Preparing for a disaster

Home owners are being urged to consider installing rainwater tanks to ensure they have enough water in an emergency.

Stan Abbott, School of Public Health.


The aftershocks that continue to rumble Canterbury following the Valentine’s Day magnitude 5.7 earthquake is a stark reminder to home owners to always be prepared for the worst, and ensure they have an adequate supply of emergency water.

A recently published Massey University study on Emergency Rainwater Tanks highlights the benefits of home owners having their own emergency water supply. The study was carried out during an internship at the Roof Water Harvesting Centre by fourth year students Lucile Marsollier and Mathilde Bertrand, from the National School for Water and Environmental Engineering (ENGEES) in Strasbourg, France.

Stan Abbott, a senior lecturer at Massey’s School of Public Health who leads the Roof Water Harvesting Centre, says roof-collected rainwater harvesting is a proven sustainable alternative water supply during disasters and provides considerable social welfare benefits to disaster affected communities.

“Small and simple, economically feasible rainwater harvesting systems have been installed in relief camps in many earthquake-affected areas around the world. This study demonstrates that rainwater harvesting by home owners can be a realistic option for an emergency water supply, in terms of costs, simplicity of installation and maintenance.”

Mr Abbott says rainfall frequency in a particular region, tank sizes and water demand will influence the total amount of rainfall available for use. “In some instances there will be overflow from the tanks during a rainfall event and in other cases the tank will be empty through lack of rainfall or overuse. Obviously the ideal situation for rainwater harvesting – especially in emergencies - is consistent rainfall for dependable water usage, preferably higher usage only during times of higher rainfall.

“Installing a larger rainwater tank means that in emergencies more water will be available not only for drinking, oral hygiene, food preparation and washing but also for pet care and even toilet flushing. The toilet could be flushed by pouring the rainwater from 10-litre buckets into the toilet cistern.”

The authors of this study recommend home owners install larger rainwater tanks if they have the space on their properties and if they can afford them, to ensure they have sufficient water supply in an emergency.

Find out more about the Roof Water Research Centre here.

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