, you can find water in several places around your house: the water tanks of your toilets (NEVER the bowl), your water heater, ice cubes and your plumbing system. There’s also the swimming pool (if you have one) and fish tanks.

Learn where the water shut-off valve to your home or apartment is located and how to shut it off. Shutting it off prevents contaminated water from getting into your home if there has been a sewer line break or other water contamination. Make sure you have the right tools on hand to turn all the valves you’ll need to deal with.

Water heater
Learn where the drain for your water heater is located. Also learn how to turn off the gas or electricity to your water heater and let it cool for six hours or so before you drain it to avoid scalding yourself. Turning it off also prevents it from running while empty and presenting a fire hazard. To get the water flowing, turn off the water intake valve into the tank, then turn a hot water faucet anywhere in the house (this lets air into the line – just like a soda straw with you finger over the top, water won’t flow out the bottom unless air can get in at the top). The first water you get out of the heater may be rusty. Don’t discard it, but don’t use it for drinking either. Keep it for washing. The rust will settle out if you let it sit for a day or so. Drain the rest of the water into clean containers, add 1/8 teaspoon of bleach per gallon and seal them up.

Only take water from the tank, never the bowl. You’ll probably need to ladle it out. The brown grunge on the inside of the tank is not feces, it’s algae and not toxic. Try not to scrape against it to prevent it from floating free in your water. The bleach you add to the water before you store it will kill any algae that is in the water.

Household plumbing
The water enters your house on the ground floor or in the basement and flows into the upper floors by natural water pressure – remember that water seeks its own level and the source of your water is higher than your house (all those tall water towers) meaning there is no need to pump the water to the upper floors. If you cut off the outside water the water in your pipes will settle, finding an equilibrium. If you open any tap, all the water above that tap will try to drain out of it. You’ll need to open the highest tap in the house to allow air into the system, then go to the lowest water tap and open it (upper first, lower after. Otherwise water may start draining out the bottom before you get to it). All the water left in your pipes will drain out until the water level is below your lowest tap. Barring having a pump to pull water out, you won’t be able to get at water lower than your lowest tap. The water in your pipes is clean tap water and there is no need to treat it unless you plan to store it.

Ice cubes
Let them melt. Voila! Drinking water. By the way, it can be worthwhile to store a few large bottles of water in your freezer, if you have the room. The frozen water acts as backup cooling allowing you to keep your frozen foods longer than you otherwise might. When the frozen water eventually melts it becomes drinking water. Remember to leave about 3 inches of air space in the bottles so the water can expand when freezing.

Pool water
Pool water is great for washing but should be considered “backup” for drinking. Even if you keep your pool chemistry perfect, the concentration of chlorine is designed for swimming, not drinking. If you need to drink pool water, take it out of the pool and let it sit open for a day, if you can, then boil it thoroughly. If your pool has been sitting, untreated, for some time, consider it “open water” and deal with it accordingly (see below).

Fish tanks
You can drink fish tank water, but boil it first and you might want to run it through a coffee filter as well. By the way, don’t plan on eating your fish. Sure you can eat goldfish, but they’re not all that nutritious and some tropical fish can make you ill. You can ask the pet shop folks which fish they sell are safe to eat, but they may refuse to sell you fish after you ask them. Not to mention the odd looks you’ll get every time you go back.

Rain barrels
A quaint old fashioned water source and not such a bad idea in the 21st century. You don’t even need a barrel. When it rains, put water collection pans out in the rain. Avoid water run off from your roof: that water is contaminated with petroleum products from your roof shingles and the tar paper under them. Once you collect rain water, don’t let it sit. Collect it and store it after treating it with bleach just like any other water.

Open water
Open water presents problems. Most open water in America is not safe to drink. Even water from reservoirs is extensively treated before it is pumped into the system. That given, you can draw drinking water from active lakes and streams near your house (running water only). If you are planning ahead (and, if you’re not, why are you reading this?) buy a high quality water filtration pump. Make sure it’s rated for chemical and bacteriological filtering. Filter any open water before you drink it. You might also want to buy a portable filter bottle or filter straw for your Bug-Out Bag. Just in case you need to drink open water when bugging out. Buy replacement filters as well – most filters are rated for a hundred gallons or so, after which they must be replaced.

Never, never, ever drink standing water. Don’t drink from stagnant pools, water that collects in old barrels or tires or any other standing water source.

A note on sharing
If you are planning to survive the next crisis, plan to have some extra for friends, neighbors and strangers. It’s hard to know how much extra to stock and almost impossible to plan for this. It’s also impossible to know how to deal with having planned for five people for a month only to have 10 friends and neighbors show up at your house because they know you’re “the survival guy” and they just know you wouldn’t hesitate to help out “just one more.” If you let them all in, you just went from a month’s worth of food, to ten day’s worth. If 25 people show up, you can only feed them for a day. Whom do you turn away? How do you deal with the people who decide that, if you won’t give them the food they demand, they’ll just take it by force (because they have the “right” to feed their families)? Don’t look to me for answers, I have no idea. I hope I never have to know what I would do.

The following links provide online resources for emergency planning.

Good info
The Red Cross The sine qua non of good quality preparedness info.
Zombie Squad Silly name, good concept: that if you are prepared for the attack of a horde of flesh-eating zombies, well, you're prepared for anything. Face it, crisis planning doesn't have to be grim and humorless.
Flu Wiki A valuable resource for planning for the avian flu and just about anything else that can go wrong, too.

Nitro-Pak A good source for reasonably-priced gear from food & water to just about anything else you'll need to ride it out.
The Safety Company A bit more "Professional First Responder" oriented than other resources, but they have lots of good stuff.
Beyond Bulbs When you need more than a flashlight...
Brigade Quartermasters A bit too Rambo, but when you think you need the gear, they're a good resource.

If you find this diary or any of these resources to have useful information, PRINT IT OUT. If there is a crisis, the web may not be available, not to mention power for your computer. You want your information resources to be available to use without technology.

One final note
Remember that you don't have to do this alone. Talk to friends, join the local first aid squad or fire brigade. Volunteer at the hospital. Work together. Plan together.

Our best hope, in times of crisis, is our community. The more people you know who you can help and who are there to help you, the better. And, even if a crisis never hits, you'll be doing some good for your town. Everybody wins!

Next Diary: Food and Waste disposal.

Tags: disaster preparedness, disaster, earthquakes, floods, hurricane, Rescued (all tags)

The Crisis Diaries #2
by Captain Frogbert
Tue Aug 14, 2007 at 06:23:06 AM PDT
This is the second in a series of crisis diaries. It deals with the subjects of stocking food for a long-term emergency, dealing with human waste and other trash and finding places to store water, food and other supplies when you live in a small space like an apartment or condo.

Part 1

How much food do you need?
Few people realize just how much food they eat (except Mom. She knows). Think about it, though. Three meals a day times four people times seven days is 84 meals. In a month, a family of four eats 336 meals. If each meal is about a pound (including drinks, which weigh a lot) that’s eating the weight of two fully grown adult men each and every month (this is not a serving suggestion, just a comparison). When you break down the geometry, what that means is that the volume of food you need to feed your family for a month will take up about half a typical 2’ x 3’ closet or a volume about the size of an average dish washer or stove. Ever wonder why Ye Olde Tyme folks stored their food in barns? Because they needed the room to fit it all.

You don’t need to eat k-rations to survive
Most of the food you keep for emergencies can be the same food you eat everyday – unless you eat a lot of frozen dinners or fresh meats and fish. In a crisis the electricity will probably be out all or most of the time, so freezers and fresh food will not be an option for most of us (barring hunting and fishing).

The food you store should be canned, dried or preserved and represent a balanced diet. Keep your food supplies in a cool, dry, dark place, up off the floor. Label them with their purchase date and their expiration date. Keep your food in sealed plastic bins. One day or one week per bin can help you keep track.

Plan your meals
Look at your long-term food storage options and think about what makes a good meal. Plan and make yourpurchases accordingly. Unlike federal fallout shelter planning in the 50s, you don’t have to lay in a diet of nothing more than saltines and peanut butter.

When you prepare your meals during a crisis, don’t front-load your favorites. In other words, don’t eat all the pasta in the first week, leaving you with nothing but canned veggies for the next two weeks and saltines and peanut butter for the last week of the month. On the other hand, there are enough food choices that you don’t really need to have on hand anything you don’t much like and, during a crisis, food is one of the better things to take your mind off your troubles. As long as you don’t neglect nutrition, buy and eat what you like during a crisis.

“Shop” from your stock
The best way to keep your supplies fresh is to use them first and do your shopping to replenish them. This ensures that your food supplies are always fresh. There are two caveats:

Don’t get lazy and use your supplies as a backup larder and then forget to restock. Always replenish. Don’t plan to do it “Later.” Do it right away, the next time you shop, as you use up your emergency stock.

Don’t let the foods you plan to use only for a crisis (or don’t really like) get ignored. It’s no good discovering that the canned soups and peanuts are three years out of date during a crisis.

Some foods to consider are:

Most drinks will be something dried to which you add water – hot or not: tea, coffee, juices, etc. See the previous Crisis Diary for information on your water needs.

Water. At least 2 quarts for drinking, per person, per day. More in hot climates and if doing hard work.
Instant coffee
Ground coffee or beans and a hand grinder (if you have an old-style percolator that works with a fire or camp stove or a french press, etc.).
Tea (get various kinds including useful herbals like vervain and chamomile).
Hot chocolate
Iced tea mix (whether you have ice or not)
Juice mixes
Powdered milk (in nitrogen-packed cans).
Various juices in bottles, cans or single-serving boxes. Note that single-serving boxes can be better because, once a bottle or can is opened, barring some sort of refrigeration, it has to be consumed quickly lest it spoil.

Foods can fit into two simple categories: foods that need water to prepare and foods that don’t. In a situation in which you may need all your water for drinking, you’ll want an array of foods that do not require you to use water to prepare them. Make sure the no-water foods are low in salt. Salted foods are fine for preservation but will increase your need for water and can be counter productive in a low-water crisis. Your goal is long-term storage, so certain foods are out (fresh meats, etc.). On the other hand, many foods can be considered “medium-term” storable and have a place in your everyday larder. They can be suitable for emergency use as well.

Don’t forget the can opener. No, really. This may seem silly, but so many jokes have been made about this that it could be easy to think you could never, ever forget it, only to find that you did. Or discover the one you counted on because you’ve had it for years is broken. Have two. KNOW that they work.

Foods that don’t need water to prepare
These foods are your core stock, easy to prepare and easy to move if you need to.
Canned soups (the “ready to eat” kind that don’t need added water).
Canned fruits and veggies. (Get fruit in water, not syrup. Save the water; you can drink it if you get desperate.)
Canned meats, chicken, fish
Tuna (comes in mylar packets these days)
Boxed cereals (you can eat them without milk if you need to).
Crackers and cookies
Jams and jellies
Peanut butter and other nut butters
Potatoes (Just potatoes. In a bag. Keep them in a dark place.)
Dried fruits
Beef jerky or pemmican (not the Quickie Mart kind, get the real thing. It has less salt and chemicals).

Foods that require water to prepare
Soups, the “reduced” kind
Soup mixes, the powdered kind.
Pasta with jar sauce (I know, I know...)
Rice dishes (Rice-a-Roni, etc.)
Mac and cheese
Dried fruits (raisins, apples, bananas, etc.)
Dried beans (red, white, pinto, etc.)
Dried veggies (peas, corn, carrots, etc.)
Mashed potato mix
Dehydrated eggs (they last forever... but only because no one wants to eat them).
Bouillon cubes
Pancake mix
Oat meal and Cream of wheat
Unprocessed whole-grain wheat (with a hand grinder). If you can build a baking oven, you can bake bread.

Medium-term storage foods
Parmalat milk (which must be kept cool and is only good for about six months).
Chicken broth. A good, basic soup stock to which you can add dried meats and veggies.
Fresh veggies like carrots, pea pods, tomatoes, onions, peppers, corn on the cob when in season.

Other food stuff
Tomato paste (with this and some fresh tomatoes, spices, olive oil, onions and peppers you can avoid jar sauce on your pasta in the short term. Hooray!).
Olive oil and corn oil
Yeast for bread making
Baking soda
Vitamin supplements

And don’t forget:
Pet foods (not for you, for your pets).
And, this is something I should have mentioned in the previous diary: have enough water on hand for your pets. The amount needed will vary by type of pet and size, but a good rule of thumb is one ounce per pound per day. So your ten pound cat needs ten ounces of water per day and your 48 pound Labrador needs 48 ounces (or 1.5 quarts – almost as much as you need).

Even the worst food can be made palatable with your favorite spices and sauces.

Salt & pepper
Ketchup & mustard
Soy sauce
Red pepper flakes
Other spices you like
Mayonnaise (Get single-serve packets, not jars. Mayo goes bad quickly once opened, if not refrigerated.)
Tobasco or other hot sauce
Maple syrup

Comfort foods
When the going gets tough, the tough get cookies! One of the things that can make the going just a bit easier to tough out is a raspberry truffle. Or a packet of Twinkies. Or whatever your favorite treat happens to be. Don’t forget to have a few comfort foods tucked away for the worst of times. Note: Twinkies, contrary to popular belief, do not last eternally. This is an urban myth. MYTH! I say. Do not make them an integral part of your emergency food planning.

Real emergency foods
MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) the modern version of army K-rations. Will keep for a long time. Especially if you avoid eating them until you absolutely have to. And you’ll want to.

“Trail” foods. The next step up from MREs. Many companies market these “just add water and heat” foods designed for camping and hiking. Try several before you commit to them. Some are an, a-hem!, acquired taste.

Food concentrate bars. These food concentrates come in 1200, 2400 and 3600 calorie packs designed for a 1200 calorie a day emergency diet (a 3600 calorie bar is for one person for three days or three people for one day). They’re sort of like a small block of hard cookie dough and are moist enough not to provoke undue thirst. Try several kinds as each brand has a different taste. Never your first choice for food, but keep a week or two’s worth for real emergencies. Also keep them in your Bug-Out Bag and car (boat, etc.).

High protein drink mixes
I’m including these, but not recommending them. I just don’t know how good they are for long-term survival use. But they are powdered and can be made with water, so they’re worth considering.

Calorie tablets
These are small chewable tablets that pack a lot of calories into a few bites. You would need about 16 a day on a real, hard-core emergency diet. Arg.

Part 2

Dealing with human waste and other trash
This can be an awkward subject but most people are surprised at how much urine and feces a single human generates in a day, not to mention a family of four (or a town of 4,000 or more). If you are holed up for two weeks, there’s going to be a lot of noxious waste to deal with and keep away from your family and neighbors.

Whatever you do, don’t just walk a few feet out your door and take a dump on the ground and leave it. The problem is, flies will find it almost immediately and walk all over it. Then they’ll find your kitchen and your neighbor’s kitchen and walk all over your food. Look! Dysentery and cholera for everyone!

If the sewers are still functioning and you have a suitable water resource (nearby stream, lake, etc.), you can hand fill and flush your toilets. Just don’t use your drinking water to do it. Without a lot of water close to hand, you’ll need to designate an “outhouse.” This needn’t be an official wooden shed with a crescent moon cut in the door. It can be any out-of-the-way corner with some plastic sheets hung for privacy.

Digging a latrine trench
A latrine is the basic non-mechanical human waste disposal arrangement. They’ve been in use, in one form or another, for millions of years.

The size of your latrine trench is based on the number of people using it and the length of time it is to be used. I favor the “back to back” latrine. This is a hole about 8-10 inches wide, three feet long and 18” deep. (Save the dirt to one side.) Cover half of it with plywood, a row of heavy sticks or something else to keep people from falling in. Put your seat at the other end. Use that end until the waste gets about 8-10 inches deep, then fill that end in with dirt and move the seat to the other end. Repeat. Once the latrine is used up, fill it in fully and pack it down. Dig another at least 10 feet away and do it again.

Never site your latrine within 200 feet of a water source, cooking area or up slope from a well or stream. If you don’t have 200 feet of back yard (like most of us) just site your latrine as far away as possible.

Making a latrine seat
There are a number of ways to do this. The easiest is to just buy one at a camping store. Making one is pretty simple, though. Take a folding chair and cut a hole about 8-9 inches across in the seat or remove the seat entirely and replace it with a securely fastened toilet seat taken from one of your regular toilets. Either way, position it over one end of your latrine. Make sure it’s settled in and secure. If needed, you can brace it with plywood or logs. The last thing you want to do is fall into the latrine. No, really, trust me on this.

Using a latrine
It’s not as simple as using a flush toilet; you have to clean up after yourself. Keep a shovel and the discarded dirt from the hole close to hand. Also keep a small bag of lime (calcium oxide) which you can get at a hardware or garden store. When you’re done, use a small trowel or large spoon to sprinkle some lime onto your waste (not too much, just a light covering), then lightly cover it all with dirt. The lime helps decompose the waste and the dirt keeps the flies off. Be very careful with the lime, it’s very caustic. If you get it in your eyes or mouth you can cause serious damage. If you don’t have lime, you can use ashes from your fire, straw or shredded newspaper.

Urine is a lot less difficult than solid waste. Just pee into the latrine and don’t do anything special about it.

Toilet paper
Keep toilet paper in a coffee can with a lid or a zip lock plastic bag near the latrine; you don’t want it to get rained on and all wet. Or keep it by the door on the way to the latrine (just don’t forget to bring it along, AND return it). There are those who advocate burning toilet paper after use. This largely depends upon location and care. As long as there is no local fire danger from a bit of burning paper that gets away and you’re suitably careful about the (admittedly very small) fire, I think this is a good idea. Paper – even toilet paper – can take a long time to decompose in a hole. Burning it removes that issue. The ashes can also contribute to decomposition of the waste. If you go for burning, keep a box of long matches by the latrine. As always safety and consideration for others are the watchwords.

Improvised toilet paper
What do you mean you FORGOT to stockpile toilet paper?? Okay, alright then... calm down, we have other resources. The best is a big old reference book, like a big dictionary or PDR (physician’s desk reference). The paper is suitably thin and strong. Tear out a page or two each time you need it. Avoid glossy magazines, the paper is too slick and, if you’re not careful, you can give yourself a paper cut. (Ow!) Also avoid phone books, and newspapers: the paper isn’t bad, but the ink comes off too easily.

Washing up
Keep a bottle of water with bleach (2-3 tablespoon per gallon) or anti-bacterial soap near the latrine. Use it to wash your hands.

Tampons and sanitary napkins
Don’t toss these in the latrine. Use a plastic bag and put them with your infectious waste (see below).

In conclusion
When all is said and done, latrines are smelly and inconvenient. But better than cholera.

Also, remember where you dug your latrine(s). You won’t want to dig there again for a couple of years.

The hard part is when you don’t have any land to dig a hole in: when you’re an apartment or condo dweller.

The bucket latrine
Some places, like those listed in the links at the end of this diary, sell a sturdy 5 gallon paint bucket with an attached toilet seat. You can also use a standard five-gallon paint bucket with a lid from the hardware store. Or you can go top-of-the-line with a stand-alone commode from a medical supply house or camping store (also see links; they’re not that expensive, but you need to buy one before you need it, unlike a latrine). In any case, always line the bucket or commode with a large plastic bag with the edges wrapped over the lip of the bucket. When you’re done, tie off the bag and put it into a red infectious waste bag (see below).

Toilets without water
You can also use your non-flushing home or apartment toilet by removing the water from the bowl and lining it with a plastic bag. As with the commode or bucket, tie off the bag when you’re done and put it with the other infectious waste.

Other infectious waste
If you have wounded people, or people who are sick, you will need to deal with the bloody or infected bandages, bedding, used Kleenex etc. Put these into a plastic bag (either a zip lock or other small, seal-able bag), then put it into a large, red infectious waste bag.

The infectious waste bin
Keep your infectious waste bag in a sturdy trash bin with a tight-fitting lid. Don’t put open waste into it, always put it infectious waste into another, sealed bag first. Don’t mix other non-infectious waste with it.

You can get infectious waste bags online or from your local medical supply store. Red bags mean danger to clean-up workers. If you don’t have infectious waste bags, use a large trash bag but label it clearly and store it away from you other trash. When clean up crews eventually come, tell them which trash is infectious so they can deal with it properly.

Trash management
Ever experienced a garbage strike? Yuck! Well, the greatest likelihood is that trash pickup will be halted for the duration of the crisis. You’ll need to manage your trash by a few simple rules:

As you buy your supplies, reduce packaging as much as you can. Take things out of clamshells and boxes and store them in logical groups as they’ll be needed (a kitchen box, bathroom box, etc.). Dispose of the packaging now when the trash pickups can be counted on; it will reduce your trash footprint during a crisis.

Don’t unpack items that can spoil or degrade outside their packaging.

As you use supplies, separate the trash into wet trash and dry trash. That means that table scraps, fruit peels, coffee grounds and tea bags, un-eaten food and anything else that will decompose (meaning rot) goes in one (trash-bag-lined) bin and dry trash goes in another. If you mix them, they all become moist and will all attract flies and other bugs. Empty juice boxes go in the moist bin, after you squash them flat. Water boxes can go in dry (set them aside to dry out for a day before you squash them and toss them in the bin).

When the wet trash is full, squeeze the air out of the bag, tie it tight and double-bag it inside another plastic trash bag, also tied tight. Optionally, you can spray the inner bag with Lysol or equivalent to help control the smell before you tie off the outer bag.

Note: You can also compost your wet trash and even human waste, but this diary is too long already. Watch for future diaries on the subject.

Collect dry trash in a bin or box. Break down boxes so they lie flat: they take up less room that way.

Put the lids back on juice and other bottles and keep them ready to rinse and recycle after the crisis. If you leave the lids off, the residue inside will spoil and attract flies.

Empty food tins should be wiped clean with a paper towel (watch the sharp edges!) and the towel discarded in wet waste. If you have sufficient water you can rinse them. Otherwise, squash them flat (remove the bottom before you squash them, they’ll flatten better) and store them in a closed bin. Like juice bottles, any food remaining on the tins will start to rot and attract bugs if you don’t keep them covered.

Any potentially toxic trash (motor oil, ammonia, bleach, other chemicals, etc.) should also be kept separate from other trash. Don’t put it in with the wet. And DON’T mix them together! (You really, really, don’t want to mix ammonia (Windex, for example) and bleach at any time, much less during an emergency.) With any luck, you won’t generating a lot of this kind of waste during a crisis.

A family of four generate a lot of trash. After two weeks you’ll probably have a pile that’s bigger than you thought it would be. After a month you’d be amazed. Decide where you’re going to keep it before you start piling it up. If you don’t plan ahead, you’re just going to have to move it when it gets so big it’s in the way.

The wet trash will need to be stored away from cooking and sleeping areas. Check it regularly for animal damage. Even double bagged, the smell will attract scavengers.

Animals may be a problem for your trash management. Rotting garbage will attract scavengers. In a crisis, that includes abandoned household pets as well as coyotes, raccoons and other small animals. It can also attract bears in some areas. It can also attract flies and other bugs. If animals get into your trash and carry it away, it spreads any potential disease vectors wherever the animal goes and to whatever predator may eat the scavenger.

Consider buying a few of those sticky fly paper hanging things to help mange the flies and other bugs.

If you have someplace – a garden shed, for example –that can keep your trash behind closed doors, that’s great. Barring that, check your trash every day and re-bag as needed.

If you manage trash carefully, it won’t attract too many flies or scavengers, get too smelly or spread disease.

Keeping clean in a crisis
Without water to wash up, people can get pretty smelly and dirty pretty fast. Don’t not wash – it can contribute to the spread of disease. Part of your emergency storage should be wet wipes and liquid no-water soaps. You can also save your “grey” water – water that’s been used for other non-drinking uses, like cooking – for washing.

A hundred years and more ago, people didn’t have showers and shampoo. They didn’t have deodorant soaps. They didn’t bathe every day. But they got by... and were used to smellier people. In a crisis you’re going to be living with other people in more cramped conditions than you’re used to: no running off to the mall when ever you want to. Emotions will run high. So will sweat. And without the ability to bathe regularly, you’ll all begin to smell. You also risk passing disease and infection from person to person if you aren’t careful.

Wash as much and as often as you can, at least your hands and face. “Sponge bath:” rinse your skin with a moist washcloth, sponge or paper towel every day.

Always wash your hands before handling food. Use bleach water or anti-bacterial soap.

Don’t forget to brush your teeth. You REALLY don’t want to aggravate a cavity when there are no dentists to go to. Use as little water as you can.

Stay clean as much as you can without sacrificing drinking water.

Remember that other people, those who have not planned ahead, will be a lot less conscientious about waste than you are. For many of them it will just make “sense” to pee and poop into the nearest open water, which is likely to be upstream from you. Others will just dump it into the gutter or rain sewers. Until things get back to what passes for normal, be careful when you go out and be careful of open water sources.

Sanitation checklist
Things to buy and store before the crisis

Extra toilet paper
Tampons and sanitary napkins
Lime (calcium oxide)
Plastic trash bags, large and small
Zip lock bags in several sizes
Infectious waste bags
A ten gallon trash bin with a tight-fitting lid for infectious waste
Wet wipes
Waterless soap
Flypaper strips
4 x 8 plywood for the latrine (if you’re planning for one)
A commode, camp toilet or bucket latrine along with a substantial supply of plastic bag liners

Part 3

Planning ahead in an apartment or condo
When you don’t have a lot of room, it can be hard to stock up for a crisis. It is likely you just won’t be able to store as much as you might with more space; perhaps only 2-3 weeks worth. However, as always, the rule is act now, upgrade later. You can always do more, but doing nothing is a foolish option.

To begin with, analyze your storage options. How much room do you have? How much room can you make? Think about a “California closets” kind of solution: take a small space and hyper-organize it. You might be surprised to learn how much you can fit in a single closet.

If you live in a one-bedroom apartment – the kind with a long, 2-foot-deep closet along one wall – consider setting aside around 18” at one end of the closet. Maybe invest in or build some sturdy shelves. Fill the bottom half with water jugs. You should be able to fit about 18 jugs (two rows deep). That’s 45 gallons of water; enough for two people for three weeks. Fill the top half with compact foods: soups, mixes, etc. You should be able to store three weeks worth of food on top of the water. It’s not three months worth of supplies, but it’s enough to sit out most crises.

If you have more traditional closets, the kind that are three feet wide and two feet deep (just a door leading into a door-sized room) you can consider setting aside the bottom or top areas of several closest for emergency storage. Again, shelving helps; or you can use sealed plastic bins. If you go for bins, be sure to measure first because you want to use ALL the space you have. Losing an inch here and an inch there can add up quickly.

Other good storage options are under the bed (lots of places sell plastic bins designed to fit nicely under a bed), chests in place of side tables (you can get wicker chests that are about 20” square that are designed to be used as end tables. They are sturdy and provide plenty of out-of-sight storage). Think about what can fit behind the couch or comfy chairs, under the stairs, at the top of closets you normally don’t use because you can’t reach it easily, above the kitchen cabinets, over the fridge. Many small apartments have out-of-the-way nooks that get ignored. You can get behind-the-door hanging bags designed for shoes that can hold quite a lot of food supplies and even a few days worth of bottled water.

Think about your current food storage. Lots of people pack only the fronts of their cabinets because it makes things easier to reach. Pack your emergency supplies in the back. Since you’re going to be “shopping your stock” anyway (right?) you can make a habit of buying new and moving it to the back and keeping your oldest supplies up front. That way you can use you everyday food larder for your emergency storage all at the same time.

Finally, you can consider off-site storage. If you live within reasonable walking distance of a self-storage place you can keep your emergency supplies there and go “shopping” every few days.


Human waste mangement

Under bed storage

Water barrels

Infectious waste disposal bags and labels

Next time: When staying home isn’t an option, The Bug-Out Bag

Tags: disaster preparedness, food, water, waste, Rescued (all tags)


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