Summer’s Just around the Corner, Domestic Disaster Preparedness, Are You Ready?

Technology and experience have provided many tools to make forecasting disasters more accurate. Satellites, radar and historical data all contribute to increased accuracy and forecasts that are more reliable. While forecasting is accurate at predicting what may happen, it is not an exact science. Occasionally, the actual event is not as bad as forecast. Tragically, it can be much worse.

Unfortunately, environmental disasters are no longer the only type of emergency or disaster we may experience. Man made disasters are nearly impossible to predict. The result can be very similar to those created by nature. One significant difference is that manufactured disasters are typically unexpected.

No matter what type of emergency or disaster occurs, planning in advance can make a difference between life and death. While there are federal, state and local police and fire department resources set up to provide assistance, they can quickly become overwhelmed by the scope or scale of an event. Given this possibility, personal preparedness is essential.

With any disaster or emergency, there are basic needs and essentials that must be met. At a minimum, water, food and shelter are absolute necessities. Depending on the nature of the event, clean, breathable air and additional supplies may also be needed. Keep everything in a container or some other device that provides protection, portability and ease of access.

While no one can fully anticipate what kinds of emergencies or disasters may occur, preparing for them in advance can make a difference in the days that follow. Collecting supplies and planning and preparing for your personal needs are best done before warnings are issued or after something happens. This way, there is no rush and supplies are plentiful.


For drinking and sanitation, plan on having at least one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days.

  • Children, nursing mothers and sick people may need more water.
  • If you live in a warm weather climate, more water may be necessary.
  • Store water tightly in clean plastic containers such as soft drink bottles.
  • In an emergency, you can use household chlorine bleach to treat water by using 16 drops of regular household liquid bleach per gallon of water. Do not use scented or color-safe bleaches or bleaches with added cleaners.


Containers for Water Storage
Food-grade plastic or glass containers are suitable for storing water. One-, three- and five-gallon water containers can be purchased from most outdoor or hardware stores. Any plastic or glass container that previously held food or beverages, such as 2-liter soda bottles, or water, juice, punch, or milk jugs may also be used. Stainless steel containers can be used to store water that has not been or will not be treated with chlorine. (Chlorine is corrosive to most metals.)

Use hot soapy water to thoroughly clean used containers and lids. Then rinse them with water and sanitize the containers and lids by rinsing them with a solution of 1 tablespoon of chlorine bleach per gallon of water. Leave the containers wet for two minutes, then rinse them again with water. Remember to remove the paper or plastic lid liners before washing the lids. It is very difficult to effectively remove all residue from many containers, so carefully clean hard-to-reach places like the handles of milk jugs. To sanitize stainless steel containers, place the container in boiling water for 10 minutes. Never use containers that previously held chemicals.

Do I Need to Treat Water?
Once you properly clean containers, fill them with potable, or safe, drinking water. All public water supplies are already treated and should be free of harmful bacteria. However, as an additional precaution, it is recommended that you add 5–7 drops (about 1/8 teaspoon) of chlorine bleach per gallon of water stored to protect against any lingering organisms in storage containers that may have been inadvertently missed during the cleaning process.

Where to Store Water
Clearly label all water containers “drinking water” with the current date. Store the water in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight and heat sources. Do not store it near gasoline, kerosene, pesticides or similar substances.

Properly stored potable water should have an indefinite shelf life; however, it’s a good idea to use and replace the stored water every 6–12 months. Rotating water this way provides you with an opportunity to experiment and check the amount of stored water against what you require. It also serves as an additional precaution against bacteria or viruses growing in containers that may not have been thoroughly or properly cleaned and sanitized.

If you have freezer space, storing some water in the freezer is a good idea. If you lose electricity, the frozen water will help keep foods in your freezer frozen until the power is restored. Make sure you leave 2–3 inches of space in containers because water expands as it freezes.

Emergency Sources of Water
In an emergency, if you have not previously stored water and commercial or public sources of water are unavailable, drain water from your plumbing system. Unless you are advised that the public water supply has been contaminated and is not safe, open the drain valve at the bottom of the water heater and salvage the water stored in the heater. A typical water heater holds 30–60 gallons of water. Discard the first few gallons if they contain rust or sediment. Let the water heater cool before draining water from the heater to avoid being scalded. Turn off the electricity or gas to the water heater to prevent the heater from operating without water. Once water has been drained into clean, sanitized containers, add 5–7 drops of plain, unscented chlorine bleach per gallon of water, and stir or shake the solution to mix it. Let it set 30 minutes before use.

When and How to Treat Water for Storage
In an emergency, if you do not have water that you know is safe, it’s possible to purify water for drinking. Start with the cleanest water you can find and treat with one of the following methods:

  • Boiling and chlorinating: Water can be purified by boiling. Boiling times may vary from state to state, depending on altitude. In Colorado, the water is safe to use after it has been boiled for 3–5 minutes and has cooled. If you plan to store boiled water, pour it into clean, sanitized containers and let it cool to room temperature. Then add 5–7 drops (1/8 teaspoon) of chlorine bleach* per gallon of water (1/2 teaspoon per 5 gallons). Stir or shake the solution to mix it. Cap the containers and store them in a cool, dry place.
  • Filtering and chlorinating: You can filter water if you have a commercial or backpack filter that filters to 1 micron. These are available in sporting good stores and are recommended for use when backpacking. They are not recommended to clean large volumes of water. Filtering eliminates parasites such as giardia and cryptosporidium, but it may not eliminate all bacteria and viruses. Therefore, it’s recommended that 5–7 drops (1/8 teaspoon) of plain, unscented chlorine bleach be added per gallon of filtered water (1/2 teaspoon for 5 gallons). Stir or shake the solution to mix it. Wait 30 minutes before using the water or cap the containers and store them in a cool, dry place.

*Use liquid household bleach that contains 5.25 percent hypochlorite. Do not use bleaches with fresheners or scents as they may not be safe to consume. The above treatment methods use a two-step approach so less bleach is needed, yet giardia and cryptosporidium are destroyed through boiling or eliminated by filtering. Chlorine may not be effective against these parasites. Since adding too much chlorine to water can be harmful, it’s important to be as accurate as possible when measuring.

Well Water
Contact your Public Health and Environment agency for advice on treatment and storage of well water.


Collect at least a three-day supply of nonperishable food.

  • Select foods that require no refrigeration, preparation or cooking and little or no water.
  • Pack a manual can opener and eating utensils.
  • Avoid salty foods, as they will make you thirsty.
  • Choose foods your family will eat.
    • Ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits and vegetables
    • Protein or fruit bars
    • Dry cereal or granola Vitamins / Food for infants
    • High energy foods
    • Peanut butter
    • Dried fruit
    • Nuts
    • Crackers
    • Canned juices
    • Nonperishable pasteurized milk



In any emergency, a family member or you yourself may be cut, burned or suffer other injuries. Keep basic first aid supplies on hand. Remember, many injuries are not life threatening and do not require immediate medical attention. Knowing how to treat minor injuries can make a difference in an emergency. Consider taking a first aid class, but simply having the following things can help you stop bleeding, prevent infection and assist in decontamination.

Things you should have:

Things it may be good to have:

  • Cell phone
  • Duct tape
  • Scissors
  • Tweezers
  • Tube of petroleum jelly or other lubricant

 Nonprescription drugs:

  • Aspirin or non-aspirin pain reliever
  • Anti-diarrhea medication
  • Antacid (for upset stomach)
  • Laxative


Many people think shelter is the same as their home. It’s important to realize that what you consider to be shelter may not always be in or near where you live. Where you live may be in the area that is at risk, and shelter can only be found by evacuation to another location.

Federal, state or local agencies will typically broadcast directions on what to do or where to go. News broadcasts on TV or radio may also give directions. Instructions could be to seek shelter in a room within your home or to evacuate to another area.

Seeking shelter at home:
Staying where you are is often the best thing to do. You may be given instructions to move to an interior room, away from doors and windows, or beneath heavy furniture.

There are circumstances when you need to create a barrier between yourself and potentially contaminated air outside. This is a process known as “sealing the room” and is a matter of survival. Use available information to assess the situation. If you see large amounts of debris in the air, or if local authorities say the air is badly contaminated, you may want to take this kind of action.

The process used to seal the room is considered a temporary protective measure to create a barrier between you and potentially contaminated air outside. It is a type of sheltering in place that requires preplanning.

To Shelter in Place and Seal the Room

  • Bring your family and pets inside.
  • Lock doors, close windows, air vents and fireplace dampers.
  • Turn off fans, air conditioning and forced air heating systems.
  • Take your emergency supply kit unless you have reason to believe it has been contaminated.
  • Go to an interior room with few windows, if possible.
  • Local authorities may not immediately be able to provide information on what is happening and what you should do. However, you should watch TV, listen to the radio or check the Internet often for official news and instructions as they become available.

If there is damage to your home or you are instructed to turn off your utilities:

  • Locate and shut off the electric circuit(s), gas and water shut-off valves.
  • Keep necessary tools near gas and water shut-off valves.
  • Teach family members how to turn off utilities, and mark positions for “ON” and “OFF”.
  • If you turn the gas off, a professional must turn it back on. Do not attempt to do this yourself.


There may be conditions under which you will decide to get away, or there may be situations when you are ordered to leave. Plan how you will assemble your family and anticipate where you will go. Choose several destinations in different directions so you have options in an emergency.

In general, it is best to evacuate at right angles to the direction of the threat. For example, if a storm is approaching from the West, it is best to evacuate toward the North or South.

Create an evacuation plan:

  • Plan places where your family will meet, both within and outside of your immediate neighborhood.
  • Keep vehicles filled with a half tank of gas at all times in case you need to evacuate.
  • Become familiar with alternate routes and other means of transportation out of your area.
  • If you don’t have a car, plan how you will leave if you have to.
  • Take your emergency supply kit unless you have reason to believe it has been contaminated.
  • Lock the door behind you.
  • Take your pets with you, but understand that only service animals may be permitted in public shelters. Plan how you will care for your pets in an emergency. If time allows:
  • Call or email the “out-of-state” contact in your family communications plan and tell them where you are going.
  • If there is damage to your home and you are instructed to do so, shut off water, gas and electricity before leaving.
  • Leave a note telling others when you left and where you are going.
  • Check with neighbors who may need a ride.


There are many possibilities or combinations of contaminants that can pollute the air. Some examples are vapors, dusts, smoke and airborne organisms like mold and viruses.

Respirators are devices worn to protect against the inhalation of contaminants. A respirator can be something as simple as a handkerchief tightly fitted across the nose and mouth. Some are single use and disposable, while others allow you to customize the protection by using replaceable, disposable cartridges that filter, “scrub” or absorb contaminants from the air.

Unfortunately, there is no one device that can remove all the possible air contaminants. The best filter for particulate contaminants is a P100 filter, which is oil proof and removes 99.97% of particles down to 0.3µm. A CBRN (Chemical Biological Radiological, Nuclear) filter adds a broad spectrum of protection beyond a particulate-only-filter. While a Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA)—similar to what SCUBA divers use—contains its own air supply, it is not practical for use longer than an hour.

 Sources for More Information

  • Department of Homeland Security
  • Storing and Treating Emergency Home Water Supplies, University of Idaho Cooperative Extension.
  • Water Storage, Utah State Cooperative Extension.
  • Safe Drinking Water in an Emergency, Larimer (CO) County Department of Health and Environment.
  • Centers for Disease Control
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