Person carrying waste bags

Waste Management During a Major Emergency

Quake Kit isn’t afraid to delve into the less-pretty areas of preparedness and dealing with human waste in an emergency is no exception! Earthquakes will often make using the facilities impossible. Because of this we’re taking it on ourselves to research the do’s and don’ts of doo-doo, so we can all be as prepared as possible. We would like to thank the Public Health Agency of Canada, and the CRD of BC for helping us research this article.

Do I have to?

Nope! You’re an adult (I assume) and I can’t make you do anything. But, before you throw caution (among other things) to the wind, let’s touch on why proper waste disposal is so important, even if it is a little gross.

The short answer: germs. The long answer: disease causing bacteria like cryptosporidia and cholera. These bacteria can easily take a bearable situation and make it terrible, or even fatal, within days. First aid and medical care will be a hot commodity after a disaster and getting the help you need might be challenging. As always, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Who to ask

Sewage interruptions and health precautions are managed by local governments, so it’s important to check with your area’s emergency preparedness or wastewater authorities for exact instructions. For this article, we’re referencing the CRD of BC’s helpful Emergency Preparedness Workbook. These are available for free at many CRD municipal offices and fire stations, and online.

What to do

Sewage interruptions can happen for different reasons, but the usual two are burst pipes, and major earthquakes. If you’re caught in a large earthquake turn the water shut off valve in your home to the off position. This should minimize any water damage that would be caused by leaking or burst pipes. No one needs a flood on top of an earthquake!

Health officials recommend separating liquid and solid wastes, as urine is not considered a serious health problem. Urine collected in a separate bucket/bag/container can be poured into your backyard or other green space. Depending on your comfort, you might even forgo the bucket.

Solid waste has a much higher risk when it comes to disease and must be treated with more care. Quake Kit offers a complete toilet set that is the perfect way to ‘take care of business’ in an emergency. It makes collecting your necessaries simple and quick. If you prefer the DIY approach, you can also build a dry toilet with instructions from the CRD workbook (page 52).

A complete toilet set

Once you’ve used the toilet remove the liner, tie it closed, and store it in a bin or bucket with a lid, or in a covered trench. As a favour to yourself and others make sure it’s kept downwind. Everyone will thank you for it.

As the emergency settles down and recovery efforts begin, keep an ear on the radio and listen for waste disposal updates. Once you have access to the internet, check your waste disposal organization’s website, or contact municipal authorities. To limit the spread of disease waste collection should be a high priority for everyone.

We’re all in this together!

We encourage you to talk to your neighbours before an emergency to discuss plans as a community and to share knowledge and resources. Sanitation is no exception. But if a disaster occurs between your reading this and seeing your neighbours, keep an eye out. It only takes one person disposing of their waste improperly to introduce bacteria to a community.

If you see someone dumping something they shouldn’t, somewhere they shouldn’t, politely inform them of the dangers and how to avoid them. The more we work together, the better off we’ll be – both in and out of an emergency.

Thank you for reading!

This article was written by Zenia Platten – Author of Tethered and Emergency Preparedness Professional.

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