Emergency food, water, and sanitation

Vancouver's water supply goes through a series of tests to make sure it is safe to drink.

Emergency food supplies

During a major emergency, you may not have access to grocery stores or they may run out of food supplies, so you need to be prepared with your own food. Keep a 3-day supply of food and water on hand for you, your family, and your pets.

  • Include canned foods and a can opener.
  • Do not use foods that need a lot of preparation – for instance, foods that need water or cooking.
  • Check expiry dates and replace emergency food and water supplies as they expire.

Emergency drinking water

Without water, you can only live for a few days. It is important that you store water for use during an emergency, in case your water supply is cut off. Bottled water works best, and has a shelf life of about 2 years.
  • If you store refillable water bottles, change the water every 6 months.
  • If you have drinking water delivered to your home, order extra bottles and rotate them with each delivery.
  • Do not reuse plastic milk jugs to store your water, as the toxins in the jug could enter the water.
  • Do not use the water from your hot water tank for drinking.

Purifying your drinking water

If you need to purify your drinking water before using it, either boil or disinfect it.

Wash your storage containers and strain the water

Before purifying your water:

  1. Wash the containers with soapy water, then fill them with a 10% bleach solution.
  2. After 5 minutes, empty the containers and let them air dry.
  3. Strain any sediment or particles from the water you are purifying by pouring it through several layers of paper towels or coffee filters.

Boil the water

  1. Bring the water to a rolling boil for 10 minutes.

Disinfect the water

  1. Stir plain chlorine bleach into the water using these ratios:
    • 1 L of clear water to 2 drops of bleach (4 drops for cloudy water) 
    • 4 L of clear water to 8 drops of bleach (16 drops for cloudy water)
    • 20 L of clear water to 2.5 mL (½ teaspoon) of bleach (5 ml (1 teaspoon) for cloudy water)
  2. Let the water stand for 30 minutes.
  3. When the water tastes and smells like chlorine, it is ready to drink. 

warning Warning: Using too much or the wrong kind of bleach can harm you and your family. Be sure to follow the bleach directions exactly. Use only household liquid bleach that contains 5.25% sodium hypochlorite, and do not use scented bleaches, coloursafe bleaches, bleaches with added cleaners, or granular forms of bleach.

Emergency sanitation

Dealing with waste and debris following a disaster can be challenging. Good hygiene and hand washing are critical to prevent the spread of illness and disease. In the absence of water, use hand sanitizer, but it's less effective than soap and water.

How to build an emergency toilet

Water and sewage infrastructure may be damaged, leaving you with no water or working toilets. If water supply is cut off, you may need to create an emergency toilet.

  1. Use watertight containers, like buckets, with tight-fitting covers.
  2. Line the container with a plastic bag to create an emergency toilet.
  3. Every time the emergency toilet gets used, add a small amount of a household disinfectant like bleach into the container to reduce odour and germs.
  4. Keep the emergency toilet covered when it's not being used.
  5. Dispose of waste properly to avoid contamination by digging a pit 2 to 3 feet deep, at least 50 feet downhill or away from a fresh water source.

Learn more about emergency toilets, sanitizing and disposing of waste, and water substitutes for cleansing 

Learn more about finding emergency water supplies

Free emergency preparedness workshops

Prepare for, respond to, and recover from earthquakes, tsunamis, heat waves, and other disasters in our free workshops hosted at community centres.

Emergency safety kits

Emergency safety kit

Did you know there is a 1 in 4 chance of a major earthquake in Vancouver within the next 50 years?

Be prepared, by creating emergency safety kits filled with supplies you will need if you are forced to evacuate your home.

Get instructions