Have a Toilet Plan

After a strong earthquake, we may need to know how to live without running water and working toilets for weeks or months. Deadly diseases can spread when human feces (poo) are not handled and stored safely. Learn how to keep your family healthy!

Three Steps to Stay Healthy


Graphic of glass of water, hand washing, and garbage bags. Words say: Three steps to stay healthy. 1) Clean drinking water 2) Hand washing 3) Safe storage of poo.



If Toilets Aren't Working

After a major disaster, toilets and sinks may not work. You will need:

  1. Plenty of clean water. Visit regionalh2o.org for tons of great advice on water storage and treatment.
  2. Good hand-washing practices. Visit the CDC's website for instructions and check out this great idea for building a handwashing station
  3. An emergency toilet, which is a way to safely store and dispose of human waste (poo). The method you should use depends on where you live and what you can access. Keep reading to learn more about three great methods: Twin Buckets, Latrines, and Septic Systems.

Method 1: Twin Buckets


Poo and pee buckets in a yard, surrounded by emergency toilet supplies.
Photo credit: Laura Hall, Regional Disaster Preparedness Organization



When to Use Buckets

You don't have a septic system? You don't have space for a latrine? You don't have the ability to shovel dirt? You do live in an area with a high water table (like many parts of the Portland metro area)? You should use the Twin Bucket System. Read the Emergency Toilet Guidebook for instructions. 

Label Your Buckets

Print bucket labels and use packing tape to secure them to your pee and poo buckets. During an emergency, refer to the instructions and help others understand how it works. If you live in the Portland-Vancouver Metro Region, contact your city or county emergency management office to see if they have water-resistant bucket stickers in stock. They may be available in EnglishChinese - 汉语, Korean - 한국어, Somali - af Soomaali, Spanish - Español, Vietnamese - Tiếng Việt, Russian - русский, and Ukrainian - українська мова.

Important! After Using Your Buckets

Stay informed. Public agencies will provide info about how to get rid of poo bags safely.

Method 2: Latrine


Latrine hole in the ground with two boards for standing on.



When to Use a Latrine

You don't have supplies for a Twin Bucket System? You don't live on a high water table? You do have lots of space in your yard? You do have the ability to shovel dirt? Learn how (and when) to build a latrine (or pit toilet), which is a hole in the ground that collects human waste in an emergency. 

A latrine needs to be at least two feet deep. If you start digging and see water, stop immediately. You’ve hit the water table. That’s part of our freshwater supply, and we don’t want your poo in it. Read the Emergency Toilet Guidebook for instructions. Print the instructions and put them in your emergency kit. 

After Using Your Latrine

Stay informed. Public agencies will provide info about public health risks.

Method 3: Septic System


Drawing of a home septic system
Credit: National Environmental Health Association



When to Use a Septic System

Home septic systems are in the ground and can be damaged by earthquakes. If you have one, learn how to check your septic system to ensure it's safe to use. Do this now, before a pipe-breaking disaster occurs and your internet stops working. Read the Emergency Toilet Guidebook for instructions. Print the instructions and put them in your emergency kit. 

After Using Your Septic System

Stay informed. Public agencies will provide info about public health risks.

Quick Tips


The Regional Disaster Preparedness Organization created these simple guides to help you understand the three methods. They're available in EnglishSpanish - Español, Vietnamese - Tiếng Việt, Korean - 한국어, Russian - русский, Somali - af Soomaali, Ukrainian - українська мова, and Chinese - 汉语.


Screen shot of twin bucket brochure             Screen shot of latrine brochure.             Screen shot of septic system brochure.



Learn More


Book with the words Emergency Toilet Guidebook on the front, as well as the RDPO logo.



Emergency Toilet Guidebook

Want to know more about these options? Read the Emergency Toilet Guidebook to find answers to common questions and learn more about septic systems, latrines, and the Twin Bucket System.

Project Background

Visit the Regional Disaster Preparedness Organization (RDPO) website to learn more about the Emergency Toilet Project. Learn about the project background and how to access materials for public outreach and post-disaster messaging.

Reproduction of Materials

These materials are not to be used for commercial purposes. Anyone may use them for non-commercial purposes, as long as they site the source: "Produced by the Regional Disaster Preparedness Organization (RDPO) of the Portland Metropolitan Region, with funding from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security/Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) grant program."