You Can’t Live Without It
(And it’s not your cell phone)
To understand the importance of water in the event of a major disaster such as an earthquake, we can do no better than look at one of California’s great Shakeout exercises.
In the USGS’ 2008 ShakeOut scenario, it was estimated that 2,000 people were killed and 50,000 injured, with damage costing something over $200 billion.
Whether the earthquake happens on the East Coast, the New Madrid Fault, in California, Seattle, Portland, or the entire West Coast, hundreds if not thousands will be killed in collapsing old buildings.
At the same time, bridges tumble, water lines are ruptured so firefighters have no water while broken gas lines start instant fires (as happened when Superstorm Sandy hit New York). Vehicles that don’t plunge into rivers as the bridges break apart will find themselves in gridlock on useless freeways, possibly miles if not days away from home.
Railway lines will bend like putty, airport runways will become instant death traps, phone services will be non-existent – and in a matter of minutes, life will suddenly never be the same – for those who survive.
Experts say that a California ‘quake would result in as many as 1600 fires, just for starters, while literally millions of people would be either trapped or in desperate circumstances, simply because they are not prepared for such an emergency.
Hopefully, with this article, we are preaching to the converted. You will understand that in such a disaster, emergency services will be totally overwhelmed. Think about that. Emergency services are just as likely to be put out of action as anyone else. So why would anyone expect them to come to their aid?
Only the foolish hang on to that idea, and they use it as an excuse to not be prepared.
California’s Shakeout exercise led to the conclusion that at least 95 per cent of rescues would be undertaken by other survivors.
Then comes the hard part. Contacting loved ones. Getting home. Creating some sort of shelter, Digging in to your emergency supplies. And making it through the following weeks. Yes, weeks.
Anyone who thinks they can stop when they’ve put up enough emergency supplies for the FEMA-recommended 72-hour scenario, is deluding themselves.
Sure, it’s a start.
But we’re talking about being prepared for the aftermath of a BIG earthquake. If you’re not doing everything you can to be self-sufficient for two weeks, a month, two months and more, then as soon as what you have runs out, you’ll be no better off than those who didn’t prepare at all.
Now let’s answer a truly critical question.
How much attention have you given to the need for an adequate supply of potable water? Where do you think it is going to come from when the water lines are ruptured?
Image at right – San Francisco, California, Earthquake April 18, 1906. Broken water pipe showing lateral movement. May 15, 1906.
We take water so much for granted that most of us think having enough food on hand is all we need to do to cope in such an emergency. But without water, death is not far away. Three days away in fact.
Sure, this is blunt talk. But having enough water on hand for your needs is, honestly, a matter of life and death. In an emergency, water is going to become more valuable than gold.
In an emergency, city supplies will be gone. And even if you have a well, you could find it suddenly quits running, not just because the power has gone out, but because earthquakes rupture underground streams and reservoirs. It happened last week (November 2012) to several hot springs in the Canadian national park north of Vancouver Island after a 7.2 earthquake out to sea.
Maybe your steel six-inch well pipe will survive the quake, but we know for a fact that an earthquake can suddenly turn well water into a rusty sludge.
At the heart of the Great Shakeout project is the idea that individuals need to be prepared, because government agencies will be overwhelmed.
California learned from its Shakeout that “In the case of a large earthquake, it is possible that help will not come for two weeks.”
What does that mean? It means the unprepared will become a burden on those who have prepared. It’s happening right now in New Jersey and other places devastated by Sandy. We can certainly have compassion for those who find themselves in such dire circumstances. And yet, we can but wonder why the vast majority of people seem to think that “the authorities” will rescue them.
Frankly, it’s rather ironic that those of us who have spent years encouraging people to be prepared have been labeled as scaremongers and doomsayers – and here we have a real-world disaster which is exactly what we were trying to alert people to be prepared for!
Further, doomsayer or not, we can expect more such superstorms, and bigger and nastier earthquakes in the months ahead.
Which brings us back to water.
If there is one thing that should be taking priority in anyone’s prep planning, water is it.
You need water to cook. To drink. To stay alive. (And let’s not forget your pets and chickens and livestock).
You need stored water.
You need a minimum of one gallon per person per day.
You need to store water now.
The best way to do this, and we have to thank modern technology for the means to do so, is in polyethylene (plastic) drums. These are manufactured to very exacting standards. They are food grade, which means they are certified as safe for water storage. You do not want to be using used drums (food grade or not) for water storage. That’s because it’s impossible to guarantee that bacteria will not grow in them, even if you rinse them out with bleach.
Potable water drums are usually blue. This makes them ultra-violet resistant. They also come in a range of capacities, such as 5 gallons, 15 gallons, 30 gallons, 55 gallons and up.
A 55 gallon drum of water will last one person eight weeks if using one gallon a day. That’s two people for four weeks, four people two weeks, eight people one week, and so on.
At the other end of the scale, a five gallon drum might be stretched to last seven days for one person. Even though they weigh something like 40 pounds when full, these small drums are easier to store and move around than the bigger ones. It’s a matter of individual choice and circumstances as to what size you choose to buy.
But whatever the choice, you should fill them with fresh clean (and in the city, treated) water and add O7 liquid oxygen (one teaspoon for five gallons or one ounce treats 55 gallons) to ensure freshness for at least five years – provided the drum stays sealed.
Without such treatment, water can become stagnant and start to grow algae after about six months – even though it is in a food grade drum.
For the bigger drums, above five gallons, it’s imperative that you have a bung wrench to open it and a msiphon pump to remove the water.With five gallon drums, you can cut out the center of the screw-on cap and insert a plastic tap (faucet). Then you can lay them on their side on a counter to simply open the tap and get water into a pot or other receptacle. But be aware that these drums also have a a second very small screw-on cap. Before first use after storage, you need to pierce the plastic underneath that cap to allow air to get into the drum when you’re extracting water. Otherwise you’ll end up with a vacuum lock.
As far as storage is concerned, all drums should be kept inside or under shade if outside.
Throw a tarp over them too, because even though they’re UV resistant, the tarp gives added protection.. Also, avoid direct contact with the ground, or concrete. Put a couple of pieces of wood under them. If allowed to sit on concrete, natural condensation from the air will cause dampness under the drum and lime in the concrete will eventually begin to etch into the bottom of the drum.
You might go so far as to buy much bigger containers, such as above-ground or underground tanks that hold a thousand gallons or more. You should also consider capturing rainwater (any old drum would do for that) to use for flushing the toilet (if it still works), for personal washing, or for pets and livestock.
In fact, we highly recommend that you purchase a quality water purification system, such as the Black Berkey (left) or one of the Katadyn filters – or a Sawyer bucket filterthat takes out viruses and bacteria.These filters could be a life-saver – and would certainly be essential for treating or purifying whatever water you can get hold of once your own supplies run out – which they will eventually.
Going back to the disaster scenario, you can clearly foresee that the unprepared will be asking for help from those who have prepared. How you handle that is up to you.
Hopefully you get on well with your neighbors, and you have all chosen to store water for your own needs – for as much as a month, at least.
“But they’re so expensive,” we hear somebody say.
To which we reply – “No they’re not. What’s your life worth – and that of your family?”
Please don’t let the gossip of the day (meaning CNN and Fox etc) distract you from the importance of completing your preparations.
And please feel free to pass this on.
The Portland Preparedness Center.