During a major disaster, water mains can break, the municipal water processing system may fail or plumbing may be otherwise disrupted. At the same time, something we take for granted, a flushing toilet may not be available. In the event of an earthquake or hurricane it’s not too much of a stretch to expect that your plumbing, both incoming and outgoing could be disrupted.
Human waste, if not disposed of properly, can not only cause a sanitation and hygiene mess but if not managed properly will spread disease. This is known as a secondary disaster.
For those who live in rural areas and your waste is managed by a septic system, you may be in good shape, barring any damage to your plumbing. Some of the newer systems being designed are dependent on an electric pump or grinder. If that’s the case, then a reliable generator needs to be a part of your plan. Our disaster preparedness plan isn’t complete until we have considered some alternative way to dispose of waste.
Several solutions are available from a toilet seat that snaps to the top of a five-gallon bucket for $10, to a chemical porta-potty costing $200 plus. If you opt for the five-gallon bucket solution, don’t forget to get some small trash bags to use as liners.
The 2010 earthquake in Haiti taught responders several lessons. In a region that was marginally sanitary in the best of times, it became painfully aware that in a post-event environment, the health climate deteriorated rapidly and drastically because of the lack of adequate sewage capability. Health officials are still battling cholera in Haiti.
Any disruption of sanitary service poses significant health risks. Every so often a major city experiences a shutdown of garbage services. The mountains of accumulated trash are an attractive nuisance to all sorts of disease-bearing vermin, including rats, mice and dog packs.
On a different note, researchers are learning about compost piles and their drawbacks after a disaster. Composting is basically managing the decomposition of certain biodegradable products. In other words and in base terms: it is simply a managed collection of garbage intended for a noble purpose, eventually. (My apologies to all organic gardeners everywhere.) The word of caution here is to insure your compost pile is well-secured and does not get scattered nor become an attractant for disease-bearing rodents or other scavengers. Communities will have their hands full trying to restore basic services without worrying about the runaway rat population.
As always send your comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Previous columns can be found on my blog at www.disasterprepdave.blogspot.com. Dave Robinson is a retired Postmaster living in Myrtle Point, Oregon, and the author of “Disaster Prep For The Rest Of Us,” available on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble and other online booksellers.