During an emergency

During an emergency you should listen to your radio for updates and any public health issue notices.

Use water safely during an emergency

Collecting water

Collect rainwater by:

  • placing a clean container outside to catch rain
  • disconnecting the downpipe from the roof and filling a container. 

Do not collect drinking water from the roof if it is contaminated with ash, smoke deposits or other debris. 

Check your stored water

  • Check your stored water by holding it up to the light. If it has anything floating in it or it is not clear, strain and boil for 1 minute.
  • You can add 5 drops of plain, unperfumed household bleach per litre of water, and stand for 30 minutes before drinking. 
  • Switch of power to the hot water cylinder if the water supply fails.

Drinking water

  • During an emergency, make sure you drink plenty of water.
  • Boil water for one minute before drinking it. It is okay to use jugs with an automatic cutoff switch as long as they are full. You should not hold the switch down to increase boiling time. 
  • Do not drink water from the town supply unless you have been told that it is fit for drinking.
  • Do not drink water from a private well if it has been flooded.
  • Do not assume domestic water filters are effective. They can become contaminated.

Using water to clean

  • Wash your hands well. If water is in very short supply, keep some in a bowl with disinfectant added. Change it frequently. 
  • If spa and swimming pool water is available, use it to keep yourself clean and for washing clothes.
  • Do not waste drinking water on cleaning clothes.
  • Use a bucket and towel for washing. Throw the used water over the land, or put a hole in the ground and cover with soil. Do not put it down the toilet or drains. 

Food safety during an emergency

During an emergency: 

  • use treated water to wash vegetables and fruit — add 5 drops of plain, unperfumed household bleach to one litre of water and stand for 30 minutes, or boil for one minute
  • keep food containers and cooking utensils clean 
  • use disposable paper towels where possible 
  • store food safely to protect it from rats, flies and other pests, as well as any toxic chemicals
  • get rid of all rubbish by burning or burying it so that it does not attract pests. 

If you cannot leave your home 

  • Store all foods that are likely to go bad (perishable foods) in a cool, shady, airy place protected from dust, insects, rats and mice. A good place is a pillowcase hanging from a tree. 
  • Eat perishable food first, for example, bread before it goes mouldy. Then eat semi-perishable foods, for example, fresh vegetables. 
  • If the power is cut off, use the food in your fridge first. Then use the food in your cabinet freezer, then food in your chest freezer. 
  • Do not open the door or lid of the freezer any longer than necessary. 
  • Use defrosted food and fresh milk within 2 days. 
  • If you have to move from your house, wrap all frozen food in blankets to delay thawing. 
  • use canned and dried food (non-perishables) last. 
  • Use camp stoves, camp fires or barbecues for cooking food. Portable gas cooking appliances must be used outside. 
  • Wash hands with treated water when you prepare food. 

Saving food items after a flood

Floodwaters can carry bugs that cause disease from:

  • the ground surface
  • septic tanks
  • sewerage systems.

These can contaminate food and utensils. 

Floods and health

    • Line a bucket or rubbish bin with a strong, leak-proof plastic bag.
    • Put half a cup of liquid bleach in the bag.
    • Make a seat from 2 planks of wood or use a toilet seat on top of the container.
    • Keep the bin completely covered when not in use, to prevent attracting flies.
    • Tie the top of the bag firmly when full and place it inside another bag.
    • Dig a hole well away from the vegetable garden and downhill from any water source and bury the bag.
    • Make sure the bag is well covered with dirt.
    • Wash your hands thoroughly after going to the toilet or handling human waste.
    • Dig a hole up to one metre deep well away from any vegetable gardens and any water sources.
    • Make a seat out of planks of wood.
    • Cover the waste properly with dirt after each use.
    • Throw in a little garden lime, insecticide or disinfectant to reduce smells and flies.
    • Use the long drop until it is full to within 300 mm of ground level.
    • Cover completely with soil and dig a new long drop.
    • Wash your hands thoroughly after going to the toilet or handling human waste.

Looking after yourself during an emergency

Keeping yourself healthy

  • Wash your hands often. 
  • Do not touch your face with your hands without first cleaning them when they have been in floodwater. It may carry materials which are dangerous to your health. 
  • Do not smoke or eat in a contaminated area. 
  • Wear rubber gloves and wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling contaminated food and other material.
  • See a healthcare provider as soon as possible if you get a puncture wound, or have any other sort of accident.


In a major emergency, especially earthquake and flood, there may be serious damage to buildings. You may have to leave your home and live in emergency accommodation. If this happens, make sure power, gas and water are all turned off before you go. 

The Get Ready website has items you should take with you if you can. 

Work out what supplies you need — Get Ready (external link)

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