Scaling Up Household Preparedness

Form a Twin Bucket Brigade

Nothing says community like a bucket brigade. Chains of neighbors passing buckets have put out fires and saved their towns. Buckets of rubble passed hand-to-hand have enabled rescuers to reach survivors of earthquakes and landslides. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we have an earthquake in our future. Experts say water and sewer services will be interrupted for months or years. By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.


A Twin Bucket Brigade is the way to spread the word about disaster sanitation and equip people with skills. You may be ready with a Twin Bucket kit and supplies, what about others in your community?  Every household without a plan, increases the risk of infection and disease.  


Are your neighbors prepared? What about your colleagues at work, members of local civic clubs and faith communities, and students, from middle-schoolers to university scholars?  What about the emergency management departments in your county and state.  Do they have policies and guidelines on emergency sanitation. Have they adopted a urine-separating toilet system as so many counties in Oregon and Washington have done?    


Help move the needle.  Initiate a Twin Bucket Brigade for your street, your neighborhood, your town, county, or state.  Start at the grassroots to build a movement.  Help those around you prepare and they can help emergency sanitation scale up to official levels.

Set up a Twin Bucket Exhibit!

The Pee and Poo Buckets speak for themselves. Set them up side by side on a table at an event. Most people get the concept right away. One bucket will fill up fast and smell. Separating pee - it’s basically clean - and poo - it contains pathogens - makes each easier to manage. Provide copies of the twin bucket leaflet and FAQs.

Recognize that people are often embarrassed, uneasy, or distressed talking toilets. And it’s uncomfortable to consider disaster scenarios in which you can no longer simply flush and forget.   The display of a simple unfamiliar technology invites them to reflect and ask questions. A twin bucket exhibit works.


Contents Checklist for a Twin-Bucket Exhibit Kit 

Everything you need to display the twin bucket emergency toilet at events fits into the nested buckets.  The exhibit consists of the essential parts and supplies in your household kit plus other items to attract interest in this tiny exhibit.

_________ Pee bucket 

_________ Poo bucket

_________ Toilet seat - purchased or fashioned from pipe insulation

_________ Bucket lids

_________ Coir fiber brick (on-line about $2)

_________ Plastic bags of sawdust, shredded paper, and coir fiber for the Poo bucket.

_________ Toilet paper, gloves, and hand sanitizer 

_________ Clipboard for sign in sheet with space for questions and info requests 

_________ Print copies of Twin Bucket Emergency Toilet leaflet to distribute to everyone

_________ Exhibit Kit Contents Checklist

_________ Optional: Tablecloth, tent signs, banners.

_________ Optional: Rolling Cart to transport everything

_________ Optional: Print materials such as Twin Bucket FAQs [LINK]; talking points for a short presentation; Notes on finding parts and supplies [LINK to page]; A Sewer Catastrophe Companion [LINK] and other resources on urine diverting toilets and resilient sanitation

Give a short training! 

Training sessions need not be long. Twenty minutes is sufficient to engage people around the basics of the twin bucket emergency toilet. Offer to present at existing meetings, so you don’t have to send invitations and set up the room on your own. Science teachers and local emergency management officials can suggest opportunities. 

Twenty Minutes is Enough!

PHLUSH has learned that it doesn't take long for people to understand the WHY and HOW of a twin bucket emergency toilet.  The Twin Bucket Brigade is a quick and efficient way to take sanitation preparedness to scale. 

Our first sessions for City of Portland neighborhood volunteers were 90 minutes long!  While participants learned a lot, they had trouble finding space and neighbors willing to join.  Instead, they requested time in existing civic and neighborhood meetings.  Then they came back to us and said, “Twenty minutes is enough!  People don’t want to talk toilets for an hour and a half.” 

So we decided to let the twin bucket system speak for itself.  Set up the exhibit with clean, colorful buckets, samples of carbon covering materials, gloves, and sanitizer.  Explain briefly how it works. Hand out the handouts. Be available to answer the easy questions and refer the hard ones to  

Encourage each one to teach one!

Talk to neighbors and friends about the risks to piped infrastructure of the next Cascadia Subduction Zone seismic event. Discuss what to do when toilets no longer flush away pee and poo. Show off your twin bucket toilet, explain its use, and pass out the leaflet.

But do they really understand? A master trainer check to see.

For a Twin Bucket hero look no farther than John Warner, Chair of the Emergency Preparedness Committee of the Pearl District Neighborhood Association. The Pearl, a vertical neighborhood on a former industrial rail yard, is home to 6000 Portlanders. Most live in residential towers - several more than 20 storys high - built to the latest seismic standards.  Following a Cascadia Subduction Zone quake, it’s likely that people can shelter in place, even with non-functioning elevators and toilets.  John has worked with building owners and homeowner associations to pre-position supplies of potable water and buckets in every building.  

After educating hundreds of his neighbors on the use of the Twin Bucket Emergency Toilet, John showed us how to figure out if the concepts were really understood. So here’s what we recommend. Quiz them with a single, fundamental question - Why are there two buckets?  Notice there are potentially dozens of correct answers. 

To capture participants’ attention, John announces from the start that there will be a quiz at the end. Because he enjoys the support of neighborhood retailers in the Pearl District, John collects a few door prizes and passes out slips of paper to participants.  When it’s time for the quiz, he asks the question, asking them not to parrot what the person in front of them says. Participants line up to reply one by one. If the answer is correct, they drop the slip with their name in a bucket, for the drawing that ends the session.  

Write letters and speak out!

Most mayors, county commissioners, and the emergency management officials who serve their jurisdictions have done disaster scenario planning. Many of them, however, exhibit blind spots when it comes to sanitation preparedness. Check the website of the emergency management department to see if there’s any guidance regarding household sanitation preparedness. If there isn’t, introduce the twin bucket system and explain the science of urine separation. More likely you will find advice to buy a single bucket toilet, or to use garbage bags placed in the toilet that no longer flushes or to dig a latrine. In each case point out what can go wrong: increased volume of pathogenic matter; the likelihood that solid waste will get mixed up with human waste; and the contamination of groundwater.


Public works engineers responsible for water and wastewater treatment plants may be good allies, particularly if they work in the Cascadia Subduction Zone. They are likely to be equipped with risk and hazard assessments for various disaster scenarios. These help predict the extent to which infrastructure will be compromised, which areas will be most affected, and the time required to bring systems back online. Likewise, Public Health officials are aware of the dangers of mal-functioning sewer and septic systems and the risks of disease. Create a scenario with the simultaneous breakdown of water, sewer, and transportation infrastructure. Remind them that the priority of first responders will be to assure supplies of potable water - a matter of life or death in the first week post event. Equipping households with the know-how to separate and safely manage their own pee and poo, will buy valuable time for response teams to address immediately life-threatening needs.

A Recap of the U.S. WASH Convening: Part I

In early May, Ashley and Genevieve traveled cross-country for a whirlwind week in Washington DC at the inaugural United States WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) Convening! We’d like to thank our friends at DigDeep and Water For People for putting this incredible conference together, including funding for travel and lodging…


The Importance of Inclusive Restroom Signage

Professional photographer Mark Chester did not intentionally find the issue of inclusivity in restroom access - the issue found him. Chester began photographing restroom signs 12 years ago. In conducting this work, Chester began pondering the relationship between signage and inclusivity. What he found is that the barriers to equitable…


Tips for Creating a Successful Family Emergency Plan

  The scariest thing about natural disasters is that they can happen out of nowhere so you need to be prepared. Does your family know what to do if a tornado, hurricane, or wildfire erupts around your home? In addition to creating an emergency response kit, an emergency plan is…