With Hurricane Harvey recently leaving a trail of destruction in Texas, Hurricane Irma barreling through the Caribbean and Florida, and finally Hurricane Maria devastating Puerto Rico, it is clear that hurricane season can be extremely difficult for many. During Extreme Weather Events such as these, access to clean drinking water can be a serious and life threatening issue for hundreds, or even thousands of people. Disaster management agencies recommend taking the following steps to Ensure you have access to water that is safe to drink.
Before the Storm Hits
When preparing for a hurricane or any other extreme weather event where there's a good chance that the power may be knocked out, take the following steps to ensure you are adequately prepared, making use of your current supply of safe drinking water while it is still available.
Fill up clean plastic containers, such as empty milk jugs or soda bottles, with tap water ahead of the Storm. Steer clear of containers such a glass bottles or cardboard cartons that are not durable. It is also a good idea to fill up your bathtub so that you have a supply of water to flush the toilet in the event your water gets cut after the storm hits.
Ensure that you'll have enough water stored to meet your family's needs for at least three days. Each person will require about one gallon of clean water per day. On average, each person will require a minimum of two quarts of fresh drinking water daily, but possibly twice as much to prevent dehydration due to physical exertion or if temperatures are high. Children, nursing moms and people that are ill also require more water to remain adequately hydrated. Furthermore, each person will require an additional two quarts of safe water daily for personal hygiene and food preparation/cooking.
Put some of the filled containers in the freezer so that they can be used to keep frozen or refrigerated food cold for longer. Also fill up ice trays and frozen ice-packs, which can both be used to treat minor injuries such as bruising that may occur as the storm passes through.
Purchase bottled water and store it in an area that is not likely to be affected by rising floodwaters
During the Storm
As the storm passes through, take the following safety measures to ensure your water is safe to drink while you ride it out.
Refrain from Rationing Water Unnecessarily
Unless a water rationing order is issued, drink as much water as you need to stay hydrated. To keep this to a minimum, try to remain inactive and keep cool, and refrain from using your backup water supply for making coffee, as coffee and other caffeinated beverages are dehydrating and will increase your water requirements.
Flooding from heavy rainfall or storm surges can cause municipal water treatment facilities to be overwhelmed, which can result in your water supply becoming contaminated with E.coli, or other common pollutants. If the safety of the water supply is compromised you may be issued with a boil-water advisory. In this event, you will need to boil any water you use for drinking, food preparation, or cleaning your teeth. Even if the water looks clean, bring it to a rolling boil and boil for at least a minute to ensure invisible viruses and bacteria that may be present are killed.
Treat any Suspect Water
Consume water from your safe water supply first. Once this is exhausted, treat any suspect water — including cloudy tap water — adequately to ensure that it is safe before drinking. If you have a good quality water filter like a Berkey, this will come in really handy in events such as these to ensure that your water supply is safe to drink.
If you don't have a water filter at hand, you will need to disinfect the water. Pour the water into a container and let any sediment settle to the bottom before treating the water. Once the sediment has settled, pour the water into a separate container, straining the sediment with a coffee filter, tea strainer or layered cloth. Then either boil the water or treat with household bleach. When using bleach to disinfect water, use only non-scented bleach, adding 1/8th of a teaspoon of bleach per gallon water. Mix well and leave to stand for 30 minutes. You should be able to detect a faint odor of bleach, if not, then put another 1/8th teaspoon of bleach into the water and leave to stand for 15 minutes. If you still can't detect a bleach odor, discard the water and look for a different water source.
After the Storm
Once the storm passes, you will still need to take precautions to ensure that your water supply is not tainted.
Test Your Well
If your drinking water well was flooded as a result of the storm, once the floodwaters recede, the water will need to be tested for contaminants and disinfected to ensure that it is safe for human consumption. For more specific advice on the measures you need to take, you should contact the local health department in your area.
For more safety tips visit Ready.gov