Use water safely

  • Make sure you drink plenty of water.
  • Wash your hands well. If water is in very short supply, keep some in a bowl with disinfectant added, but change frequently.
  • 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 or add 5 drops of plain, unperfumed household bleach per litre of water and stand for 30 minutes before drinking.
  • Collect rainwater by either placing a clean container outside to catch rain or by disconnecting the downpipe from the roof and filling a container. Boil water for one minute before drinking. It is OK to use jugs with an automatic cut-off switch as long as they are full. On no account should the switch be held down to increase boiling time. Alternatively, disinfect with plain, unperfumed household bleach (1/2 teaspoon to 10 litres). Reserve one clean utensil to use as a dipper.
  • Do not collect drinking water from the roof if it is contaminated with ash, smoke deposits or other debris.
  • Do not drink water from the town supply unless you have been advised that it is fit for drinking.
  • Do not assume domestic water filters are effective. They can become contaminated.
  • Do not drink water from a private well if it has been flooded.
  • Use spa and swimming pool water, if available, for keeping yourself clean and washing clothes.
  • Do not waste water on cleaning clothes.
  • Use a bucket or bowl for washing. Throw the used water over the land or put into a hole and covered with soil. Do not put it down the toilet or drains.
  • Switch off power to the hot-water cylinder if the water supply fails.


Food safety

  • Use treated water to wash vegetables and fruit. (Add 5 drops of plain, unperfumed household bleach to 1 litre of water and stand for 30 minutes, or boil for 1 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 so that it does not attract pests.

Hints for using food if you are confined to your home

  • Store all perishable foods (food that is likely to go bad) 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, eg, bread, before it goes mouldy, then semi-perishable food, eg, fresh vegetables.
  • Use the food in the refrigerator first, if the power is cut off, then food in the cabinet freezer, then food in the chest freezer.
  • Do not open the door or lid of the freezer any longer than absolutely necessary.
  • Use defrosted food and fresh milk within 2 days.
  • If you have to move, wrap all frozen food in blankets to delay thawing.
  • Do not refreeze any food that has thawed out.
  • Use canned and dried food last.
  • Use camp stoves, open fires or barbecues for cooking food. Portable gas cooking appliances must be used outside.
  • Wash hands with treated water when preparing food.

Salvaging food items and utensils after a flood

Floodwaters can carry bugs that cause disease from the ground surface, septic tanks and sewerage systems. These can contaminate food. Read Floods and health for advice on salvaging food items and utensils after a flood.


Getting rid of rubbish

  • Store rubbish in heavy-duty plastic bags securely tied ready for collection.
  • Take rubbish bags to a central collection site if available.
  • Dig a trench in the backyard. Cover with soil after each use to reduce smells and vermin, eg, rats.
  • Burn dry rubbish in the backyard using large drums, or build a makeshift incinerator from concrete blocks, bricks and wire mesh.

Disposing of sewage

You will need a makeshift toilet if your toilet cannot be used. Go to Making a temporary toilet or long-drop for advice on how to do this.

Looking after yourself

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 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 doctor as soon as possible if you receive 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:


Volcanic ash

Volcanic ash can cause eye, skin and breathing problems, as well as property damage, both near to the eruption and hundreds of kilometres away.

Go to Keeping safe from volcanic ash to find out what to do before, during and after ashfall.


  • Be careful about basic cleanliness, especially disposal of rubbish and sewage.
  • Use insect repellents on exposed parts of the body to keep away flies, mosquitoes, ticks or sandflies.
  • Be careful when using repellents with young children.
  • Be aware of the dangers of rat traps and poison baits for children and pets.
  • Wear long-sleeved tops and trousers when mosquitoes are present.

Hazardous substances

If a major leakage or spillage of a hazardous substance occurs, you may be evacuated from the area by Civil Defence.

If a minor or local hazard is obvious, ie, you can see it or smell it:

  • Move away from the source, preferably to higher ground upwind or across wind.
  • Do not light your gas stove, candles or cigarettes if you smell gas or see spills.
  • Report the hazard to the Police, Fire Service or Civil Defence.
  • Do not wade through floodwaters that could contain hazardous substances without wearing protective footwear and clothing.
  • Be ready to move away from the area if there is a large spill (eg, surface water and/or sewerage system waste water) or if most basic household services are cut off or damaged.
  • Do not rely on your sense of smell to assess danger. Be extra careful and get expert advice.
  • If in doubt, close the windows and stay indoors.