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Disaster Preparedness: Water Safety

Water: The Greatest Substance on Earth

Water covers more than 70% of Earth's surface, comprises about 60% of the human body, and is vital support for all known forms of life. However, it can also endanger life. When disaster strikes in the form of a flood, hurricane, earthquake, or tidal surge, water safety and water quality are critical to health and survival.

Water Quality

Natural disasters, especially when accompanied by tidal surge, can compromise the public water supply, as can any disaster that damages water lines. If your area is affected by a disaster, tap water may not be safe to drink. Ingesting water that has been contaminated by untreated flood water may cause severe illness. In affected areas, water treatment plants may be inoperable, or water lines may be damaged or contaminated by flooding. Listen for public announcements regarding the safety of the water supply in your area. Wells that have been flooded should be tested and disinfected after floodwaters recede. More information on testing well water can be obtained through local or state health departments.

Drinking Water Safety

If you are unsure of the safety of your public water supply, take measures to ensure safe, potable water:

  • Drink bottled water that has not come into contact with flood water — Bottled water is safe to drink. However, screw-top water bottles are not necessarily water-tight enough to avoid contamination, so if they have been submerged in floodwater, and it is best to discard them and use an alternate safe water source.
  • Boil water — Boiling is the best way to kill most types of disease-causing organisms. If the water is cloudy, filter it through clean cloth, allow any sediment to settle, and pour off the clear water to boil. Boil water for at least one minute, let it cool, and save it in clean, covered containers.
  • Disinfect water with household bleach — Again, filter any debris or sediment out of the water, and treat the clear water with 1/8 teaspoon (8 drops) of regular, unscented liquid household bleach per gallon of water. Stir the water and bleach mixture well, and let it stand for at least 30 minutes before use. The longer the water is left to stand after adding bleach, the more effective the disinfection process will be. Bleach will kill many infectious organisms, but not all, so only use this method if you cannot boil water.
  • Disinfect water with iodine - Iodine drops and tablets can be purchased and stored for water purification purposes. With a 2% tincture of iodine, use 10 drops (0.5 mL) for every one litre of water (that's 45 drops/gallon). With iodine tablets, follow the manufacturer's directions. This method works best with warm water. Let mixture stand a minimum of 20 minutes after mixing and before drinking. For cold water (5 – 15°C), increase the waiting time after mixing to 40 minutes.

Note: Pregnant women should not use iodine drops to purify water, as it may have an effect on the fetus. Long term use may also affect the thyroid.

Flood Water Safety

  • In a flash flood, rapid response to ensure your safety and that of your dependents is critical. Water moves quickly; so should you.
  • Never attempt to cross a flooding stream on foot where water is above your knees. Water is powerful, and you don't know what currents or dangers lie beneath the surface.
  • Don't attempt to drive through water of unknown depth. It does not take much depth to stall a vehicle or sweep it away. Abandon stalled and floating vehicles immediately, and seek higher ground.
  • Flood water may be contaminated from sewage and agricultural and industrial waste - and may contain other dangers, such as insects, snakes, or hidden debris. Do not drink contaminated water, and thoroughly clean and apply antibiotic ointment to open cuts or sores that have been exposed to flood water.
  • Do not allow children to play in floodwater, near culvert and storm drains, or with contaminated toys. Items exposed to floodwater can be disinfected with a solution of one cup bleach to 5 gallons of water.

Stay Informed

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