Always be prepared: How much water do I need to keep on hand in case of emergency?

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If disaster strikes tonight, if a mob of zombies comes down your street, and the ensuing army tanks crush the pavement, and water service shuts down, will you be prepared? Part of running a household means making contingency plans. How will you stay safe and healthy in case of natural disaster, monster infestation, disease outbreak, service interruption, alien invasion, civil unrest, or war?

Deep in the basement of Rockethaus sits our emergency kit, full of food and supplies should we suddenly encounter an emergency situation. Living in Iowa, I don’t expect to use anything in our kit, but I still feel strongly about having supplies on hand at all times. Whether or not you live in a place plagued by earthquakes, hurricanes, or other natural disasters, you should absolutely start prepping right now. Today. THE LIFE YOU SAVE MIGHT BE YOUR OWN!

Where do you start? With the most important things! Food is important, but dehydration and water-borne illnesses are the fastest path to death in a survival scenario. By stashing just a bit of water in your household, you take your health and safety out of the hands of fate and into your own control.

How MUCH water should you have?

You should have at least one gallon of water per person per day, and enough for at least three days. There doesn’t have to be an apocalyptic disaster to disrupt your access to clean drinking water. The power could go out, a water main could bust, your region could enter water rationing, you could find your supply contaminated and you’ll be glad to have some jugs on hand.

In our two-person household, we should have at least six gallons of water on hand at all times. And we do. There are six gallons of clean, fresh water in the storage room, and I’ve plugged their “expiration date” into my Google Calendar so I can receive reminders to get new water every six months — and spend that water on something else.

If you don’t have a storage room to call your own, you can still stash your emergency gallons:

  • Under a bed!
  • In a freezer! We have extra water stored in two-liter bottles in two freezers. There’s an extra perk in keeping an extra supply in cold storage: freezers are much more efficient when they’re full, and without the water our boxes would be mostly empty.
  • On a balcony! This is good intermediate storage, as well as a way to purify suspect water; two days in strong sunlight will make water potable.
  • On the floor of your tiny studio apartment closet! We started prepping when we still lived in 650 square feet. We found room in the only closet in our place after we took a long look at the tennis racquets and roller blades we hadn’t used since we moved and decided that, in case of emergency, six gallons of water would do a lot more for us than rollerblades we don’t know how to use.

Step one to safety is good hydration — and to zombie outbreak success. Take this to heart and start prepping!

Preppers unite! If you’re securing your home in case of emergency, tell us about it!

Comments on Always be prepared: How much water do I need to keep on hand in case of emergency?

  1. Out of interest do you happen to know how strong the strong sunlight needs to be?

    I’ve heard the same works for killing mould and bacteria in other places (like on the bottom of a futon matress)but never had any luck myself and I suspect living in the UK is part of the problem. (Even when we’re not getting all the rain at once.)

    • Personally I’d keep iodine and vitamin C tablets on hand rather than rely on the sun to purify things. They take up very little space, and you can be sure it’s potable water.

      • Vitamin C for water purification?

        ETA: Oh, I see if it’s only for making the water taste better after the iodine is done.

        When I was in summer camp, we’d bring along a dropper bottle of bleach for water purification. 2-3 drops of bleach per water bottle.

    • If you’re concerned about contamination, I have a few ideas. Keep either iodine or grapefruit seed oil around, a few drops of either will decontaminate water. I’ve read that in a pinch, you can add a tiny (super tiny) amount of hydrogen peroxide, but I think this is pretty gross and wouldn’t use it unless there was no other choice. We use a great camp filter – a bag that uses gravity to filter instead of a pump (the pumps are the worst!). Another thing we are planning to add to our kit is a pair of lifestraws. They’re a really cool new invention and right now (I think) they are donating one for every one purchased. The big catch here is that that’s only good for humans, because it’s a straw. So if you have pets, this won’t protect them. I’d add a gallon a day per dog too for emergency storage (though we have a big dog so maybe less for a smaller dog). Not exactly sure what volume a cat needs.

      • I would guess that a gallon would last a cat three days. So add one gallon per kitty. They might actually nead slightly less than that but that’s a convenient size to remember

        • Official word from the vet is that as long as cats are eating moist food (so canned) they do not need to drink anything at all. (My brother has a cat that refused to drink and asked.) So for cats I’d stash canned food instead of water.

          • That probably only applies if your cat is used to wet food though. Mr. Ivriniel’s cat only ever eats the dry stuff, and probably would object to the diet change.

      • Hydrogen peroxide is actually pretty safe. Once it’s in contact with air it turns into regular H2O pretty quickly. That is why it is sold in brown plastic bottles and why it fizzes when it’s poured onto stuff. It’s very useful for washing produce to remove germs, and I use it full strength both on produce and on my kitchen surfaces. You could probably drink it straight and be OK, though I wouldn’t recommend trying it as you might get a tummy ache. This is regular, buy it at the drugstore peroxide I’m talking about, which is food grade, not the industrial strength kind, that kind is a super oxidizer and fire hazard and should never be stored in the home at all. Not sure if I think hydrogen peroxide would purify water in any significant way, though in a pinch a few drops of bleach will. It is useful for many other things though, and harmless, so I’d include it in a survival stash.

    • Thank you! I was going hey wait what? So just grab some of those large jugs like the big things of milk come in – except with water and voila!!! 😀 hide in closet and you are set – or something 😉

  2. I’d like to suggest picking up a Berkey…either a bottle or another filtration device. It’ll filter out all sediment *and* biological elements. In fact, this is something I’d recommend picking up and keeping in your get home bag in your car and putting in camping gear if you’re the sort to go camping or hiking regularly.

    Here is their link.

    • Also, Berkey water bottles can be found online through most retailers. My SO and I picked up our sport bottles through Amazon and I’ve seen them marked down severely on various outdoor-specific retailers. We plan on picking up a Big Berkey (countertop model) later this year.

  3. Thanks for the Google Calendar tip. I always find that my emergency supplies are expired right before a major storm and have to run out for new stuff. Pretty useless in the event of a sudden zombie attack. Seems silly that I never thought of that before…

      • I think it’s not so much that it expires, but if it sits too long, bacteria can start to grow in it. That’s why the FEMA website other people have posted lists really stringent sterilization processes for storing water from the tap, as it hasn’t gone through the same sterilization as commercial bottled water. They suggest swapping water out every 6 months, or whenever the bottle expiration date is, for commercial water bottles.

  4. Oooh, are y’all going to do a series on disaster/emergency prepping? I’d love that–our household is just venturing into figuring this stuff out and it would be awesome to have a series of concise, intelligent articles on this subject that don’t make me feel like OMG I’m gonna die because I don’t have a Doomsday Prepper bunker o’apocalyptic preparedness. This article is helpful, especially the Google Cal tip.

        • Actually, I’m referring specifically to a Get-Home bag, something you’d use to get home from someplace else. This would be an item you’d keep in your car full time, while a Bug-Out bag lives in the house. 🙂

          • In our group we call these “daily carry” bags since so many people don’t have cars and carry everything on their person. But I do have an emergency box in my car for both car-emergencies and general emergencies that happen while away from home. It’s about a 24-hour kit, just enough to get us home even if that’s just for 1 minute to grab the bug-out bags. The bug-out bags are supposedly good for 72 hours, but realistically are probably good for weeks to months in wilderness as they include books about foraging and finding clean water and our plans for rebuilding society. Once we have the water purifiers they will be even better.

            Of course, the bug-out bags only have about a week’s worth of coffee supplies. So after that, everyone in our group is screwed.

  5. We have a large fish tank and keep twenty gallons on hand, in five gallon jugs, for water changes. Ta-daaa!

    I really like the idea of disaster preparedness posts. I live in the northern california where tsunamis and earthquakes are a real threat. We’ve started our emergency bags but it feels overwhelming!

    • I live in New Zealand where we always knew there was great quake risk, but it never motivated me enough to prepare. Yes, it feels overwhelming, right up until you need it. Then it seems pretty normal. I used to find it really hard pre-quakes because I got anxious at the thought of something really shutting my city down, so I would push it out of my head. But now I’ve lived through disasters, I can think through it practically. Try thinking about it piece by piece, and remember consequences of no power, sewerage, fuel or food stores at each step (as obvious as it may sound). You might never need it but I felt so stupid when I realised I hadn’t even stored a bottle of water! All the best 🙂

  6. water and medications are the most important to stock. water purification tablets are widely available, as are filters, but a few drops of pure Clorox bleach are also effective in a pinch.
    it’s also important to inspect your supplies periodically and replace anything close to expiring.
    we also keep a “survival tool box” with duct tape, heavy clips, plastic sheeting, etc.
    the federal gov has some good information:

    • My summer camp had a 3 day out trip that the older kids would participate in. As part of it, we had to plan out our supplies. I remember looking over the water purification methods, and going “Oooh, let’s take that!” when I saw the hand pump water purifier.

      The Outrip Leader warned us that with that type of thing you do a hell of a lot of pumping before you get a significant amount of water so in the end, we opted for the standard bleach in a dropper bottle.

      We never used water purification tablets. I guess they would get kind of pricey when you’re using them for everyone’s individual water bottle every time you refill from the lake for three days straight, for multiple groups over a summer.

  7. My husband is very survivalist and has started preparedness kits for both of us. He purchased us gas masks (I think they were about $20 a piece) and made sure we tried them on and knew how to use them. We have all sorts of paracord (strong rope in small packages), and plan on obtaining some of the fire starting magnesium flint kits. We are slowly building kits, but he is of the mind set that if a disaster strikes and we can not stay in our home, we have enough goods that we can carry on ourselves that will get us through. Unfortunately in disaster situations this may happen, so knowing you have a backpack full of your “on foot” esentials will come in super handy if the time ever came!

  8. If you’re looking for a list of things you should have on hand, FEMA’s website has a good Basic Emergency Supplies Kit List to start with.

    It includes:
    Non-perishable food
    NOAA weather radio, or a hand crank raddio
    Flashlight + extra batteries
    First Aid Kit
    Whistle to signal for help
    Dust mask
    Moist towelettes
    Garbage bags & ties for personal sanitation (I know you can also get little 6-9″ trowels for camping potty use too)
    Wrench and/or pliers to turn off utilities if a gas or water main is busted
    Manual can opener
    Local maps
    Solar powered cell phone chargers

    They have more, but those are the basics that they recommend.

  9. I haven’t stockpiled water, but there’s a stream not too far away that I’ve frequently drunk from so I’m not worried about that. I also have a camp stove, a couple of weeks worth of butane for it, oil lamps, a gallon of kerosene, and many candles. I have a trauma focused first aid kit. It’s one I put together myself, so I know what’s in it. A quick estimate would suggest I have about a week of food. And all this is mostly without thinking about it much, just because I like fire and camping.

    • My food is honestly my roughest point right now. I have very little in the house because I refuse to buy groceries for some reason. I’ve even gone through the rice I HAD stored for emergency purposes. Way to go, me.

    • Yeah, we have been building first aid kits and bug-out bags with camping in mind. An inventory list lives on the computer (and one in the pack) so that when I go to make the camping list I don’t build a NEW first aid kit, or grab extra poison ivy wipes, or try to pack more tarps and toilet paper than necessary. Extra bonus of the inventory list is that when camping is over it’s easy to re-stock the kit to pars.

  10. I have lived in earthquake territory for my entire life and always keep at least 10 gallons of water (for me, my cats, and in case I have guests) in the laundry room or on the bottom shelf of the pantry.

    Don’t forget a jug for your car! One of my college friends was driving through LA when the 1994 quake hit, and the next freeway overpass collapsed in front of him. You can’t count on being at home when the Big One hits.

    • Smart. Yeah, I need to make a little car kit for both our cars. I do have some extra gas in the garage, at least — that it probably about ready to get cycled out, now that I think about it.

    • Depending on where you live, you could also be packing a car kit in case of being stranded in the middle of a snow storm.

      When I took Driver training one of our in class lessons included information on what you should pack in your car for the winter. Candles, non perishable food, something to melt snow in, a shovel, and blankets are what I recall.

  11. I had a super-cool device in my earthquake kit when I lived in Japan. It was a radio/flashlight/cell phone charger, with a crank to power it if you didn’t have batteries.

    I also kept money, ID, tampons, a change of clothing, a blanket, and prescription meds in there. It was a pretty heavy duffle bag (with water, food, and first aid supplies as well), but I could carry it. Luckily I didn’t need it in the big earthquake last year – the power was only out for eight hours, which is the time it took me to walk home – but it was good knowing it was there.

  12. Having spent the last year and a bit in post quake Chch, one of the things that stood out the most that no-one seemed to have though of was cash. When the power is out credit cards and eftpos machines aren’t really an option, nor is popping down to the ATM. Stash some cash in your emergency kit.

    • Ohhh yes I remember walking around really sleepy on the morning of the September one trying to find coffee because I was confused and thought ‘coffee will fix EVERYTHING.’ I eventually found a place that had boiling water and were somehow operating. Reached for debit card. Put debit card away. Massive sigh. Have carried a 20 ever since, because I might need it for a serious reason.

      • third churchur person chiming in with UGH YES TO THIS. also, i now keep at least a weeks worth of toilet paper in the house because ugh yeah not doing THAT again. Water, TP and teabags (we have a gas stove and the first thing i did each time was make some damn tea) are our major survival stashes.

  13. The Ready Store has 5 gallon water storage containers that could be used as a coffee table if storage space is a problem. Just add water, a 5 year preserver, arrange as necessary, then cover them up with something attractive.

  14. The best emergency preparedness tip I learned this year is to keep your pet cages/carriers INSIDE your home/apt in a very easily accessible area. We used to store our kitty carrier in the storage unit (wtf were we thinking?!?) to save space in our tiny apartment which led to panic when our building’s fire alarm went off, thank God it was just a test. Be sure to think of pet needs as well.

    • YES! This is super important. Also my heart melted a little when my husband prepped a brand-new shoulder-strappable cat carrier for Nelly, complete with a week’s worth of canned food in its pockets and contact/reward information should we get separated from her.

    • Ours has the first aid kit stuffed inside so that there isn’t random wasted empty space in the living room, but it’s one bag that comes out in a snap so we can get the cat into it. We’ve practiced a couple times and have proven to ourselves we can get the bag out quickly, so that we’re not panicking and struggling with it when the time comes. When we had two cats, we just figured that in an emergency it was better to let them share a carrier for a while than worry about two carriers. If they needed to be in there long-term we could always buy a new one (or, you know, pilfer if society has collapsed anyway).

  15. actually, a couple of other tips from an “I did this and it worked/i wish i had thought of this earlier” NZ standpoint: keep your cellphone charged and within reach at all times, and make sure you have some money on it; keep a corded phone in the house because if the power goes out your cordless will not work!; a source of heating that doesn’t need electricity is also a good idea; we have torches/flashlights that don’t need batteries and i would recommend something of the sort in a survival kit – ours shake to recharge; and the thing we most wished we had after the earthquake? A RADIO.

  16. As an added bonus to storing water in the freezer, if the power does go out and you don’t need the water straight away, it will keep your frozen food cold for a surprisingly long time. After Cyclone Yasi last year we were without electricity for 5 days and the ice only melted after about 3. And that is in the tropics, during summer!

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