Thursday, September 20, 2018

National Preparedness Month Day 20--Sanitation

The topic of sanitation gets its own discussion because of how important it is.  On a normal day, sanitation practices are usually a moot point unless you have a mother telling you to use soap when you wash your hands.  Our sanitation needs are generally take care of thanks to the municipal water department, the sewer department, the trash collectors, etc.

During and after a disaster, the need for sanitation services usually increases 100-fold while the availability of sanitation services usually disappears for a good long while.  A year after the huge hurricane in Puerto Rico, residents are still lacking clean water to drink, and the mess that is North Carolina still hasn't been fully realized (although anyone who decides to take a nice swim in the flood waters which are laced with sewage needs their head examined...and a good tetanus booster).

Here are some considerations regarding your plans for sanitation services after a disaster:

  • Make sure the water you drink is clean.  This means drinking stored bottled water and if that runs out, finding and purifying any water you use for cooking and drinking.
  • Keep your hands clean.  And its corollary, don't touch your face/nose/eyes with your dirty hands.  This can be done with alcohol-based hand sanitizer, clean water and soap, Wet Wipes, etc.
  • If you are doing clean up work or touching dirty, possibly infected things, wear gloves (latex, rubber, nitrile, etc).
  • Keep garbage stored in a separate area and try to dispose of it if possible.  Food garbage, except meat products, can be put in the compost pile, other garbage can be burned, some communities will set up garbage dumps/collection points to alleviate the trash sitting everywhere problem.
  • Have copious amounts of cleaning products on hand.  These include a big bottle of hand sanatizer, big containers of wet wipes, bottles of bleach, bottles of ammonia (don't mix this with bleach!), etc.
  • Sewage waste needs to be dealt with lest you have a serious communicable disease situation on your hands.  Flushing the toilet if the sewer pipes are still functioning is a good idea (you can flush without running water by pouring ladles of preferably grey water down the toilet), if the sewer doesn't work, you can dig a latrine (make sure it is deep enough and a ways away from any well water or spring sources), you can also use a 5 gallon bucket for a toilet with a sturdy plastic bag and cat litter/lime to kill the smell--remember to seal it after each use with the lid!).
  • Flood waters pose a special sanitation problem as the water is usually carrying anything that has come up from the ground including sewage, oil, bacteria, viruses, dead animals, etc.  In other words, stay out of flood waters if at all possible and if you must go into flood waters try to use PPEs and wash off thoroughly afterwards.
  • If you have your own water and sewer systems (well and septic tank), you will need to have your well water tested after the disaster to ensure it is still safe to drink.  You will also need to ensure your septic system is still functioning correctly and make any repairs needed.
  • Any sanitation-related illnesses, from diarrhea to giardia to infected injuries will need immediate medical attention.
  • You will also need to ensure that food that you plan to eat has not spoiled or become infected.
For more information on this topic check here, here, and here.

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