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How to prepare for a water emergency

Graphic reads "Lets prepare together" on top of a series of emergency preparedness related icons like a radio, mask, swiss army knife, map, etc.
At the Portland Water Bureau, we prepare as part of our daily work—hardening the backbone of our water system and building storage that will last for generations. In an emergency, everyone has a role to play. What's yours?
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Learn how to store emergency water

What does it mean to be prepared? It means understanding the risk of natural disasters, having the information you need when they occur, and, most importantly, having the necessary supplies for you and your family should a disaster strike. As climate change drives up the intensity and regularity of wildfires—and with the ever-present threat of a large Cascadia earthquake—it's important to have a plan should a disaster strike. 

Close up picture of a blue backpack with a Portland Water Bureau patch and a "emergency kit" label sitting on a yellow heavy machine. In front of the backpack sits a poncho, survival blanket, jerky stick, tissues, box of emergency bottled water, and other emergency supplies.
We provide our employees with emergency kits so they are ready if unforeseen events strike while at work. Start building your own kit today.

But preparedness isn’t just for big emergencies like wildfires or earthquakes. We need to be ready for anything that could temporarily interrupt water service. The most important thing you can do to prepare is to store a backup water supply of 14 gallons per person, which will last about two weeks if necessary. 

See below to learn what the Portland Water Bureau is doing to prepare for emergencies and for more ideas and information about how you can get and stay prepared.

What we're doing

Emergency preparedness is one of our top priorities as an organization and we include it in all our work. We invest in our water system to keep our infrastructure healthy and resilient. When planning, we expect the unexpected. We make our long-term plans flexible and responsive so we can adapt to changing conditions and unforeseen events as they arise. For example, we know climate change is an ongoing emergency, so we prepare for its impacts in all our work. 

By accounting for emergencies in our planning and by investing in our infrastructure, we maintain a resilient water system that can survive a variety of emergencies:  

We proactively replace tens of thousands of feet of aging pipes with longer lasting ductile iron pipes each year to keep our system up to date.  

Illustration showing a cutaway graphic of the Washington Park Reservoir seismic reinforcements, including the compressible material, pilings, and the concrete wall.
The new 12.4-million-gallon Washington Park Reservoir was built with compressible materials, thick concrete walls, and 176 pilings to help it withstand future earthquakes.

We plan for earthquakes by designing new facilities to modern seismic standards and by investing in projects the Washington Park Reservoirs Improvement and the Willamette River Crossing.  

We partner with the U.S Forest Service, Oregon Department of Forestry, and local fire districts to protect the Bull Run watershed from wildfires.

We invest in our robust secondary water supply, the Columbia South Shore Groundwater Well Field, to increase our ability to withstand emergencies.  

And it doesn’t stop there—all our infrastructure investments, system improvements, and adaptive plans work together to prepare our system for coping with emergencies of all kinds.

A graphic that reads "before there's an emergency, Get Ready. Get Water. 14 Gallons per person = water for 2 weeks"

What you can do

By preparing in advance for emergencies, you can help keep yourself, your household, and your community safe after emergencies—even if essential services like water are disrupted.  

An graphic shows a series of six panels showing locations around a home that can be used to store emergency water supplies, including: under the bathroom sink, behind the water, under the bed, under the kitchen sink, in the water heater, and under the couch.

Start with water. People can survive for weeks without food, but only a few days without water.

You should store 14 gallons of water per person, and more for pets, pregnant people, newborns, and those with extra needs. Be sure to store your water in sanitized containers that you can access easily. 

Level up your preparedness by learning how to access water from your water heater and having a way to treat additional water.

Once you’ve created an emergency water supply, you can expand your emergency kit by adding food and other supplies. Don’t forget to make a toilet plan too!

Emergency response starts close to home. Sharing resources and knowledge will make your whole community more resilient.  Make connections with your neighbors now so you can work together to help those at greater risk after an emergency.

Go a step further, and volunteer for a Neighborhood Emergency Team or to staff a neighborhood emergency communications station.

Portland’s own Darcelle XV cared about her community. In this video, she shares her tips on how to stay prepared for emergencies. 
Check out our full video series to see how other Portlanders prepare for emergencies. 

Emergency checklist

Not sure where to start? Use the resources on this emergency checklist to guide you on your preparedness journey.  

  • Get ready: Build your plans and kits. Learn how to make an emergency plan, how to build an emergency kit, and what else you should consider when preparing for emergencies.   

  • A graphic with text on the left side ready "Build a kit with everyone in mind." The FEMA and logos are shown below the text. To the right of the text, an illustration displays a green emergency kit with a backpack, first aid kit, pet food and dish, baby bottle and food container, a radio, and a flashlight.

    Check your knowledge: Are you prepared? Take a short quiz and view a list of supplies to include in your emergency kit.  

  • Check your risk: Learn more about the geology under your feet. Look up your address to see your risk level for geologic hazards like earthquakes, landslides, flooding, and more.  

  • Read up: Check out OPB's Unprepared series. Explore this series of articles from OPB to increase your knowledge about emergency preparedness, including stories from families who tried “Living Off [Their] Quake kits.” 

Learn more about preparedness 

Before There's an Emergency. Get Ready. Get Water. Learn how to create your emergency water supply, access emergency water sources, treat water, and shut off your water in an emergency. Get tips for preparing for emergencies with step-by-step instructions and downloadable resources.  

Be Red Cross Ready. View the American Red Cross’ tips for planning for emergencies and learn more about preparing for specific types of emergencies and natural disasters.  

Portland Bureau of Emergency Management. Learn how the City of Portland is preparing for emergencies and sign up to help your neighbors during emergencies.   

Oregon Department of Emergency Management: Hazards and Preparedness. Learn more about the hazards and potential emergencies in our state and what steps you can take to be “2 Weeks Ready.”  

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Learn how the federal government handles disasters, explore risk management resources, or apply for aid after a disaster.