Preparing for an emergency

Check through the following information now and work towards being ready if a disaster happens.

Water

Household water supplies, including drinking water, could be affected. You need to store water for an emergency.

  • Keep a supply of drinking water prepared, following the instructions below.
  • Make sure you have on hand a supply of plain household bleach. It is important to check the bottle to ensure it contains no added perfumes, colourants, or detergents (surfactants).
  • Clean your toilet cistern occasionally and avoid putting chemical cleaners in it (see Cooking, dishes, washing yourself).
  • Check that your hot-water cylinder and header tank (if you have one) are braced and tied with metal straps so they cannot fall over.

You need about 3 litres of drinking water for each person each day. You need also about 1 litre of water for each of the following:

  • washing food and cooking for each meal
  • washing dishes after a meal
  • washing yourself (1 litre per day for each person).

Drinking water

To store enough drinking water for 5 days, prepare 8 large, plastic soft drink bottles of water per person, including children. Add some extra for pets. Do not use empty milk bottles.

  • Wash bottles and lids thoroughly in hot water.
  • Fill each bottle with tap water until it overflows. Add 5 drops of plain, unperfumed household bleach per litre of water and store in a dark, cool place. Do not drink for at least 30 minutes after disinfecting.
  • Make sure there are no air gaps and place the lids on tightly.
  • Label each bottle with dates showing when the bottles were filled and when they need to be refilled.
  • Check the bottles every 6 months (eg, at the beginning or end of daylight saving). If the water is not clear, throw it out and refill clean bottles with clean water and bleach.
  • Store bottles in two separate places that are not likely to be flooded.
  • Alternatively, thoroughly wash and fill plastic ice cream containers with water, cover, label and keep in the freezer. These can help keep food cool if the power is off and can also be used for drinking.
  • Keep a supply of ice cubes and fruit juices.

Cooking, dishes, washing yourself

You can use water for cooking, dishes and washing yourself from these house supplies:

  • hot-water cylinder and header tank
  • toilet cistern. This water is only safe to use if no chemical toilet cleanser is present.

Food safety

Power failure will affect refrigerators, cold stores and food processing plants. It may be difficult to get safe supplies of food. Food in your fridge and freezer will go bad, and eating it could make you ill.

  • Keep on hand:
    • unperfumed household bleach with no added colouring or detergents (surfactants)
    • a supply of water
    • tinned food for at least 3 days (write the purchase date on the cans)
    • milk powder and UHT milk
    • dried/non-perishable food, eg, rice, pasta
    • foodstuffs that require no cooking, eg, breakfast cereals, dried fruit
    • non-perishable food that does not need water added, eg, nuts, spreads, crackers, biscuits, muesli bars
    • tinned and dried food for pets.
  • Replace stored food at least every 12 months or before the use-by date.

Getting rid of rubbish

Rubbish collection services are likely to be disrupted during an emergency. Accumulated rubbish can be a health hazard because it will attract flies, rats and mice that may spread disease.

  • Keep a supply of heavy-duty plastic bags, ties and a box of matches.

Disposing of sewage

Toilet systems are likely to be affected by a disaster through broken pipes, flooding of the sewerage system or breakdown of the pumping machinery. Human waste can spread disease.

Accommodation

If your house becomes unsafe, you may have to move into temporary accommodation or make your own shelter.

  • Make sure you know where to find camping equipment and materials to make shelters, such as tarpaulins, heavy plastic or pvc sheets, or waterproof trailer covers.

Looking after yourself

A major emergency can create risks to health through contaminated materials and exposure. Keeping yourself clean and keeping warm and protected from harsh weather conditions is essential.

  • Make sure you know where the following items are:
    • first aid kit
    • prescribed medication, eg, heart tablets, asthma inhalers
    • disinfectant and soap
    • rubber gloves
    • insect repellent
    • warm clothing, blankets, sleeping bags
    • wet weather clothing
    • torch and spare batteries
    • up-to-date immunisation records, eg, tetanus.
  • See Emergency survival items on the Get Thru website for items to include in a survival kit.

Hazardous substances

Hazardous substances are harmful to health because they may be poisonous, corrosive, flammable, explosive or irritant. They can also cause contamination and damage if they are accidentally spilt in a disaster situation. You can recognise the most hazardous substances by the coloured diamond on the container.

Common household hazardous substances include:

  • aerosol cans that can explode in heat, eg, oven cleaners, fly sprays, hair sprays
  • bleach and laundry sprays
  • gas leaking from household fittings
  • petrol, lpg gas, gas cylinders for BBQs
  • meths, paint thinners, turps
  • garden chemicals and plant sprays, eg, Roundup®.
  • Keep hazardous substances in a secure cabinet where they will not fall easily.
  • Keep hazardous substances in original containers. Do not transfer into used food or drink containers.
  • Store poisons and corrosive materials in strong unbreakable containers with tight-fitting lids, if possible in outside storage away from the house and out of reach of children.

Volcanic ash

  • Know where your first aid kit is.
  • Have cover-up clothing and goggles handy.

Pests

In a disaster situation, the presence of pests such as insects, rats and mice can become a real problem. They may carry disease and can also cause property damage.

Controlling pests means having basic sanitation systems, getting rid of breeding areas and possibly using chemicals. The Pest control table gives a guide for how to control the most common pests.

As well:

  • Keep a supply of fly spray on hand.
  • Have rat baits and traps available.
  • Make sure your food containers are vermin-proof.
  • Check that you have:
    • set aside pest-free areas for food storage, preparation and serving
    • stored and got rid of rubbish safely
    • put screens on your doors and windows wherever possible
    • drained areas where water might collect
    • cleared scrub and brush
    • used pest-proof construction materials, eg, concrete, steel, where possible, for buildings.

Based on the HealthEd resource Protecting Your Health in an Emergency, which can be ordered or downloaded from the HealthEd website.

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