We all need safe, clean water to survive. We sometimes take that for granted. But when an emergency strikes, safe water may not be readily available. That is why when facing the prospect of natural disasters, such as hurricanes or earthquakes, or human-made emergencies like chemical spills or infrastructure failures, having a plan for safe water is critical. 

This brief guide explores the importance of safe water in emergencies, key considerations for emergency preparedness plans, strategies for ensuring safe drinking water, signs of contaminated water, and effective ways to address them.  

Understanding the Importance of Safe Water in Emergency Situations 

Water is essential for survival, and in emergencies, its importance is magnified. Access to safe drinking water can mean the difference between life and death.  Contaminated water can lead to a variety of illnesses, ranging from mild gastrointestinal issues to life-threatening diseases like cholera, hepatitis and typhoid fever. 

During emergencies, the regular water supply can be compromised. Infrastructure damage, such as broken sewer pipes or treatment plant failures, can contaminate water sources. Moreover, increased demand and limited access to clean water sources can exacerbate the problem. When everyone is looking for safe water at once, it can be reassuring that you have prepared and have a plan for potable water.


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Top Strategies for Ensuring Safe Drinking Water During Emergencies 

Water Storage. One of the key considerations in emergency preparedness plans is water storage. According to NV.gov Preparedness Tips, ensuring access to safe drinking water is essential during emergencies. The website recommends storing at least one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation purposes. 

Water Filtration and Purification: A water filter bottle for emergency water purification can be an asset in an emergency preparedness kit. Water filter bottles are portable, easy to use, and can effectively remove contaminants from water sources, making them safe to drink. These bottles typically use a filtration system that can remove bacteria, protozoa, and some viruses, providing a reliable supply of safe drinking water in emergency situations. The advantage of a water filter bottle is its convenience and versatility. It allows you to safely drink water from potentially contaminated sources, reducing the risk of waterborne illnesses. Additionally, water filter bottles are reusable and can filter a large volume of water, making them a cost-effective and environmentally friendly choice for emergency preparedness. 

Water stored in large plastic jugs or bottles often gets an unpleasant plastic chemical taste. This is from chemicals that have leached into the water while it was in storage. Just pour that water into a water filter bottle which will remove bad taste, odor and unsafe chemicals.  

Emergency bag contents including a water filter bottle for emergency water.

Chemical Purification. This is now considered an outdated method of water purification, and few people like the idea of drinking iodine or bleach, but when in an emergency chemical purification is an option for safe water. The two most common methods include water purification tablets and bleach.  Tablets can quickly and effectively kill bacteria and viruses in water but they do nothing to remove other contaminants like chemicals, pesticides and fertilizers that can wash into the water supply.  Follow the manufacturer's instructions for proper use. Chlorine bleach can be used to disinfect water. Add eight drops (about 1/8 teaspoon) of unscented bleach per gallon of water, stir, and let it stand for 30 minutes before drinking. 

Boiling and Distilling. In an emergency you may not have easy access to a fire to boil or distill water, but they are proven methods to kill microorganisms in contaminated water. Boiling water is one of the most effective ways to kill pathogens. Bring water to a rolling boil for at least one minute (three minutes at higher altitudes) and then let it cool before drinking. Distillation involves boiling water and then collecting the steam as it condenses back into water. This process effectively removes contaminants, including heavy metals and salts. When creating an emergency preparedness plan, safe water should be a top priority. Here are some key considerations: 

Monitoring and Testing. Regularly monitor the quality of your stored water and any additional water sources you may use during an emergency. Test for contaminants and ensure that purification methods are effective. 

Education and Training. Ensure that everyone in your household is aware of the importance of safe water and knows how to properly store and treat water in emergency situations. 

Contaminated water from tap

Signs of Contaminated Water and How to Address Them Effectively 

Recognizing the signs of contaminated water is crucial. Some common signs include: 

  • Cloudiness or discoloration 
  • Unusual odor or taste 
  • Presence of debris or particles 

If you suspect that your water is contaminated, take the following steps: 

  • Stop Using the Water: Do not drink, cook with, or use the contaminated water for any purpose. 
  • Find an Alternate Source: Use bottled water or find a clean, reliable water source. 
  • Filter, Boil or Treat Water: Filtering will remove pathogens and chemicals. Boiling or treating water can kill most pathogens but will not remove them and their toxins.
  • Seek Professional Help: If you are unsure about the safety of your water, contact your local health department or water utility for guidance. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you make water safe during an emergency? 

During an emergency, you can make water safe by: 

  • Filtering it through a portable water filter 
  • Boiling it 
  • Using water purification tablets
  • Using chemical treatments like chlorine bleach 
  • Distilling it 

How do you ensure water safety? 

Prepare now. To ensure water safety, regularly monitor the quality of your water sources, store water properly, and use effective purification methods. 

What is safe to use during a water emergency? 

During a water emergency, it is safe to use bottled water, properly filtered or boiled water, or water from a reliable, clean source. 

Why is emergency water important? 

Water is life. Contaminated water can mean sickness or death. Emergency water is important because access to safe drinking water is crucial for survival during emergencies when regular water sources may be compromised. 


Ensuring access to safe drinking water is paramount during emergencies. Whether facing natural disasters or human-made crises, having a plan for safe water is critical to protect public health and prevent waterborne illnesses. Key considerations for emergency preparedness plans include water storage, filtration, and purification, as well as monitoring and testing water quality. By understanding the importance of safe water, considering these key factors, and implementing effective strategies, individuals and communities can better prepare for and respond to emergencies. Remember, in times of crisis, safe water is not just a necessity—it's a lifeline. 


Readers of this blog get 10% off all water-to-Go water filter bottles.  Use coupon code "SAFEWATER" at checkout.




Written by Lalaine Altar