Emergency Toilets

In extreme emergencies, sewage systems may not be functioning. During these times it may be necessary to create a temporary, emergency toilet for safely collecting and handling human waste until normal sewage systems can be restored.

When creating an emergency toilet, it is always important to:

  • Locate the toilet away from food preparation or eating areas.
  • Locate latrines and portable toilets at least 100 feet away from surface water bodies such as lakes, rivers, streams, and at least 100 feet downhill or away from any drinking water source (well or spring), home, apartment, or campsite.
  • Provide a place next to the emergency toilet to wash hands that offers soap, running water, and paper towels.
  • Keep doors and covers closed when the toilet is not in use to keep out insects and animals and to prevent injury.

Always supervise small children when they are using the emergency toilet.


Portable toilets (sani-cans, port-o-lets, and so on) are self contained structures brought to a site to provide sanitary facilities. They are often used at many events where large numbers of people congregate.

Portable toilets must be regularly pumped out by a licensed contractor to avoid health hazards.


A latrine is hole that is dug in the ground to collect human waste. They are usually built with a seat and cover.

Latrines are not appropriate in urban locations.
The hole for a latrine must be at least 3 feet deep. Keep the bottom of the hole at least 1 foot above hard pan or the water table. Sites which can not be dug deep enough and still provide a 1 foot separation to a water table or hard pan are not appropriate sites for a latrine.
After each use, throw dirt, lime, mulch, or ash in the latrine to minimize odors and to keep flies, mosquitoes, and rodents away.
Cover the latrine between use with plywood, or another material.


Line the inside of a toilet bowl, 5 gallon pail, or another appropriately sized waste container with two heavy-duty plastic garbage bags.

Place kitty litter, fireplace ashes, or sawdust into the bottom of the bags.  There are commercially available products like chlorinated lime and other preparations that disinfect and deodorize; follow manufacturer’s directions for their proper use.

At the end of each day, the bagged waste should be securely tied and removed to a protected location such as a 10 gallon or larger watertight, rodent- and insect-proof garbage can with a tight cover for temporary storage.

Residents may dispose of the waste in a properly functioning public sewer, or septic system, or they may bury the waste on their own property.  Burial in a deep hole with a least 18 inches of soil cover located at a distance of not less than 100 feet from any well or surface water.

Note: During a declared emergency, these bags may be included with the regular garbage if a public announcement has been made that allows this method of disposal.

Use temporary public toilets established in the disaster area when possible.