Part II – Potty Time
Chances are even if you do not have running water that you will still be able to use the flush toilet in your home. The simplest way to make it work is to use a small bucket to gather water – if you have a hot tub or pool this is a perfect use for that water, try to use as little water as possible because even though you may think you have a plentiful amount, it will go quickly. After you use the potty, just pour the bucket of water into the bowl. The gravity of the water in the bowl will create the pressure needed to flush the contents down. If it’s yellow keep it mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down. Try to be the most frugal you have ever been. Water is precious and sacred. With out it you will die. If when using your household toilet you smell sewage or there is a back flow stop using that toilet immediately and seal it off with a note saying DO NOT USE. If you have another toilet in your house which uses a separate line you should test it with some water, if it seems to be functioning go a head and use it, but be careful because when things go back to normal the plumber can’t fix a line which has been broken under your house, a hazardous materials company must come out and deal with the raw sewage, then the plumber can come back and fix what’s broken. It’s nasty and expensive so you might as well suck it up and go back to nature. Pool water should be used for cleaning and utilitarian tasks and not used as drinking water. The reason is it has boric acid in it which is very difficult to filter of and causes health issues in the long term. If you have gone two days without water, you might want to rethink this rule and live to see a doctor when things have gone back to normal.
So what do you do if your toilet doesn’t work? The best way to deal with this is to create a privy. In your kit at home make sure you have some tarps which you can string up creating a small area for privacy. Pick your privy placement carefully, far away from your kitchen and in a place where it will not contaminate any water source or groundwater you may be relying on – at least 200 feet. There are three basic ways to deal with human waste in a disaster. One is to use a 5 gallon bucket and line it with a trash can liner. Rip one of the toilet seats out of your house and set it up like a toilet. After each time someone uses it sprinkle ash from a fire or quick lime over the waste, this will help keep the flies down. When the bucket is full simply tie off the garbage bag and put it in a trash pile VERY far away from any cooking or sleeping area.
If you do not have access to a bucket, digging a slit trench is a good way to go. It is perhaps the most sanitary way to deal with waste. Dig a long trench, say 6′ long and at least 1′ deep. To use the slit trench simply squat over it with one foot on each side, after doing your business use some ash or quick lime, then fill in your little section with dirt. The trench will slowly get filled and soon it will be time to dig a new one. Lastly, if you do not have the area to dig a slit trench then a cat hole is a good way to go. The deeper the hole you can dig, the better, but know you will have to squat over it so don’t make it too wide and if you have little ones don’t make it too deep. After each use try to add ash or quick lime then a layer of dirt.
Having a good stock of toilet paper is good but know that when it runs out you’ll still need to wipe your butt and people have dealt with this for thousands of years. During NOLS I found pine needles, leaves, sticks or a smooth rock work really well. If you live in a warm climate or have enough fuel to make warm water you can use water to wash your butt. The simplest way is to use a cup or bowl and while squatting pour it slowly down your back. It will follow the contour of your spine and if you hold your posture just right run over the area you are trying to clean. After you finish it is very important to sanitize, use warm soapy water and try to get under your fingernails clean – wash more thoroughly than you ever have before because in this situation if you get sick it could be a serious and perhaps deadly situation. When you are done there should be a bleach water solution for rinsing hands. The solution should be ideally 5-6% bleach but in the field the best way to tell if there’s enough bleach in it is that if it doesn’t smell like chlorine then it’s not strong enough and add more bleach. It’s good to put the bleach solution in a container you can hang from a tree which can easily be activated to rinse hands. After you’ve washed better than you ever have before use a waterless alcohol hand sanitizer.
What no one wants to talk about: Dealing with the Dead.
If there is a state of emergency, the coroner or emergency services may take days or even weeks to deal with some one who has perished during the event. Mostly dead bodies will not transmit a disease to a living person unless there are extenuating circumstances, i.e. Zombie outbreak or a body has come in contact with a drinking water source. However there have been circumstances when outbreaks of cholera, hepatitis B and C, typhus and bubonic plague in places where sanitary conditions are less than the level you are used to in the US. So for arguments sake lets pretend the level of sanitation you are used to has been compromised and the risk of infection is high – from anything and everything. HIV can remain active in a dead body for up to 16 days after its death so when dealing with any dead body the greatest of care must be practiced. When moving or dealing with a body avoid drinking, eating, and smoking. Do not touch your face, eyes, nose, mouth. Wear disposable latex gloves and cover any cut or abrasion before dealing with the body. Wear a mask over your mouth and nose – either a surgical mask, a work mask or a bandana. Try to wear goggles to avoid any contamination into your eye from fluids leaking from the body. Try to wear some kind of cover all or clothing which will be able to immediately be sanitized in a bleach solution. If you don’t have clothing to sacrifice make a garment from trash bags and duct tape – always have a 100 pack of garden lawn bags in your kit as well as several rolls of duct tape, they are both invaluable. Take the body and put it either in a body bag or at least four layers of garden lawn bags. If you’re not sure if you’ve used enough layers, add another one. Remember decomposing bodies will leak a huge amount of fluid and feces so containing all this liquid is priority – the more they break down, the more they leak. If you know it’s going to be a long time before anyone will be able to remove the body, dig a grave. Graves should be at least 100 feet away from any water source and at least three feet deep, also they must be at least five feet above the water table. If you do not know the person wrap any effects they may have had on their person (wallet, watch, jewelry, inside with the body to try to help identification later. When done wash thoroughly with a 5-6% bleach solution and either burn, throw away or wash the garment you were wearing in the same bleach solution.
In the end protecting yourself and your family from disease is a very serious matter, and a very serious risk to your health are the creepy crawlies you can’t see. Stay as clean as possible in a time when the shit has hit the fan is incredibly difficult but it has to be at the fore front of your mind. Stay vigilant and be a clean nazi – it’s the only way to be as sure as possible you all won’t get sick. People die all the time from a simple bout of diarrhea. So stay on top of everyone in your group, they may not even know to thank you later but at least they’ll be alive.