FAMILY FORUM Mental and Physical Shelter Hygiene

Journal of Civil Defense December 1987 p.20-21
--Richard E. Oster, Sr. This material is taken from the encyclopedia S.O.S. (Systems of Survival), the newsletter FORESIGHT, and the Civilian Survival Series REFUGEE --U.S.A. by Richard E. Oster Sr. It carries the same copyright as these original publications--1987.

Shelter hygiene is a critical survival item. Some people feel that if you have a radiation-safe shelter and take plenty of food and water into it, that the rest will "take care of itself" . . . NOT SO! Your shelter environment will be poor at best. And you need to stay healthy while in shelter!

Personal hygiene is somewhat dependent upon the actual shelter (and its management) that you end up in. Not that requirements differ, but the availability of what is needed and the management may vary a lot.

How well a shelter defends you against radiation and provides you with the necessary skilled people and material depends largely on your local civil defense manager. Expertise may be highly questionable in general, and specifically in the area of personal hygiene!

Typical is the unrealistic plan to allow 3 1/2 gallons of water per person for all uses (medical, personal hygiene, food preparation and drinking) for a two-week shelter stay.

NO medical supplies or food are likely to be on hand (bring your own and share with those who bring nothing). Radiation protection in most cases depends upon availability of skilled labor and materials to beef up the building (if this fails you could receive excess radiation if fallout is significant). Some of what follows may not strike you as part of personal hygiene, but it has considerable influence upon it.

A first problem is that of maintaining a"livable" environment. If you have insufficient usable air, or it is too hot/ cold or too high in humidity (or too low) you can have all sorts of hygiene problems (heat rash, infection, breathing difficulties, etc.). It will be much worse among the young, old and ill. People who smoke will have problems because you cannot smoke in a shelter. It creates carbon monoxide. (Quit now while you can handle it.) Stay-times can be up to several weeks. Mental boredom, fear, lack of exercise, loss of day-night cycle and psychological problems will all affect hygiene.

Here are some factors you need to consider (whether in a government CRP shelter or in your own): 1. You must have sufficient air at the correct temperature and humidity.

2. Water is more critical than food. You could need a gallon a day, even using the no water waste system we described in the June 1987 issue of the Journal. I highly recommend you store water NOW. A good storage device is the 2-liter plastic soda bottle.

3. Your skin is your protection against the environment. If you neglect it you will be rewarded with rash, infection and illness. You need to clean it daily. Don't try to do this in the usual way (washrag, soap and water). A much more "water-sparing" way is to use pre-wetted wipes (you buy these in supermarkets and drug stores). Do all the skin lightly, but concentrate in the hair locations. Dry "head-hair" washing is recommended (dry wash powder is available in drug stores and beauty supply houses). If you get a rash use a dry-out absorbing agent (without scent) or corn starch. Babies need special attention as they are "messier" than most adults. In all cases put the used wet wipes in the shelter "throwout" plastic bags.

4. Use the system of personal waste collection (couple of quarts per person per day) and disposal as noted in the June 1987 Journal. It uses no water. Try to provide one area for toilet use (near air outlet if possible) and make a "floor" of newspapers (to be disposed of each day). Also try to make the area semiprivate when in use by putting up a sheet or blanket.

5. If you have sufficient water, teeth should be brushed (how often depends upon the water supply). Use floss to assist (you can last the entire shelter stay with out tooth brushing if you must). If you do brush, do it by rationing the water in the small, dentist-type cups and never a full glass. Spit into a plastic throw-out bag and wipe face with a wet wipe.

6. Vomit will be a problem. The total environment is conducive to upset stomach, and some may even have radiation illness (didn't get into the shelter immediately or went on a mercy mission). Vomiting can be a radiation illness symptom. It can also be caused by one person seeing another doing it. It is generally best not to urge a nauseated person to eat. Explain to everyone that vomiting is not the crime, but doing it on the shelter floor is! Give each person vomit bags (like the airlines use, or paper bags lined with one of your plastic bags).

7. Meals will be a real problem. They should be prepackaged, need little water (some, such as soups and drinks, contain water) and need no heating. Be sure to clean your hands with a wet wipe prior to preparing meals.

All meal containers should be opened over the tablecloth -- one made from newspapers and after use rolled from all four sides to the center and put into plastic throw-out bags. Everyone also must eat over this tablecloth. Use all disposable eating equipment (cups, dishes, etc.) made from plastic. Be sure that all food can be eaten at one time or can be made up in one-meal servings. This is especially important for babies and old people who must have special food


8. Men should shave with an electric shaver as there will not be sufficient water to use the soap-wash-rinse- and dry routine. A rechargeable type is good--with a solar recharger. Better yet would be a 12-volt car battery and a 12-volt shaver. A charged 12-volt battery is also good for a lighting power source. (Ladies, skip the leg shaving 'til you get out of the shelter. Men could even grow a beard.)

9. Another problem is darkness. You must provide some sort of light for work tasks (including hygiene) and for psychological reasons. Don't depend on flashlights (but stock item for emergencies). If left on for a couple of hours with standard batteries they will be dead. I recommend using the 12-volt auto battery. (Use low-current lamps.)

10. Insects, mice, rats and snakes could be a problem too. I recommend little use of sprays, but sometimes they are required. Go easy and pump a lot of air while spraying. You may also use a disinfectant spray in the storage garbage can, but quickly put the lid back on and keep this can near the air outlet (pump air heavily while spraying

11. Mental hygiene can be seriously affected by boredom and the anxiety of unknowns--such as no schedule of events, no news, no activity, etc. As soon as a shelter is entered a shelter manager should be chosen (not an easy task). This person should schedule the 24-hour day. Included should be watches (in a shelter someone must always be awake). The schedule includes training sessions, games, briefings, rest periods, water drinking times, free time for activities, and especially the generation of a sleep-awake cycle (little light and considerable light). AND DON'T GO INTO A SHELTER WITHOUT A LOW-CURRENT AM RADIO.

12. We can't go into the many details of shelter hygiene in our limited space (how to store shelter water, how to provide adequate ventilation, etc.), but you can manage shelter mental and physical hygiene if you put your mind to it. Even in the best of shelters we must put a high priority on maintaining hygiene.