The Emergency Toilet Project

We all know about the Big One—the 40-percent odds that a 9-or-higher magnitude earthquake will occur along the Pacific Northwest coastline or Cascadia Subduction Zone anytime over the next 50 years. But how many of us are prepared for when the Big One causes big problems with our bathrooms? 

At a symposium held in Seattle earlier this year, Japanese earthquake experts warned Northwest authorities that after a quake hits, using a working restroom may be impossible. Quakes in Japan similar to the one that is expected to hit Oregon caused enormous destruction to sewer and sanitation systems. While the water supply became suspended, plumbing above ground and sewer pipes below ground collapsed as drainage points were crushed, causing sewage to drain up and out of the ground. 

According to a report released at the end of August by the Northwest News Network, emergency preparedness groups in and around Portland have been warning locals about health issues that can result from people using the bathroom outside, a likely scenario in the event of an earthquake.

“We don’t want cholera, typhoid, hepatitis A and diarrheal illnesses to come back,” a Hillsboro emergency preparedness program supervisor told the source. In order to protect ourselves and others from disease, we’ll need to learn how to manage our own waste. 

Various organizations in Portland are showing citizens how to create emergency toilets. Authorities recommend a setup including two 5-gallon paint buckets and snap-on toilet seats. 

Volunteers from the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management are currently handing out brochures that explain how to safely store and dispose of numbers one and two, and specialists in Portland have already organized and held an event where locals were able to come together and decorate their emergency buckets with paint, glitter and stickers. 

If you are planning to invest in your own emergency toilet, consider these guidelines: Pee and poop should be separated to cut volume and odor. While urine is generally harmless and can be spread over lawns after being diluted, feces is a health hazard and should be double-bagged and stored temporarily. Authorities on waste disposal recommend lining each poo bucket with a heavy-duty 13-gallon garbage bag, then covering each use—or layer—of the makeshift toilet with sawdust, shredded paper or grass clippings to help dry it out. When the poo bucket is half full, experts recommend starting a new bag.

For further instruction and information, search “Emergency Toilet Project” or visit https://www.portlandoregon.gov/rdpo/75609. 

By Kiki Genoa

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