Tag: disinfectant

Dead Bodies and Body Bags

Earthquake destruction, rubble
I think I see someone in there . . .

After “The Big One,” what do we do about all the dead bodies?

Here in California we’ve been waiting for “The Big One” for years. Although we’ve had some warning quakes, the big one hasn’t hit yet. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it’s somehow going away. In fact, the threat is increasing every day.

That’s why our neighborhood emergency response team schedules at least one “Earthquake Preparedness” session every year. We’re planning our next one right now. For many of us, it will be a refresher. But for people new to California, and to earthquakes, it can be quite a shocker. Dead bodies and body bags tend to capture their attention!

Answering basic questions about earthquakes.

Most people who haven’t really learned about earthquakes seem to have a vague notion of running out of their home when a quake hits. Experts say this is a terrible idea! Our upcoming Earthquake Fair will address just why that notion is so dangerous! And we’ll make an effort to address all the basic questions like those below. How well can YOU answer them?

  • How many alerts exist to give us a warning BEFORE the quake hits? Do they actually work?
  • What will happen in the first seconds and minutes?
  • Are some places safer than others during the quake?
  • What if I am in my car when the quake hits?
  • What are the most common injuries associated with earthquakes?

Can we expect deaths?

A recent article I read stated that “The Big One” could “kill about 1,800 people and leave 50,000 or more with injuries.” Of course, the degree of destruction will depend on which fault breaks, where you are located along that fault, what kind of building you’re in, etc.

Still, we do have to assume there may be deaths, if only from heart attack.

And while we don’t dwell on how to manage dead bodies, we do need a plan for coping. Joe and I have received some professional training on this topic, so I’d like to share it here.

Dealing with dead bodies is a sensitive issue.

We have been told, over and over again, that a big earthquake will result in power outages, bridge collapse, etc., so we can expect to wait certainly hours and maybe days before we’re reached by emergency personnel. That means that deceased people and animals (who aren’t still buried under collapsed buildings and rubble) will be scattered about where they fall. Even while we survivors are busy supporting each other, we must manage any dead bodies — because after as little as 12 hours after death, they may no longer be recognizable.

Steps we may need to take to recover and manage dead bodies.

A municipal entity will have the final authority for managing bodies. But if there is a delay before authorities arrive, our local neighborhood group may have to step up.

Some of the considerations:

  • Once the immediate danger has passed, and the living are being cared for, our goal is to move rapidly to find and identify the deceased.
  • A team will be required to find the body, take appropriate PHOTOS (if possible, without moving the body), and hopefully identify the person. Throughout, the team needs to treat every body with utmost respect. As for identifying, in our case, our neighborhood directory will be invaluable for initial identification, but of course there may be strangers within the disaster area, too.
  • Each body must be carefully LABELED — with a unique number, name if known, where and when found, etc.. If possible, the label will be protected from water or smearing, by being in a plastic cover.
  • As bodies are found and labeled, information from each label must be carefully RECORDED for later use by officials and family. One team member should maintain the record.
  • In the case of anticipated delay, the body can be placed in a BODY BAG or covered or wrapped by a sheet. The covering carries the same label mentioned above. Obviously, in this case the body will need to be handled. New photos of the face and any identifying marks may be appropriate. Workers should not worry about becoming infected, but should follow normal hygiene procedures, wearing boots and gloves and washing and/or disinfecting after touching the body, blood, feces, etc.

Here’s an example of two important forms necessary for managing dead bodies.

You’ll want to have made up some forms in advance.,

In a neighborhood setting, does it make sense to set up a morgue?

While we have body bags, our neighborhood group does not have the ability to transport bodies. Our first choice would be to leave them where they are found (in body bags) as long as they are sufficiently out of the way, protected from further damage, and, preferably, out of view. Only in the extreme conditions would we attempt to set up a morgue.

What about your neighborhood? Do you have what it would take to store bodies? Setting up some sort of morgue requires space, appropriate furniture, likely electricity for cooling, etc. That’s a topic for further discussion.

“Deal with it.”

Even well-staffed CERT groups often neglect this issue. Why? Because it’s a very negative situation to imagine or to dwell upon. And in reality, few people know how to deal with dead bodies in a disaster situation.

But it is part of preparing for a major disaster. Ignoring it will not make it go away. As with everything associated with preparedness, the more you know abut something, and how best to cope with it, the less upsetting it is.

Here’s what our neighborhood group has done in this regard.

We have a number of CERT graduates and a whole team of pretty sensible folks. At the same time, we’re a senior community. We know dealing with dead neighbors might become an issue.

We purchased a dozen body bags of various sizes, and at one of our training sessions we opened one up to test it. Our smallest female member climbed up on the table and crawled inside. We zipped her in and then tried lifting the bag. Surprise! Even 6 able-bodied group members had some trouble handling the weight!  (Mostly because the bag we were testing was soft-sided, not like a door or a box or a stretcher where there’s something to grab hold of.)

Yes, there were expressions of distaste as this training started. Lots of nervous laughter. But everything settled down quickly when it came to really handling the bag.

My recommendation for YOUR group? Don’t overlook this important preparation for a disaster.

Share this Advisory. Bring up the subject at a training meeting. And if at all possible, lay in a supply of body bags. They can be bought individually at a cost of $15 – $35 or so, depending on the size, thickness of the material, type of closure, how many handles, etc.

Below is what looks like an excellent choice, available at Amazon where we are Associates. I selected it because it is extra long, has 8 handles, and a central zipper. I include it here as a start for your shopping list, because you may wish to have a selection of bags of different qualities and sizes.

Primacare BB-3201 Body Bag Stretcher Combo with 8 Side Handles and Center Zipper, Waterproof Bags for Outdoor Camping Hiking and Sleeping, Polyethylene Cadaver Disaster Pouch, 90″ x 36″, Black

As I said, we haven’t experienced a major disaster here — yet. If you have experience with dead bodies and body bags that would be appropriate to share, please do.

In the meanwhile, please make plans to add this topic to your disaster preparedness planning.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Managing Sewage In A Major Disaster


(We’re updating this post today because we’ve had some new experiences!)

Human waste in garbage bags


I know this may be an unpleasant subject to deal with, but even a moderate disaster can turn out to be more than an inconvenience. The issue?

Coping with primitive sanitary conditions.

Even if you have to put up with them only temporarily, dealing with such conditions requires ingenuity as well as fortitude. But deal with them you must.

What could trigger a sanitation emergency?

  • Broken pipes. Even a moderate earthquake can result in broken water pipes. Within minutes, you’ll be unable to flush your toilet. People near the break may be faced with seepage of raw sewage.
  • Power outage. A local water tower functions using gravity, but most urban systems depend on electrical pumps to move water and manage sewage. In a severe storm, these systems may shut down or overwhelm their back-up generators.
  • Flooding. If too much water pours down into the drainage system, drains and ultimately sewage treatment plants may be overwhelmed, even without any actual breakage.

Any one of these circumstances could pose a serious health threat to you and your family.

What options do you have?

In the home, what’s important is to act IMMEDIATELY to seal off your home from contamination if you suspect a breakdown in either the water or sewer systems.

Shut off the water.

Even if your home isn’t damaged, you don’t want contaminated water flowing into it. At the first suggestion of problems, it’s easy enough to protect yourself by turning the water off at the house.

Block off the sewer.

You’ve surely experienced clogged plumbing, with waste water rising up in the shower, or a toilet overflowing instead of flushing neatly down. This is what we want to avoid!

If you know the sewer system has been compromised, AND YOU HAVE MADE ARRANCEMENTS FOR THIS IN ADVANCE, you could consider plugging your main sewer line with an inflatable plug to keep sewage from backing up from the system into your home.  (Read on for more about this.)

Keep people from using the toilet!

Of course, you can’t keep people from having to go – so you need to arrange a safe place for collecting feces, bile material and sanitary napkins.

We’ve written before about temporary toilets.

  • The easiest solution? Line your regular toilet with heavy-duty plastic bags – the kind that are made for trash compactors.
  • Second best solution? Line a 5-gallon bucket with the same compactor bags.

Some duct tape may help keep the bags where you want them.

How to dispose of sewage?

When you use your temporary toilet, add some disinfectant. (See below for suggestions.)

After bags have been used a few times, close and seal the bags, remove from the home, and store in a designated place – perhaps in a hole in the ground, preferably at a distance from the house and from traffic, where bags won’t be accidentally damaged.

Next steps? Store supplies BEFORE the emergency.

These are “general suggestions” that may or may not be appropriate for your situation. Talk over the alternatives at one of your community emergency response team meetings or discuss with your local police and fire authorities.

In any case, think it through and make sure you have the supplies you need. Here are some of the items discussed in this Advisory. (As always, click on the images to go directly to Amazon for full details and current pricing. If you buy we may get a small commission — your price won’t be affected!)

Compactor bags. These are NOT ordinary garden or trash bags!  They are made specifically for trash compactors. Get the sturdiest you can find. Costs start at about a dollar apiece and go down dramatically, the more you buy. Click on the images for details. These examples show a price range, but if you are buying for emergency use, you need more than just a dozen!


Use your favorite. I prefer Clorox – the original, unscented kind, of course.

We’ve also used toilet deodorant chemicals in our motor home travels. This brand is specifically for portable toilets. Cost at Amazon is less than $10.

Rubber gloves – not the lightweight nitrile ones you see in the doctor’s office, or the simple rubber ones you might have under your sink for washing dishes. Here’s a pair designed for heavy duty use. Again, click the image for details and exact pricing.

Inflatable sewer plug

Get professional help to know what size to get and how to install it. Note these come in 2,3 and 4″ sizes to fit your pipes. Prices range from $20-$40 depending on size.



Different colors have different prices (starting at around $15). Here’s one from a popular manufacturer, without a lid:

And with lid (different manufacturer), add about $5 – $10.

You may already have some of these supplies around the house.  Just be sure you don’t inadvertently run low or run out and find yourself in a fix if an emergency hits.

I know some of our readers have purchased different types of travel toilets. If you have experience with them, let us know in the comments!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team