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Hurricane Preparedness: A Plan for Potable Water

Posted by NMCL Employee on

Hurricane Preparedness: A Plan for Potable Water

During and after a hurricane, access to clean drinking water can quickly become a major concern. Water supplies are often compromised and water frequently becomes undrinkable or stops flowing. That’s why the most important thing you can do to be prepared for a hurricane is to start planning well in advance of such an event. We’ve created a step-by-step guide on obtaining potable water before and after a hurricane.

What are hurricanes?

Hurricanes are massive swirling storms that form over warm waters and head toward land. In the western North Pacific, hurricanes are called typhoons; similar storms in the Indian Ocean and South Pacific Ocean are called cyclones.1

Hurricanes pose threat to life and property due to their storm surge, high winds, torrential rains, flooding, mudslides, and tornadoes. Scientists use a scale from 1 (least severe) to 5 (most severe) to classify hurricane strength.2 The scale also estimates potential property damage.

When is hurricane season?

  • Atlantic and Caribbean: June 1 to Nov. 30 with peak from mid-August to late October.
  • Central Pacific (Hawaii): June 1 to Nov. 30 with peak from July to September.
  • East Pacific: May 15 to November 30
  • Western North Pacific: Tropical cyclones can strike year round 3

What happens to potable water (municipalities) during/after a hurricane?

After an emergency, especially after flooding, clean drinking water may not be available. Municipalities, wells and other water systems can become absolutely overwhelmed and unable to process the sudden high influx of too much water. Flood waters can result in raw sewage, storm runoff, chemicals and other contaminants all leaking into water supplies, flooding private wells, etc. Once the water supply has been compromised, it can take days to weeks for your water to become potable again. It is always prudent to continue to purify your water even after the “all clear” is given by local water authorities, just to be on the safe side.

Private well water owners are encouraged to test their systems and contact their local or state health department or agricultural extension agent for specific advice as soon as possible. During and after flooding, well water can become contaminated with microorganisms such as bacteria, sewage, chemicals and other substances that can cause serious illnesses.4

How much water do I need in an emergency?

Individual water needs will vary, based on a person’s age, physical health, diet and activity level, as well as the climate of the affected area. The CDC offers these guidelines for planning an emergency water supply:5

  • Each person (and each pet) will require at least 1 gallon of drinking water per day
  • Pregnant and nursing women, people who are ill will require additional water
  • People in hot environments may need double the recommended amount
  • Water for food preparation and hygiene is about one gallon, per person, per day

Where can I find water in an emergency?

If you need to find water outside your home, you can use the sources below.6 Before drinking, be sure to treat the water according to the “Making Water Potable” instructions that follow below. Avoid water with floating material, an odor or dark color. Do not drink flood water or eat any food directly exposed to flood water.

  • Rainwater
  • Streams, rivers, and other moving bodies of water
  • Ponds and lakes
  • Natural springs

Potential water sources in your home include:

  • Water from your home’s water heater tank (part of your drinking water system, not your home heating system). To use the water in your pipes, let air into the plumbing by turning on the faucet in your home at the highest level. A small amount of water will trickle out. Then obtain water from the lowest faucet in the home.
  • Melted ice cubes made with water that was not contaminated
  • Water from your home’s toilet tank (not from the bowl), if it is clear and has not been chemically treated with toilet cleaners such as those that change the color of the water
  • Liquid from canned fruit and vegetables
  • Water from swimming pools and spas can be used for personal hygiene, cleaning, and related uses, but not for drinking

What are the potential effects related to using contaminated water?

Flood water that’s left after a hurricane can easily become a breeding ground for disease-causing organisms from sewage and toxic chemicals. Major pathogens that may be lurking in the water include: cryptosporidium, E.coli, Salmonella, Shigella, Vibrio bacteria, adenovirus, norovirus and others. Drinking this contaminated water can cause illnesses ranging from gastrointestinal distress (diarrhea, cholera, dysentery), typhoid fever, leptospirosis and Hepatitis A.7

How can I make water potable after a hurricane?

If you’ve run out of stored water and no other reliable clean water source is available, there are methods to treat water of uncertain quality.

Ideally, Prepare in Advance and Use a Gravity-Fed Purifier

Berkey® Systems are the most complete contaminant-reduction option:

  • They do not require you to leave where you are sheltering to find water
  • They travel with you easily, and does not require electricity, plumbing or tools- simply pour water into the top chamber, and gravity does all the work
  • They are powerful purification systems, which remove or dramatically reduce bacteria, cysts, chemicals, heavy metals like lead and mercury, radiologicals and even viruses
  • The filter elements do not require any complex storage or maintenance requirements
  • The larger capacity models provide enough purified water for drinking, cooking, bathing, hygiene, and other needs during a disaster situation

How to Use Your Berkey® System in Cases of Potentially Extreme Viral and/or Bacteriological Contamination

Please note, if you are using a source of water that you believe might contain extreme viral and bacteriological contamination such as E.coli, it is recommended by the CDC, EPA and other organizations that approximately sixteen drops of plain bleach (sodium hypochlorite) or iodine per gallon be added to treat the source water before purifying. This should kill minute pathogens such as viruses, within 30 minutes.8 Simply add the drops to a pitcher of water, wait a half hour and then pour the treated water into the top chamber of your system. The disinfectant will be removed from the treated water entirely with the Berkey® system, including any odor or taste.

* Please use only room-temperature water with your system. Using boiling water can cause damage to the purification elements inside the Berkey® system.

** Berkey® systems always highly recommends using the cleanest source water available, whenever possible.

You Could Use a Water Filter, but Understand Its Limitations

The main difference between a water filter and purifier is the level of protection each provides. A water filtration system is designed to reduce or remove waterborne protozoa and bacteria, but not viruses. The primary reason is that viruses are just too small for filters to catch. A water purifier is designed to combat all three types of contaminants: viruses, pathogenic bacteria, and protozoan cysts. Viruses can easily contaminate the water supply after a natural disaster such as a hurricane.

You Could Boil Water to Kill Microorganisms

Boiling or chlorination will kill most microorganisms but will not remove other contaminants such as heavy metals, salts, and most other chemicals. A major problem with boiling water is capacity; you simply cannot treat very much water at one time. Boiling water also requires a source of fuel and a safe way to store the water while it cools. The guidelines for boiling and disinfecting water are taken directly from the CDC website:9

How to Boil Your Water

If the water is cloudy:

  • Filter it through a clean cloth, paper towel, or coffee filter OR allow it to settle.
  • Draw off the clear water.
  • Bring the clear water to a rolling boil for one minute (at elevations above 6,500 feet, boil for three minutes).
  • Let the boiled water cool.
  • Store the boiled water in clean sanitized containers with tight covers.

If the water is clear:

  • Bring the clear water to a rolling boil for one minute (at elevations above 6,500 feet, boil for three minutes).
  • Let the boiled water cool.
  • Store the boiled water in clean sanitized containers with tight covers.

You Could Use a Disinfectant to Kill Microorganisms

Like boiling, using a disinfectant will kill most microorganisms. It does not remove other contaminants such as heavy metals, salts, and most other chemicals.

How to Disinfect Your Water

  • Clean and disinfect water containers properly before each use. Use containers that are approved for water storage. Do not use containers previously used to store chemicals or other hazardous materials.
  • If the water is cloudy, filter it through a clean cloth, paper towel, or coffee filter OR allow it to settle.
  • Draw off the clear water.
  • When using household chlorine bleach:
    • Add 1/8 teaspoon (or 8 drops; about 0.625 milliliters) of unscented liquid household chlorine (5–6%) bleach for each gallon of clear water (or 2 drops of bleach for each liter or each quart of clear water).Add 1/4 teaspoon (or 16 drops; about 1.50 milliliters) of bleach for each gallon of cloudy water (or 4 drops of bleach for each liter or each quart of cloudy water).
    • Stir the mixture well.
    • Let it stand for 30 minutes or longer before you use it.
    • Store the disinfected water in clean, disinfected containers with tight covers.
  • When using iodine:
    • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
    • Store the disinfected water in clean, disinfected containers with tight covers.
  • When using chlorine dioxide tablets:
    • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
    • Store the disinfected water in clean, disinfected containers with tight covers.

Because the potency of bleach diminishes over time, use bleach from an unopened or newly opened bottle when possible.

You Could Attempt to Find Bottled Water

If you have run out of stored water gaining access to bottled water could be a real challenge. Potential obstacles:

  • You cannot leave the location where you are sheltering due to flooding
  • Stores are sold out, and no bottled water is available

If you can locate bottled water, be sure that it has not been exposed to flood water.10

Bottom Line: Have a Gravity-Fed Water Purification System on Your Hurricane Preparedness Checklist

During a natural disaster such as a hurricane, it is critical to have a survival water filter system available that can be used with microbiologically unsafe or questionable water. In these situations, your water solution should fit the following criteria:

  • Extreme tested to demonstrate effectiveness
  • Portable , so it can easily travel with you and your family if you need to relocate
  • No electricity or water pressure required to operate the filter
  • Capable of producing sufficient water in a timely manner, especially for large groups and areas where people may be confined for a period of time after a disaster
  • Quick and easy to set up without tools, allowing you to purify water in minutes

Put a final barrier system in place to purify your family’s drinking water before a hurricane or other natural disaster occurs. Do not wait for a boil alert or order.

Berkey® systems can easily purify ordinary tap water and well water, yet are powerful enough to efficiently purify raw, untreated water from sources such as remote lakes and streams.

Berkey® systems used several different independent labs, took multiple samples and performed Extreme Testing for Lead and PFC’s in order to review the effectiveness of our Black Berkey® Purification Elements. Test results for Black Berkey® Purification Elements are readily available to interested customers.

Learn More About Black Berkey® Purification Elements

Discover more about Black Berkey® Purification Elements and Berkey® systems by reading these related articles or visiting our Knowledge Base:

How should I address other hurricane preparedness essentials?

Water is only one of many things to consider when planning for a hurricane. Safety, food, clothing, shelter, communications and more all play a part. Having a comprehensive hurricane plan will help you and your family decide what to do in the event of a hurricane.

The Department of Homeland Security has compiled a variety of lists (in downloadable PDF format) to help you create your family’s emergency plan.11

Visit: https://www.ready.gov/make-a-plan

Share this Important Information

Understanding is key. Share this with others so they may make informed choices about their water both during and after a natural disaster.

References

(1) What is the difference between a hurricane, a cyclone, and a typhoon?
(2) National Hurricane Center- Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale
(3) National Weather Service- BACKGROUND INFORMATION: THE NORTH ATLANTIC HURRICANE SEASON
(4) National Groundwater Association- Four steps for well owners to protect water wells, health during hurricane flooding
(5) CDC- Creating & Storing an Emergency Water Supply
(6) CDC- Keep Food and Water Safe After a Disaster or Emergency
(7) CDC- Keep Food and Water Safe After a Disaster or Emergency
(8) EPA.gov- Ground Water and Drinking Water
(9) CDC- Keep Food and Water Safe After a Disaster or Emergency
(10) FDA- Hurricanes and Floods: Key Tips for Consumers About Food and Water Safety
(11) Make a Plan