03 September 2013

Emergencies Stink

    They really stink. They smell like trash that hasn't been taken to the dump and sweaty armpits and dirty feet and poop(that's right, this is a post about sanitation, so I have to talk a little about gross things. Fair warning). One of our everyday needs is sanitation, which needs to be looked after to be self-reliant. In an emergency, there could be all sorts of problems with sanitation. Several natural disasters may put a temporary stop to proper garbage disposal. Think about how many times you take out the kitchen trash in a week. If you live in a neighborhood or apartment complex with a shared dumpster, think about how many times it gets overfilled even though the garbage trucks are running just fine. With the amount of waste we produce, it could easily pile up. I'm not sure the best way to deal with this, honestly. My advice is to keep it as contained as possible and keep animals out of it. That is one area that most people are extremely dependent on someone else for. If it's possible, maybe you can take the trash to the dump yourself. Trying to produce as little waste as possible would be important, too. Please leave a comment with a solution below. Here is a picture from after Hurricane Katrina. This probably isn't all from the people there, but you can see empty water bottles and MRE boxes scattered along with so much more trash.

     What else were they going to do with it? They didn't have a dumpster or probably even garbage bags. They probably didn't expect to be staying there more than a day, but it was such an incredible mess that almost nothing went as well as people hoped. 
     In the top right corner of the picture, you can see a couple of blue porta-john toilets. I hate those things. They are incredibly disgusting, but in an emergency situation, they are almost heaven-sent. From my training adventure a few weeks ago, I took a few lessons on sanitation. One of them was about human waste. Can you imagine trying to coordinate toilets for hundreds of people scattered across the desert? They had some porta-johns, but not in enough places and not for everyone. Sometimes all you had was one of these:

     ...if you were lucky. Others were a little more inventive, such as those who cut a hole in an old camp chair. In an emergency, you may not have the great outdoors at your disposal. One option for disposal of human waste is a WAG bag(or any variety of waste bags).
     Whatever you do, please don't just use your toilet without having water to flush it. It is a smelly idea and can get you sick. These bags have deodorizing gel and all of that. It can be thrown away...which may only add to the pile of garbage, but at least your toilet won't be full.

One thing I was extremely glad to have was a box of moist wipes. For a very long time humans have used wads of dry paper to clean the dirtiest part of ourselves. Coupled with good showers and clean clothes, it hasn't been a problem. Life isn't always clean. Whether you're in a desert or an emergency or disaster situation, you will not regret having some of these.

     Have you ever taken a baby wipe bath? It's not the best way to get clean, but it is sometimes all you've got. If you've got a baby, try to imagine cleaning them without baby wipes. If you do have a baby, be certain to include all your baby's needs in your preparedness supplies. Again from Hurricane Katrina, a heartbreaking picture of a lady, whose name or story I don't know, who was stuck in an awful situation without the things she needed to take care of her child.



     Not just for babies, though, baby wipes can mean the world in keeping yourself clean. Fortunately it's not our only option. A long time ago, we talked about storing water. Store more. You need at least enough to drink, but if you want to stay clean, store more. If you have plenty of water, you can take a shower. That's right, a shower. In a recent post, I talked about my experience in the desert and about the solar shower I brought with me. This thing is amazing.

      Okay, so it's not as great as your shower at home, but it really is great. Using proper hygiene and sanitation practices will help you to stay healthy and will keep you from smelling so bad, which will help keep the flies away...which will also help you to stay healthy. Here's how it works, you fill it with water, set it flat in the sun with the black side up, then after a few hours(or all day) you hang it up. Hang it high enough that you can easily spray yourself with the hose. Also, wear shower shoes. You can avoid a lot of troubles if you'll just pack a pair of flip-flops in your emergency kit. You can hang a tarp or something to give yourself some privacy...if you're into that sort of thing. So you spray yourself down, then turn the nozzle off. You lather up with whatever kind of soap you use. I have one bottle of hair and body wash to conserve space. After you lather up, turn the hose back on and rinse off. There was enough water for two people to have a good shower like that. It way take a little practice, so try it out sometime. Other benefits of the camp shower were: having warm water for washing hands and face, having warm water for shaving(which was done out of a metal cup), and it was also a great conversation piece.
     Now, you may clean yourself off, but what good have you really done if you put on the same funky clothes? This last part is about laundry without electricity. There are a few ideas out there. I had a couple buddies try this one and asked if they would send a picture:

     They said it worked great...until the plunger broke. You just put the water, laundry and soap in a bucket and plunge it clean, then rinse it with clean water. They bought the cheapest plunger they could find, and these guys are pretty tough, so the rubber part of the plunger split apart. There are tougher plungers out there, and most of us are weaker than those two, so it shouldn't be a problem. There are also rigid plastic plunger-type things that are built just for this. Those would hold up much better. 
     Now, for smaller loads or clothing items, you could this idea I came up with:

     What is this amazing little bit of wonderfulness? Well, it's a self-contained, manually powered washing system. It has a plastic tub and lid, a plastic washboard I ordered on the internet, laundry soap, 550 paracord for a clothesline, and some clothespins. To tell you the truth, I have never really used a washboard in my life. Luckily, I was working with my buddy Dave who spent a couple years in Mexico where he had to use one for a while. He showed me how it's done.
     First, you fill up the tub. You can use warm water from your solar shower, but any water will work fine.
     Next, you get the laundry wet.
     Apply detergent to the stinky spots.
     Then you scrub it using the washboard. Plunge and scrub, plunge and scrub.
     The water may quickly become murky.
      ...but don't give up.
     Replace the water after you finish washing your laundry and rinse thoroughly.
     Then wring it out.
     Now you just hang it to dry. Be careful for dust.
      Now you have a clean body and clean clothes. Make sure to brush and floss your teeth and don't eat too many sweets or wipe your nose with your hands. Get some hand sanitizer. I hope you've learned something, or at least thought about what you can do to safeguard yourself and your family against any temporary loss of normal resources.   

P.S. If you happen to experience a flood, don't trust the water. If the sewer is backed up, then whatever was in the sewer is backed up, too, and is in the water. Also, if you are in an agricultural area, fertilizer and animal waste might be in the water, too.

1 comment :

  1. Great post! Sanitation and waste disposal is so often overlooked in emergency preparedness.
    I hand wash our cloth diapers all the time because our HE washer doesn't do a very good job, and I have that same washboard! I have found that rather than scrubbing against it, I fill a small plastic trash can with water and just use the washboard to agitate sufficiently without so much scrubbing. (You can read about it here: http://crunchykeeperofthehearth.blogspot.com/2013/05/flats-and-handwashing-challenge-2013.html) Hand washing things (especially diapers) can take a lot of water though. We have cloth wipes too, but the usual wet wipes are great for emergencies or travel.
    We have an awesome filter (a Berkey) that we use daily to upgrade from tap water, but I'm also glad to know it would be able to filter things in an emergency.