Water: The Most Important Emergency Essential

Why Water Should be #1 on Your Survival Items List

Water: The Most Important Emergency Essential

By Lauren Clark – When people discuss emergency essentials and preparedness, many think of food storage first. Water is usually an afterthought, if a thought at all. However, water is the most emergency essential one can have. As Pam Crockett notes in her book Emergency Preparedness Made Easy, “A person can lose all reserve carbohydrates and fat, and about half the body’s protein without being in real danger … [but] a loss of only 10-22 percent body weight as water is fatal.” In addition to storing water for drinking, water must also be stored for hygiene purposes, like washing hands and bathing.

How Much Water Do I Need to Use as an Emergency Essential?

The recommended amount needed for water storage varies between preparedness experts, but most list between one and two gallons per adult per day as the appropriate quota. In J. Allan South’s book The Sense of Survival, he says the average person needs about 1 to 1-1/2 gallons of drinking water per day. Some experts, like Peggy Layton, also agree that one to two additional gallons should be stored as per day for hygiene purposes.

What Water Do I Use as an Emergency Essential?

In Layton’s book, Emergency Food Storage and Survival Handbook, she says there are three types of water that can be stored as an emergency essential: bottled water, tap water and some supplemental sources. While bottled water is purified and can easily be stacked, Layton notes that it can be too expensive to purchase for emergency essentials, even if it is just used for drinking. Layton says tap water run from municipal water systems has enough chlorine to ensure safe storage. The only consideration to take is to store your closed containers away from sunlight so as to reduce the growth of bacteria. Supplemental water sources include using water from a hot water heater; the tank (not bowl) of the toilet; boiled snow or rain precipitation; and purified stream, lake or river water. Water found in swimming pools and spas can be cleaned and used for washing purposes, but not for drinking.

How Do I Effectively Store Water?

There are four safe and efficient materials in which to store your water. The information in the chart below is from James Talmage Stevens’s Family Preparedness Handbook. (See chart below.) Looking at these four materials, it is clear that polycarbonate bottles are the best, though other materials may be more easily obtained. Stevens cautions against using any container that has once held bleach, paint or any harmful chemical when storing drinking water. Though one may wash out the bottles, small amounts of chemicals are embedded in the container itself and can be released into the water. Do not forget that in some emergencies, like during a fire or flood, you may be evacuated from your home. In case of such an emergency, make sure a part of your water storage is in smaller, portable containers. Stevens also warns against water stored in unsafe plastic, like the vinyl plastic of waterbed tubes, trash bins, and any plastic container that was not designated for food or beverage uses. Keep in mind that thicker walls make a container more resistant to vapors and gases from outside. Layton reminds in her book that you need to ensure you are always storing clean water in order to prevent sickness in a time of emergency. If the water is not clean at the time of storage, purify it before storing. Remember to store your containers away from sunlight to reduce bacteria growth in the containers.

Can I Natural Water Sources Rather than Storing Water?

You can use natural sources, and when available, it is recommended. The amount of water needed for storage varies based on climate and the availability of natural water sources. However, keep in mind that should the emergency be a natural disaster, the natural water source may be contaminated. Depending on the type of contamination, some natural sources can still be cleaned and used for washing, though most would not be recommended for drinking.

How Often do I Need to Rotate the Water I’m Storing as an Emergency Essential?

In Crockett’s book, she writes that the question of how often to rotate water is one with varying answers. She notes that the shelf life is dependent upon the temperature the water is stored at, the original quality of the water, how much light the water is exposed to, and a variety of other concerns. Though there is not a hard and fast rule, Crockett says that bottled water usually needs to be rotated every 6-12 months. Stevens recommends the 6-12 month rotation as well, and suggests checking stored water for odors at the sixth-month mark.

How do I Purify my Water?

Layton’s book gives several methods of purifying contaminated water or cleansing water before storing it as an emergency essential. Tap water need not be treated before storing, but unclean or chemically untreated water should be purified.

Boiling method. Water can be purified by boiling it vigorously for five minutes. If the water is cloudy after boiling, strain the water with a cloth or treat the water with chemicals.
Stabilized oxygen method. Stabilized oxygen products are extremely effective in purifying water. The high level of oxygen found in such products is toxic to anaerobic bacteria and undesirable organisms, like the bacteria that cause cholera.
Chemical sterilization with bleach. Water purification can be achieved by using a small amount of common household bleach. The bleach must be unscented and purchased within a year of use. The ratio of bleach to water is dependent on if the water is cloudy or clear. Clear water takes two drops of bleach per quart. Cloudy water requires double the amount. A 30 minute wait period is required before consumption.
Tincture of iodine. Tincture of iodine purifies water similarly to bleach. The ratio of iodine to water is, again, dependent on the cloudiness of the water. The downside of using iodine is the water turns into a murky brownish-red color and carries a slight taste of iodine. Additionally, people with thyroid problems and pregnant women should not use this method.
Water purification tablets. These tablets release chlorine or iodine in order to purify the water. They have a shelf life of five years and are used frequently by campers and hikers. These tablets can be purchased at sporting goods stores.
Halazone tablets. Halazone tablets work in a similar way to water purification tablets, though their shelf life is only two years and they require a 30 minute wait after placing the tablet in water. These can be purchased at drugstores.

Where Can I Purchase Water Storage Equipment?

Preparedness Plus Products, LLC carries a variety of water storage equipment that can help you be prepared with clean water in the event of an emergency. Some of these products include several types of filters, sink adapters and purification tablets. In addition, Preparedness Plus Products, LLC is now selling various sizes of polyethylene water tanks in order to further meet your needs for a clean water supply.

Everyone should be ready for disaster, so I recommend reviewing these checklists of emergency essentials:


Crockett, P. (2008). Emergency Preparedness Made Easy. Salt Lake City, Utah: DMT Publishing. Layton, P. (2002). Emergency Food Storage And Survival Handbook. New York, New York: Three Rivers Press. South, J.A. (1985). The sense of survival. Orem, Utah: Timpanogos Publishers. Stevens, J.T. (2009). Family Preparedness Handbook. Braselton, Georgia: Fulfillment Central Publishing. Emergency Food Storage and Survival Handbook and The Family Preparedness Handbook are sold by Preparedness Plus Products, LLC. Visit www.preparednessplus.net to look at water storage products or call 435-654-2012 for a personal consultation.


Originally published in Countryside November / December 2011 and regularly vetted for accuracy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *