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September 06, 2005

DISASTER KITS: My earlier post on radios produced more emails with suggestions. Here's one, from reader John Jones:

One of the first things I would grab in an emergency is the water filter that I normally use for camping. A filter like this is small, and can easily produce enough potable water for a family for weeks. The only problem I would foresee in a major flood is the presence in the water of chemicals such as pesticides and oil that the filter cannot remove. Still, for filtering rain water or questionable water from a city water supply, a basic water filter could literally be a life saver. I prefer this one.

Yeah. Stored water's best, of course -- and you don't have to be rich to store water, all you need are old milk jugs and a few drops of bleach. You can also store bleach, and use it (in higher concentrations) to purify water, though it won't get rid of chemicals.

I don't think there's much of anything that would clean out the toxic sludge in New Orleans. This list of survival goods may be over the top, though.

UPDATE: Reader Stanley Tillinghast, MD emails:

The MSR Miniworks is a good filter but doesn't kill viruses. This system includes a small bottle of bleach that is added to the water that chlorinates it, killing viruses.

That would be better for emergencies. I'm pretty sure that nothing would make that New Orleans floodwater safe to drink, though.

Meanwhile, reader Sarah Marie Parker-Allen sends this link to emergency water storage advice from the University of Wisconsin. Plastic 2-liter soft drink bottles are better than milk jugs, it says.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Robert Davis emails:

I'm mystified by all the instructions for cleaning milk jugs, filling them with water, spiking them with bleach . . .

For about $7 you can pick up three 2.5-gallon bottles of water next time you're at the supermarket -- enough to last one person a week in an emergency.

It's sterile and you don't have to worry about the top popping off. Your time would need to be worth practically nothing to have the do-it-yourself version make economic sense.

True, but whenever I post on disaster prep I get emails saying "that's all fine for rich guys, but poor people live hand-to-mouth, yada yada yada." I'm not sure that this is true in a relevant way -- poor people in America are disproportionately likely to be fat, suggesting that access to food, at least, isn't an issue. But the other point is that if you put things off until the last minute, store shelves will be empty while taps still work. And most people have bleach around.

Several readers also note that there are other emergency sources of water. Brad Mueller writes:

All fine and good, but most households also have a water heater which holds 40 gallons of potable water and the toilet tank holds about 3 gallons of drinkable water. A small amount of preparation could have prevented a lot of suffering. I'm left wondering if there isn't a segment of our population that, for whatever reason, steadfastly refuses to helped.

Well, yes, there is. Note that you should turn off the supply valve to protect the water heater from backflow of dirty water through the lines -- or leakage -- if lines are damaged. (Er, and turn off the heat!) Jugged water is also more portable than water in heater or toilet tanks -- but it's good to remind people that it's there.

It's aimed at earthquakes, primarily, but here's a page on disaster preparedness from the Los Angeles Fire Department. And here's a much longer PDF booklet from the LAFD, too, with instructions on water heaters, etc. Excerpt:

To those of us who live and work in the Greater Los Angeles area, earthquakes and other natural emergencies are a reality. In order to deal with this situation, emergency preparedness must become a way of life. In the event of a major earthquake or disaster, freeways and surface streets may be impassable and public services could be interrupted or taxed beyond their limits. Therefore, everyone must know how to provide for their own needs for an extended period of time, whether at work, home, or on the road.

That's reality. Take note. (Thanks to reader Susan Kitchens for the links).