Dealing with a crappy situation (sanitation tips during an emergency or disaster)

carnival trash cans for sanitationLast week the media reported ad nauseum about the stranded Carnival cruise ship that caused thousands of passengers to endure several days with little to no power or heat, no running water and very few working toilets.

Passengers said Triumph’s staff were handing out “poop bags” and telling people to “pee in the showers”.

Yes, it was a nasty situation for the folks stuck on the “floating petri dish”, but some of the headlines and bylines on photos ranged from dramatic to comical.

One described “trash cans and sinks of human waste, feces-smeared walls and mushy floors inside the ‘Hunger Games-like’ Carnival cruise ship”. Another was simply called “Holy Ship!”

red bags for sanitationAnd the UK’s Daily Mail described this red bag photo …

“Disgust: Guests were forced to defecate into plastic bags and place them outside their rooms after toilets on board the Triumph became blocked following the electrical failure.”

Hmm … well, we guess the editor who was appalled by the thought of being “forced” to “defecate into plastic bags” has never been in a disaster situation where there is no water, toilets or power. And he/she probably has never been camping in the backcountry where you use a bag or just aim for a hole in the ground (and watch out for creepy crawlies, wild critters and poisonous plants when squatting in the wild.)

But anyway … this crappy situation seemed like a great reason to dust off and post some poop tips from our IT’S A DISASTER! book.

Sanitation Facts

The following statistics came from the Water Supply & Sanitation Collaborative Council.

Did you know…

2.6 billion people – or about 40% of the world’s population – do not have access to basic sanitation?!

one gram (0.035 oz) of human feces can contain 10 million viruses, 1 million bacteria, 1,000 parasite cysts, and 100 parasite eggs?!

… more than 5,000 children die every day from diarrhea making it one of the biggest killers of children under five worldwide accounting for 17% of deaths in this age-group.

…sanitation and hygiene could also prevent most of the 130 million annual cases worldwide of serious worm infestation. This matters since worms can divert up to one-third of the food a child consumes, and malnutrition is at the root of 50% of childhood illness.

Sanitation Tips

In disaster situations, plumbing may not be usable due to broken sewer or water lines, flooding, or freezing of the system. To avoid the spread of disease, it is critical that human waste be handled in a sanitary manner!

If toilet okay but lines are not…

If water or sewer lines are damaged but toilet is still intact, you should line the toilet bowl with a plastic bag to collect waste… but DO NOT flush the toilet!! After use, add a small amount of disinfectant to bag, remove and seal bag (with a twist tie if reusing), and place bag in a tightly covered container away from people to reduce smell.

If toilet is unusable…

If toilet is destroyed, a plastic bag in a bucket may be substituted. Some companies make plastic buckets with a seat … or you could use the toilet seat from a commode and lay it on top of a bucket for a more comfortable experience. After use, add a small amount of disinfectant to the bag, and seal or cover bucket. Tip: Placing the bucket inside a plastic crate can help make it more stable.

Disinfectants – easy and effective for home use in Sanitation of Human Waste.

Chlorine Bleach – If water is available, a solution of 1 part liquid household bleach to 10 parts water is best. DO NOT use dry bleach since it can burn you, corrode or dissolve things so not safe for this kind of use.

Calcium hypochlorite – (e.g. HTH, etc.) Available in swimming pool supply or hardware stores and several large discount stores. It can be used in solution by mixing, then storing. Follow directions on the package.

Portable toilet chemicals – These come in both liquid and dry formulas and are available at recreational vehicle (RV) supply stores. Use according to package directions. These chemicals are designed especially for toilets that are not connected to sewer lines.

Powdered, chlorinated lime – Available at some building supply stores. It can be used dry and be sure to get chlorinated lime – not quick lime.

Some other alternatives to use in emergency potties are kitty litter or sawdust. There are also several types of camping toilets and portable toilets that range from fairly low dollars to hundreds of dollars.

Make sure toilet is near the air-exhaust end of the shelter and keep it tightly covered when not in use. Cover with a plastic bag too to keep bugs out and help reduce smell a bit. And consider hanging a sheet or blanket in toilet area for some privacy, if possible.

Also (if possible) consider digging a waste-disposal pit about 3 feet downwind from your shelter if hunkered down for an extended period of time.

Puking may also be an issue during a long-term shelter-in-place situation without power. Nerves, anxiety, a change in diet, and the sight and stench of pee, poop and puke may make others throw up. Having plastic bags, placed throughout a shelter, are the best means to catch puke and keep it off the floor. Buckets, pots, or a newspaper folded into a cone also work.

Some sanitation items for kits…

  • Disinfectant for human waste (see above)
  • Bottles of household chlorine bleach (regular scent)
  • Personal hygiene items (toothbrushes, toothpaste or baking soda, brush, comb, deodorant, shaving cream, razors, etc.)
  • Plastic garbage bags with twist ties and small plastic grocery bags
  • Plastic bucket with tight lid (several would be wise esp. if you can use one for poop and one for pee – see below)
  • Soap, liquid detergent, hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol), moist towelettes or sanitizing wipes, hydrogen peroxide, etc.
  • Toilet paper and baby wipes
  • Paper towels, dish towels, rags, etc.
  • Feminine supplies (tampons, pads, etc.)
  • Diapers (infant, toddler and adult sizes if needed)
  • Disposable gloves
  • Wash cloths, hand and bath towels
  • Small shovel

PHLUSH Twin No Mix poop pee buckets for sanitationPublic Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human, or PHLUSH (an all-volunteer advocacy group based in Portland, Oregon) has a great idea for dealing with sanitation. Use 2 separate buckets (one for pee and one for poop) as explained in their “DIY Christchurch Twin” post.  Or download PHLUSH’s 2-page PDF with more information and instructions about using the 2 bucket system.

Also consider packing all your sanitation items and supplies inside your clean bucket so it’s easy to take with you during an evacuation.

Reduce the spread of germs

Germs and diseases can create major problems and illness in confined quarters so try to reduce the spread of germs and infectious diseases…

  • Wash hands often using soap and water or use hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol in it) to reduce the spread of germs. But keep in mind sanitizers don’t work against some bugs so it’s best to wash up, if possible.

handwashing tips

  • Try to avoid exposure to others’ bodily fluids like blood, pee, poop, spittle, etc.
  • Sick people should cover mouth and nose with tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing, wash hands often, and wear a face mask around others (if very ill).
  • Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered until healed.
  • Clean counters, doorknobs, fixtures, linens, etc. often with a bleach solution.
  • If possible, don’t share silverware, razors, towels, or bedding and wash objects with soap and hot water.

Again these are just some basic things to plan for dealing with human waste and cooties during shelter-in-place situations so there are other items to consider. Add your thoughts or suggestions in the comments below. Stay safe, j & B

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One Response to Dealing with a crappy situation (sanitation tips during an emergency or disaster)

  1. Armand says:

    It feels like I’ve visited this blog before on but upon checking at some of the pieces I realized it’s new to me.

    Still, I’m going to bookmark this blog and begin following it regularly.

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