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Go Bag #1: Water

Sparkling-bottled-water In the second of this regular series I explore what you need to put in your go bag. This week: water.

A healthy adult can last a week or more without food, but only a couple of days without water. In a disaster water supplies may be contaminated or just plain unavailable. Thus, if you put nothing else in your Go Bag ensure you have some water.


How Much?

Depending on size, amount of exercise and climate the average adult will need to drink 2-4 litres of water a day. You can calculate what your needs might be here. Add a little extra for sanitation, multiply it by a few days and your talking about 15 litres, per bag. One litre of water weighs one kilogram so your Go Bag could get pretty heavy if you carry all the water you need fresh.

However all these treatment methods below depend on you finding water, which may or may not be easy. I recommend you carry as much clean water in your Go Bag as you can.

Bottled Water

There’s a range of different ways to carry fresh water. You can buy it bottled or use containers (including ‘Camel-back’ type bladders). Remember to periodically change the water, particularly if you’re using your own bottles.

I prefer one litre clear plastic bottles. It means your supply is split up (in case one of the bottles breaks or is contaminated) and once you’ve finished a bottle, you can use the empty to start purifying any water you find straight away.


As you can’t carry enough water to sustain you for more than a couple of days the answer is purification. There’s a variety of methods you can use, but regardless of your choice you should always try and purify the freshest water you can find.

One pitfall of purification is that although most methods will kill all micro-organisms in the water, they generally can’t remove any chemical contamination such as pollutants.

All these methods are less effective (including the filters, which are designed for small particles including bacteria) if the water you find has lots of dirt or other matter in it. You should try and use some sort of coarse filter (or you can make an effective filter using sand, material and a funnel) to remove most of the gunk before proceeding.


Boiling water is the tried and true method of killing germs, including viruses and parasites. However it’s dependent on having a container to boil the water in (though I have seen water boiled in a plastic bottle) and enough fuel to light a fire. Don’t depend on this method.


A mainstay of stationary disaster water purification systems there are also portable filters that will remove all micro-organisms from water (though beware, most cheaper filters won’t). The advantage of some filters is that they can also remove certain pollutants and other contamination. The disadvantage of filters is that they can be expensive, bulky, clog easily and once they’re broke are difficult or impossible to fix. If you choose to carry one in your go bag don’t forget to back it up with something else.

You can buy filters at most camping and trekking supply stores.


The two prevailing chemical treatments are chlorine and iodine. There’s not a huge difference between the two (though there’s plenty of arguments on the interwebz about which is the superior treatment), but keep in mind that some people can be allergic to iodine. There’s a variety of different formulations out there, just follow the instructions on the container. I like chemicals cause they’re cheap, lightweight and can purify a lot of water.

Depending on where you are you can purchase these products at chemists/drugists, camping stores and supermarkets.


There are also UV sterilisers on the market as well as other chemical products which use silver. UV sterilisers use precious batteries and silver treatments are not widely available but depending on your situation may be worth investigating.

Alternatively if you’re out of options a clear (PET) plastic bottle filled with shaken water left out in the sun for around 6 hours should kill most microbes.


Go Bag: Are you ready to get out?

Recently I’ve finished putting together my ‘Go Bag’ and collecting together supplies for some of my friends. The threat of a major earthquake here in the Kathmandu Valley is very real. It was rated as having by far the highest risk of all megacities in a study by the Global Earthquake Safety Initiative. Having a Go Bag is the first step to being prepared for a major earthquake should it happen whilst I’m living here.

As one of the cornerstones of disaster preparedness I’ll be writing a series of articles about Go Bags and their contents.

For some localised guidance check the websites of your local, state or national governments and emergency services or your national Red Cross/Red Crescent society.

What is a Go Bag?

Alternately called a ‘Grab and Go Bag’ or a ‘Bug-Out-Bag’ (and a range of other cute names and acronyms) the Go Bag is a kit of essential supplies to carry with you if you need to evacuate in an emergency.

Why have a Go Bag?

A Go Bag is the first practical step to being prepared for a disaster, whether it’s a large earthquake a chemical spill or a house fire. But when I ask people about their Go Bag, they often respond that they have those items lying around the house.

Unfortunately that just won’t cut it in a disaster. The purpose of the Go Bag is that you can literally grab it and go. If you need to evacuate you don’t want to be digging through drawers and cupboards trying to pull together supplies, and then find you’re missing key items.

A Go Bag might not save your life, but it will sure make dealing with the emergency much easier and improve your comfort during the first 72 hours. And if you’re able to look after yourself, that means that the emergency services can use their limited supplies to look after those who are more in need.

A Go Bag is just one element of disaster preparedness. It’s also important know your risks, have a plan and a way to communicate with friends and family, prepare your property and get some training.

Go-Bag vs Emergency Kit

Many preparedness education will also tell you to have an emergency kit (also called a home survival kit, home emergency kit or household kit). An emergency kit is a larger box with additional supplies to help you survive in your home if you have to shelter in place, either inside or near your home. These kits often duplicate some items in a go bag but they go further, having supplies and equipment for at least 72 hours.

You can use your Go Bag to form the core of your emergency kit but it might be a good idea to duplicate some of the items in case you can’t find or access your Go Bag.

The #1 Item: Your Head

What’s the first thing in your Go Bag? It’s thinking about what you need to put in there.

Think about the hazards that might affect your area, the strength of infrastructure and emergency services. Research any public safety advice about evacuations. If the local emergency services don’t provide this information you’re going to need to come up with it yourself.

If you have to evacuate, where might you need to go, how long will it take you to get there and how long would you expect to be out of your house? For example if you’re a foreign national working or volunteering in a disaster prone area, you may think that you’d be flown out but it could take days or weeks, in which time you might have very little support.

Also think about your own needs, including any medical conditions or allergies and those of your family and pets too.

There’s no substitute for putting together your own Go Bag. Even if you buy one that’s ready made, it will have some items missing that you’ll need to add on your own such as documents and medications. Having said that a pre-made bag can be an easy and quick way of assembling the core items for your Go Bag. Just make sure you familiarise yourself with the contents and add what you need.

So what goes into a Go Bag? Stay tuned for the next instalment.

Zombies, Zombies Everywhere

In an increasingly saturated media environment how do emergency managers get their messages across? Research into the best methods of community engagement, heightened use of social media and increasingly polished public service announcements are all playing a role.

They’re also turning to that mainstay of B-Grade horror flicks: Zombies.

A cult favourite since George Romero released Night of the Living Dead, they have enjoyed a resurgence with such films as Zombieland, 28 Days Later, Fido and Shaun of the Dead. Zombies have certainly been getting plenty of attention on the intertubes:


Google search trends for zombies, vampires and terrorists

Zombies on average and particularly over the last four years have outranked both vampires (despite the best efforts of Stephanie Meyer) and terrorists in terms of global google searches.

Based on that data you could argue that zombies are perceived to be a larger threat than terrorists but what use can zombies be in disaster management?

Zombies are a great way of getting people’s attention, particularly those in Gen Y. They can also inject a little humour into what otherwise can be a fairly dry and depressing topic.

Back when I delivered emergency preparedness workshops I occasionally used the zombie analogy as a way of injecting a little humour into my sessions¬† (it also helped divert attention when I wasn’t sure what an item in the emergency kit was for; “the crowbar? that’s clearly for protection in the case of a zombie attack”). It was fun at the time, but I had no clue that others were picking up on the idea.

In the last few years zombies have burst onto disaster preparedness sites like, well, a horde of zombies hungry for brains. Here’s a few examples of emergency managers using zombies in their preparedness efforts:

Despite zombies being a pop culture phenomenon across the English-speaking world I haven’t been able to spot any similar initiatives outside of North America. If readers are aware please let me know in the comments.

And don’t forget to keep your emergency kit stocked and your family plan updated. As with all disasters, it’s not a matter of if but when the undead will come hunting for our brains.

Disaster Risk: Objectives?

The definition of risk in the Risk Management International Standard is the effect of uncertainty on objectives. This definition works quite easily in the corporate context, where a business has a clearly defined set of objectives, but what about in disaster management.

Communities are a bit messier than a business. They don’t get together and articulate their objectives over the next ‘corporate planning period’. Although governments do attempt gather general views and aspirations of the community, these efforts are coloured by the purpose of the engagement and more vocal individuals that they tend to capture.

Most disaster risk management experts would characterise their objective as the reduction of disaster risks. Plug that into the risk definition and you get something that’s pretty close to being circular. Unpack it a bit further, though and disaster risk reduction boils down to this:

  • Protecting communities from harm; and
  • Minimising the immediate and long-term impacts of that harm on communities.

Applying the risk definition to these objectives shifts the focus from the hazardous events to our ability to anticipate, protect and recover from the community impacts of hazardous events.

The risks that we’re trying to manage are not floods, storms and chemical leaks. They’re that our levees may be full of holes, our logistical coordination arrangements are inadequate and that the community is not prepared to shelter-in-place during an emergency.

This approach offers new opportunities. It allows emergency managers to:

  • Focus on actions that are much more within our control;
  • Identify potential failure points in our emergency management system before the disaster occurs; and
  • Prioritise improvements to existing systems, equipment and infrastructure rather than re-inventing the wheel.

Knowledge of hazardous events is still important, though. Knowing how disasters will test our capabilities mean understanding both and their interaction.

Applied a capability focussed risk management process? Let me know in the comments.

Welcome to Casus Calamitas

Welcome to Casus Calamitas, a blog about disaster risk, risk reduction and resilience in the modern world. Casus Calamitas loosely translates from latin to mean ‘chance of disaster’.

Latin doesn’t really have a word for risk, at least not in the modern sense. So what is the difference between chance and risk?

Central to modern systems of disaster management is the concept of ‘risk’. The International Standard on Risk Management (ISO 31000) defines risk as the effect of uncertainty on objectives. In the disaster context this uncertainty can relate to:

  • When will the hazardous event occur;
  • how intense will it be;
  • how will it impact on communities and the environment; and
  • how well will those communities respond to the impact.

Chance just refers to the timing of the event. Risk involves much more than chance. Unfortunately, people often focus just on this element missing the opportunity to do much more about minimising their risk. Mature risk management systems are able to bring in all the dimensions to strive towards a much broader and objective view of the disaster risks.

I’ve talked about the uncertainty associated with disasters, but that’s just half the ISO31000 definition. What are the objectives that this uncertainty impacts on?

That’s something I’ll focus on next time.