By Amy Gard, Team Leader, Neighborhood Emergency Team (NET) for Concordia/Vernon/ Woodlawn

If you do a google search for “rule of three,” you’ll find it shows up in everything from mathematics to Wicca. In the realm of emergency preparedness, though, it’s about survival: you can survive about 3 minutes without oxygen or submerged in icy water. In a harsh environment, you can expect to survive about 3 hours without shelter, and in normal circumstances, you can expect to last about 3 weeks without food.  But in the same, ‘normal,’ situation, you’re only going to make it about 3 DAYS without WATER

Here in Portland, we can generally take oxygen for granted and our relatively mild weather puts us at risk from extreme weather or icy water fairly infrequently. We also boast one of the best water resources around – the Bull Run Watershed – and even public bubblers that serve fresh water up for all. However, in the aftermath of a major earthquake (which has a 37% chance of happening within the next 50 years, and in fact, if it had followed the average of the 10,000 year geological record, would have already occurred in 1947!), the conduit system that brings that life-giving juice to our homes and bubblers will be catastrophically damaged. 

The water towers at Sabin Hydro Park; photo by Mischa Webley

Estimates for how long it will take for water and sewage systems to be up and running again in Portland vary from one month to one year! We will need to be our own saviors, at least for the first weeks. As long as you stay out of icy water and can find a safe structure in which to shelter (following our Rule of Three), water is going to be your top survival priority.

For this reason, water storage is the #1 thing that I emphasize when doing outreach for Portland’s Neighborhood Emergency Teams.  Our district of nearly 67,000 residents will all be meeting nature’s call without indoor plumbing. This is a recipe for a secondary health crisis and it’s why I also emphasize that every household should have a plan for human waste management in the event of a disaster. 

What do I need to do, you ask?  I’m so happy you inquired! 

Answer: Store 14 gallons of water per person in your household.  Beg, borrow, or buy two 5-gallon buckets. One will be dedicated to urine (generally sterile), that can be dumped into the soil away from living quarters. One will ideally be lined with a heavy-duty garbage bag for solid waste. Shredded paper, dry leaves, sawdust, etc. can cover each ‘deposit’ to encourage composting and discourage smell.  When full, these bags can be stockpiled for disposal once services are up and running.

For more guidance please visit: (water storage) (pee/poo 2-bucket system)

Or contact your neighborhood NET: