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If a disaster strikes your area, you may find yourself short of the necessary food and water to survive. Here, we address what families, disaster response teams, relief organizations, universities, city governments and non-governmental organizations need to understand before purchasing emergency drinking water purification equipment.

1Emergency Preparedness And Disaster Relief

Emergency Water Preparedness

Emergency Water Tip: Store One Gallon of Water per Person per Day

In an emergency situation, the US government recommends that you have an ample supply of clean water – at least one gallon per person per day. It is also recommended that you store, at minimum, a two-week supply of water for each member of the family. This water will be used for drinking, food preparation and personal hygiene.

Water should be stored in thoroughly washed plastic, glass, fiberglass or enamel-lined metal containers. Never use a container that has held toxic substances. Plastic containers, such as soft drink bottles, are best. Seal water containers tightly, label them and store them in a cool, dark place. Rotate water every six months.

Unusual Sources of Water During Times of Emergency

If, for some reason, disaster catches you without a stored supply of clean water, you can use the water from the ice cubes in your freezer, the water in your pipes and the water in your hot water tank. If you have time before the event (disaster), you can fill bathtubs and sinks with water. As a last resort, you can use water in the reservoir tank of your toilet (not the bowl).

To use the water in your pipes, let air into the plumbing by turning on the faucet at the highest level (upstairs) in your house. A small amount of water will trickle out. After doing this you will be able to draw water from a faucet at the lowest level of the house (downstairs). To use the water in your hot-water tank, be sure electricity or gas is off, and open the drain at the bottom of the tank. Start water flowing by turning off the water intake valve and turning on a hot–water faucet. Do not turn on the gas or electricity when the tank is empty.

You can find water outside your home from the following sources: rainwater, streams, rivers and other moving bodies of water, ponds, lakes and natural springs. This water must be purified for drinking purposes. Avoid water with floating material, an odor or dark color. Use saltwater only after it has been distilled. You should not drink floodwater.

Five Ways to Purify Water Before Use

You should purify all water of uncertain purity before using it for drinking, food preparation, or personal hygiene. There are a number of different ways to purify your water.

  1. Outback gravity powered water filtration systemWater filtration systems are a great way to provide clean, safe water during an emergency. A high-quality pump or gravity water filtration system will allow you to draw water from a variety of sources including water storage containers, a swimming pool, or even a nearby stream. Make sure the system provides water purification to EPA Guide Standard and Protocol to reduce waterborne cysts, viruses, and bacteria.
  2. Boiling Water on a burnerBoiling will kill most microbes in water. When boiling water, bring water to a rolling boil for 3-5 minutes, keeping in mind that some water will evaporate. Let the water cool before drinking. Boiled water will taste better if you put oxygen back into it by pouring the water back and forth between two clean containers. Keep in mind that boiling water can kill bacteria, but boiling does not remove other impurities from the water. Putting boiled water (after cooled down) through a water filtration system can often provide better quality water. Boiling water may not be an option if electric and gas lines have been damaged in an emergency situation.
  3. Clorox Bleach bottleDisinfection using household bleach can kill microorganisms in water. Use only regular household liquid bleach that contains 5.25 percent sodium hypochlorite. Do not use scented bleaches, color-safe bleaches, or bleaches with added cleaners. Add 16 drops of bleach per gallon of water, stir and let stand for 30 minutes. If the water does not have a slight bleach odor, repeat the dosage and let stand another 15 minutes. Using bleach in combination with water filtration system is a great option. Filtration systems can be a great combination with bleach in emergency situations. Bleach will kill microorganism and the water filtration system will reduce residual bleach in the water, along with other organics and sediment contaminants.
  4. Water Distillation DiagramDistillation is another method of purification. Distillation can remove microbes resistant to boiling and disinfection. Distillation can also remove heavy metals, salts and most other chemicals. Distillation involves boiling water and then collecting the vapor that condenses back to water. The condensed vapor will not include salt and other impurities. To distill, fill a pot halfway with water. Tie a cup to the handle on the pot’s lid so that the cup will hang right side up when the lid is upside-down (make sure the cup is dangling into the water) and boil the water for 20 minutes. The water that drips from the lid into the cup is distilled. The downside is that distillation requires a lot of energy to produce a small amount of water and is only possible if gas and electric utilities have not been disrupted in an emergency. If power is still available at the site, UV Water Purification is another option that kills microbes resistant to boiling.
  5. water treatment tabletsTablets & Drops are a popular water purification method because they are small, inexpensive, and portable. Most water treatment tablets or drops can remove bacteria, viruses, Giardia and Cryptosporidium. Tablets and drops work quickly without draining energy supplies (such as the boiling method). Note that while tablets can disinfect water, they do not remove contaminants. Tablets work well in combination with water filtration systems to remove unwanted contaminants.


Combining water purification methods can often be the best solution.

Find the right emergency water purification method that works for you, keeping in mind the variety of disaster event scenarios that could impact your household. Combining options above that include a filtration system is often the best solution. Having a plan will bring peace of mind.

For example, there may come a time when you have to leave your home quickly and need a portable purification method for survival. Or you may find that you have access to running water, but the water coming into your home has been compromised at the municipal plant level. You would then need a way to purify the water before using. Ideally, a combination of the above methods would allow you the versatility to respond in any situation.

2Portable Water Filtration


Aerial shot of a flooded community

The range of portable water treatment products has expanded significantly over the last several years. Much of this expansion is due to the increased variety of technologies and media available in the market. These technologies have enabled manufacturers to produce products with greater contaminant reduction capabilities.

Although new technologies and media have enabled manufacturers to improve product performance, there has been little change in either the types of products or the basic applications. Water filter bottles, gravity fed filtration devices, and hand pump filtration units continue to be some of the most common ways to acquire clean, safe water during emergencies, disaster relief, travel and outdoor recreational activities.

Additional Water purification and filtration resources:

What is UV Water Purification?
What is Reverse Osmosis?
For additional information on Water Treatment Systems, refer to frequently asked questions.

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There are multiple technologies and media currently used in portable water treatment devices. Some are used to address specific contaminants or water issues. Often, a water filtration system will incorporate and include multiple water filtration technologies in order to be able to address a variety of contaminants.

Spun Polypropylene is used as a filter to reduce sediment, dirt and turbidity that may be present in the water source. It is also useful as a pre-filter to protect a secondary stage of treatment such as ceramic filters, porous molded plastic, carbon block and/or membrane.

Porous Plastic is used as a filter to reduce sediment, dirt and turbidity that may be present in the water source. It is also useful as a pre-filter to protect a secondary stage of treatment such as ceramic filters, porous molded plastic, carbon block and/or membrane.

Granular Activated Carbon is used to improve taste and odor by reducing chlorine, industrial chemicals and a multitude of organic contaminants. Additives to GAC may help to reduce lead, some forms of heavy metals and additional contaminants. GAC can also be used as Pre and Post Filtration for other technologies and as a method for removing chlorine or iodine after disinfection.

Carbon Blocks perform the same function as GAC. In addition, based upon micron rating, carbon blocks have cyst and bacteria removal capabilities via mechanical filtration.

Ceramics will mechanically filter waterborne pathogens such as cysts and bacteria. Their effectiveness in a given application is dependent upon choosing the right micron rating for the application. Various micron ratings are available.

KDF is generally used to complement other methods of treatment. It has a high capacity to remove chlorine and selectivity for such contaminants as lead, arsenic, cadmium, mercury, calcium carbonate and magnesium. In addition it is bacteriostatic.

Membranes are in use or are being evaluated for use in portable devices. Their sub-micron pore sizes enable them to eliminate cysts, bacteria and in some cases viruses. Sediment pre-filtration is necessary to protect the small pores from clogging.

Iodinated Resin has proven to be an excellent method of eliminating bacteria and virus from raw water. Though effective, these resins have specific operating parameters. Use outside of these parameters will negatively impact the products effectiveness. A post media is used in conjunction with iodinated resin to eliminate the concern of iodine or iodide in the product water.

Ion Exchange Resins are used to remove selected contaminants. Resins are manufactured with this selectivity in mind. For example, a specific ion exchange resin is produced to remove nitrates.

Electro-Static Absorption incorporates charged micro-glass fibers to “pull” organisms as small as viruses out of the water. Sediment pre-filtration is generally necessary to protect the micro-glass fibers.



Outback portable gravity filter system

Gravity Filters
Gravity filters (or pour-through systems) are designed to be versatile, reliable, and affordable. Although simple in design, gravity filters, such as the Outback™, are effective in the removal of waterborne microorganisms and chemicals. With media capable of reducing a multitude of contaminants including cysts, virus, bacteria, organic contaminants, pesticides, herbicides, chlorine, and more, gravity filters have become a popular way for small groups or families to ensure their water is safe. Most gravity filtration systems are completely portable and can break down in seconds for storage and travel. Compare Gravity Filtration Systems Here

WaterBasics filtered water bottle

Filter Bottles
There are various portable water filtration bottles on the market. Pay close attention to the protection rating when looking to purchase a water filtration bottle as there are different levels of filtration and protection.

For a high level of protection, the patent-pending technology of the Red Line WaterBasics™ bottle, is capable of protecting against viruses, bacteria and cysts, and meets or exceeds US EPA Guidelines and Protocol for Microbiological Purifiers.

RED LINE-rated water purification bottles are a perfect addition to 72-hour kits or any food storage/emergency preparedness plan. The bottles can be refilled about 750 times, thus filtering 120 gallons of water before needing a filter replacement.

A man using a hand water filtration pump

Hand Pump Filtration Systems
Hand pump filtration systems typically use a combination of carbon blocks, ceramics, porous plastic elements, membranes, and/or electro-static absorption to provide protection from virus, bacteria, and cysts, including Cryptosporidium, E. Coli, and Giardia. The different technology used and how the technology is applied determines the efficacy of the water treatment. Note that most filtration systems will remove bacteria and cysts, but not viruses.

The Red Line Water Basics hand pump system meets EPA water purification guidelines for effectively protecting against viruses, bacteria, and cysts.



Many of the available portable products can be used in a multitude of applications. Within each product type are individual products that are capable of producing potable water from non-potable raw water sources, either by significantly reducing bacteria, viruses, cysts or sediment etc. They can also be used in non-traditional ways, both inside and outside the home and in emergency or survival situations. Some filtration systems have capacities of just a few gallons per day and some have capacities as high as 6,000 gallons per day. Some remove only chlorine while some have proven effective against bacteria, cysts and virus.

Here are a few examples of product versatility:

  • Water filtration bottle can be used to replace bottled water while at school, while traveling, during any recreational activities, or in emergency situations.
  • Gravity filter systems (such as the Outback™) may be used for emergency preparedness and disaster relief by some, though others might use them strictly for outdoor camping and recreation.
  • Hand pump filter units are useful in both outdoor recreation and emergency situations where the user might need to capture water from a stream, river, lake, rain barrel, or other suspect water sources.
  • Larger water purification systems (such as the DIVVY™) may be used by disaster and relief organizations, but could also be used by a small community to provide essential water until a water system is built or repaired.

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Because you may find yourself pumping and filtering water from a variety of water sources during an emergency, these 'worst case conditions' make it ever-more critical that the emergency water purification systems be thoroughly tested and proven effective in consistent removal of contaminants.

Products that “meet” NSF/ANSI Standard 53 for “Health Effects” means that the system will go beyond merely treating the aesthetic effects of the water (rated NSF/ANSI Standard 42). If a product meets NSF/ANSI Standard 53, this is an indication that it can also treat for waterborne protozoan cyst and bacteria.

Specifically, NSF/ANSI 53 rated systems are designed to reduce health-related contaminants such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia, lead, volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) and MTBE (methyl tertiary-butyl ether). The most common technology addressed by this standard is carbon filtration.

It’s also important to pay attention to EPA microbiological purification standards. Some systems meet EPA cyst reduction requirements, but not bacteria or virus reduction requirements. Bacteria removal of 99.9% might sound good, but it is not the same as 99.9999% and does not meet EPA reduction requirements.

When getting water from a freshwater source, such as stream or river, typically cyst and bacteria are the primary concern, not viruses. The system you need may depend on the primary water source. To meet all US EPA guidelines for microbiological purification systems, the following removal percentages must be met.

US EPA Guidelines and Protocol for Microbiological Purifiers

Virus Removal 99.99%
Bacteria Removal 99.9999%
Cyst (protozoan) Removal 99.9%

Replacement Filters

Another consideration before you purchase an emergency water purification system, is to understand following about replacement filters:

Outback Nano Prefilter
  • Ease of Replacement - How simple or hard is it to replace the filters? Are tools required?
  • Filtration Capacity - How many gallons of water can be filtered before the filter is exhausted? Most filters are rated to treat a specific number of gallons or liters before needing to be replaced.
  • Flow Rate - How many gallons of filtered water can be produced by the filter in a given time span? Some filters produce water at a higher flow rate, but have a smaller filtration capacity. Other filters produce filter water at a slower flow rate, but have a higher filtration capacity.
  • Shelf Life - How long will the filters last unused? Most filters can last for many years if left in original packaging and stored in a dry cool place out of direct sunlight.
  • Replacement Cost - Filter replacement costs vary widely by filter type and manufacturer. Some systems have multiple filters, while other use a single filter. To compare filter costs, calculate the cost to produce one gallon of water from each filter by dividing the filter cost by the filtration capacity in gallons.
  • Reusable - Some filters are reusable if they have been stored properly, but most filters are not reusable if they have not been used for several weeks. Others are reusable after periods of storage if they have been dried out or properly treated before and/or after storage depending on manufacturers recommendations.



We recommend using the following process to determine the right system:

Identify need:
What contaminant do you want to remove or are you concerned about (chlorine, lead, cysts, bacteria)? What is the source of the water supply?

Identify media or technology:
What technology is necessary to improve aesthetics and/or remove contaminants? Which technology will meet or exceed US EPA guidelines and protocol for bacteria, virus, and cyst reduction?

Identify application:
Which type of product (or combination of products) will produce the water you need (bottle, gravity feed system, etc)? Once this is decided, focus on products using this technology or media combination that have the ability to remove the contaminants you have identified.

Verify application given its operating parameters:
Make sure the product will work properly in the environment where it’s intended for use. For example, an iodine water purifier tablets are not as effective in cold temperatures, and therefore would not be recommended for recreational use in freezing temperatures such as for cross country skiers. Or, another example would be if you needed water in a hurry, a gravity filtration system typically produces water at a slower rate than a hand pump system and would therefore not be the right match for your needs. It is important to make sure the system production capabilities will meet your needs.

Verify the veracity of claims:
Before purchasing a product, check the products specifications. For example, if you’re looking for the highest level of protection from waterborne virus, bacteria, and cysts including Cryptosporidium and Giardia, look for products that “Meets or exceeds US EPA Guidelines and Protocol for Testing Microbiological Purifiers”.

Also, research the history of a product before making a purchase. We’ve been in the water treatment business for more than 25 years and have supplied water purification products to disaster relief groups, missionaries, and NGO’s throughout the globe. We have limited our product offering to those systems that have performed well and proven their ability to provide needed protection. Please contact us if you have any questions about what products we recommend for your intended application.

Evaluate ease of use:

  • Can the product or system be setup quickly?
  • Can the product breakdown easily after use?
  • Will the product transport easily?
  • Will the product be easy to use in the environment of its intended use (outdoors, in an emergency situation, etc.)
  • Is the product easy to clean and store for future repeated use?

Evaluate capacity in terms of need:

Will the product produce enough potable water to meet the your needs in its intended application? A small water filtration bottle can easily provide enough purified water for an individual, but larger systems (like the Outback™ or DIVVY) can supply thousands of gallons each day for a small community.

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3Water Storage

WaterBasics Pump system Storage

Water storage is important. Because having access to clean, safe drinking water is always a top priority in times of emergency, it is important to plan ahead and have adequate water storage.

But storing water for times of emergency is not an easy task! The fact that each member of a household should have access to at least one gallon of clean drinking water each day, at minimum, would mean that a family of four would need 12 gallons of stored water (per FEMA 72-hour kit recommendations). And this doesn’t include water needed for cooking or hygiene.


Three BIG Challenges When Storing Water:

Space, leaks, and rotation are 3 water storage challenges

The biggest concerns when it comes to water storage is the worry of possible leaks, the ability to rotate the stored water, and finding enough storage space.

  • Leaks: Many households store emergency water using non-corrosive one-gallon water jugs, emptied soda bottles or large water barrels . Unfortunately, all of these containers are susceptible to leaking. A small leak in a 1-gallon jug of water can cause major damage in a home or garage and a leak in a 55-gallon drum can wreak havoc!
  • Rotation: water should be rotated every six months. Store-purchased water should be rotated once each year. Emptying and filling the water bottles or barrels is a tedious (and heavy) task. Thus many fail to rotate on schedule which means the water may not be safe for drinking when an emergency arises.
  • Space: Finding the space to store emergency water is also a big issue for most households. Storage shelving for water jugs or finding available floor space for large barrels can be hard to come by. Stored water should be kept in a cool, dark place since sunlight can speed up bacteria growth in the water, and finding the space indoors (or at least in the garage) is not always feasible.

Ensure Stored Water is Safe to Drink:
If you're currently storing water in jugs or barrels, and if this water has not been regularly rotated, it may not be suitable for drinking. Consider purchasing a Pump Filter Kit that will allow you to pump water from storage containers (including 55 gallon drums) or gravity filter system allowing you to pour water into the system and filter up to 99.99% of viruses, 99.9999% of bacteria, 99.9% of cysts, as well as sediment, chemicals, and chlorine from the water.

Solutions for Water Storage:
For more than 25 years, ESP Water Products has supplied water purification and storage products to relief organizations and missionaries throughout the globe. We offer only those products that have a proven track record for durability and effectiveness. Please refer to our Emergency Water Products pages for more information.

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