Postscript: Dealing with sewage after an earthquake

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Somewhat coincidentally, yesterday the survivalistblogdotnet posted an article Lessons Learned From Christchurch Earthquake.  This is an excellent article written by a civil defense volunteer living in New Zealand.  This is a must read and goes into much greater detail than my article yesterday The Earthquake and Natural Disaster Emergency Checklist.

Article being updated

But what about the poo ?

In response to yesterday’s post, Beaverlodge wrote:

For item “Check for sewage and water lines damage”, you wrote if the sewage line is suspected to be damaged, one should avoid using the toilet.

What do you recommend people do instead?  How does one deal with sewage when there’s no place to “go”?  I know you do not want people using streams and creeks as their toilet.  Cholera is the next reality when human waste is spread around so to speak.  So an outhouse?  A designated pit?  A trench?  What do people do when there’s an acre of pavement around their residence? Find a tree? That’s what they do when they walk their dogs.

A plan for this circumstance would be appreciated by those who will likely face this situation with everyone else in the city in a crunch.  Not to mention those in the country who might find they are hosts to more people than their house can serve.

Good question.  Here at Roche Harbor we have lots of wooded areas where we can build a latrine as well as tons of boats in the marina with well equipped sanitation systems (holding tanks, chemicals and such).  Still, when the s*it hits the fan so to speak, where does one “go” especially if in the city?

The following article taken from the Missouri Department of Health offers some viable suggestions:


What will happen?
In an emergency such as a large magnitude earthquake, sewer lines will probably be damaged and become inoperable. Sewage may back up and broken water lines may become contaminated by sewage.

What Should I Do?
If stoppage in sewer lines is suspected or obvious, discontinue discharge of wastewater in house or building sinks and drains and stop flushing toilets. Avoid contact with any overflow wastewater or sewage.

If I Can’t Flush the Toilet, What Can I Use?

  • Large extra-strength trash bags (double bags) may be placed in tight plastic or metal containers, with tight fitting lids, or used as liners in toilets. Household disinfectant can be used for odor control. Final disposal can be by burying or by sanitary sewer when notified by public health officials.
  • A dug latrine or trench 2 to 3 feet deep can be used by bury human waste. Spread a thin layer of powdered lime or dry chlorine bleach and a layer of earth each time it is used. Mark the latrine site with a stick so others know where it is.
  • Portable camp toilets, RV toilets, porta-potties, etc., can be used.
  • High occupancy complexes such as apartments, condominiums, and office buildings should consider making arrangements to obtain commercial chemical toilets.

What About Sewage Overflow in My House?
Wash all contaminated areas with detergent and water, then rinse with sanitizing solution of one tablespoon household bleach (5.25% sodium hypochlorite) to each gallon of water. Be sure to clean and sanitize all contaminated areas — pay special attention to cooking utensils, work surfaces and other surface areas such as floors and walls which your family and pets may come in contact with.

After reading this article, I have started an emergency bin labeled “Sanitation” and plan to add the following items:

1.  Large, extra-strength trash bags

2.  A 5-gallon bucket (which I will line with the trash bags)

3.  Holding tank chemicals (such as the type used in RVs and boats)

4.  Dry, powdered lime (which will also serve double duty as a garden additive)

5.  Toilet paper.  (Even though I have already stored away 96 rolls of TP for long term use and bartering, I am going to stash a decent supply in my sanitation bin as well.)

6.  Personal wipes, bleach and hand sanitizer

7.  Household bleach

8.  Hand sanitizer

9.  Paper towels

10.  Potty pads for Tucker-man, my dog

Many of these items are already stowed away for long term use or included in some of my other kits.  But if there is a natural disaster, and the public sewer system is toast, you can be that my all-in-one  sanitation system in a bin will come in handy.

Enjoy your next adventure, wherever it takes you!


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Postscript: Dealing with sewage after an earthquake — 4 Comments

  1. You can purchase those small/med waste basket bags from CostCo. About 500 per box for around $10.00. Double them up and line in a 4 or 5 gallon bucket. You may be able to utilize a conventional toilet set on the bucket.

    They do have available a $35.00 portable potty set up like this which includes a reasonably fashioned seat. Make sure you take all pre cautions by handling with gloves, insure you have bleach readily available.

    Bury human waste appropriately.

    However, the problem with this set up make or purchased is it will not be accommodating to those with handicap issues, nor those with extreme weight issues.

    It it’s just you and your immediate family then you are aware of any health conditions, however, when strangers/other people become involved in this scenario, the last thing they WILL NOT pony up, is any type of communicable disease issues. That is a fact!

  2. Oh yes, one of the very important aspects of everyday
    life that no one wishes to talk about. 20 years of
    living on a boat, and the last 4 years of that spending
    6 months annually anchored out has taught us many things.
    It has in many ways prepared us for the life we have Been
    living for 2 winters now. Currently, we don’t have an
    indoor bathroom, we have an outhouse, and a porta potty.
    the porta potty is only used during extreme weather conditions.
    My suggestion would be to buy a porta potty, then dump
    it into a designated hole dug in advance. Lime does work,
    but it takes a lot to get rid of the ammonia smell. we currently
    use thetford powder. No smell-yay!!! Each person on average
    uses 1 rol of TP per 5-7 days, and if you get sick, or have guests,
    maybe more, usually 2 rolls a week is what I have figured. No waste because
    it’s not perishable, and will be of very high barter value if or when
    the occasion arises. Another quick sanitising item is Lysol disinfecting wipes,
    you for long term storage, bleach in a spray bottle, and or vinegar. Bleach
    starts losing it’s power after about 6-8 months. Vinegar does not.

  3. I lived off the grid for about 10 years. This is what I did:
    1. Had a back hoe dig a deep trench/hole. (I did say deep – key for long-lasting usability.)
    2. Built an outhouse over the top of the hole. Started with a good strong re-enforced floor. Think of a small wall with a hole for the window. Now lay it down. That’s your floor. Then I built the four walls. It had a door and toilet seat and clear plexiglass roof for star gazing. I did all this myself with virtually no skills.
    3. Most importantly, I kept a big bag of compressed peat moss (about $10) in there as well. Every time my outhouse was used, a double handful of peat moss (or more) was liberally tossed in. NEVER had any odor. Everything composted and broke down beautifully.

    • In my precarious situation I have devised my own waterless toilet. I purchased a camping toilet a year ago, and use thick trash bags for liners (the flex bags do NOT work well). I was using water treated with bleach, emptying every day, sometimes more often, when a rather nasty odor would occur. I read about a compost toilet and decided to try it. There is a lot of natural peat around here. A bag I collect lasts a good two weeks. There has been no odor problem and I can empty it every two to three days depending on how often it is used. I highly recommend the peat method.

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