Providing Safe Water in a Disaster

Todd’s Note: Water is something so important to me that I want to have redundancy after redundancy when it comes to providing clean potable water for my family.  I have written about this on several occasions.  This is a guest post by Mark Owens, owner and CEO of Puralytics.

Every year, our planet experiences an average of 500 natural disasters [1]. While some have minimal impact, others may disrupt our standard of living for days, weeks, or even months- restricting our access to food, medical care, and potable water sources. In a recent report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, more than 32.4 million people were displaced worldwide by natural disasters in 2012 [2].  In an assessment of all global risks, water crises was the 3rd largest risk, and the one identified as having the largest impact and the most likely to occur [3].

Figure 1 Aid workers in Tacloban City, Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan bring SolarBags for their own use.

Figure 1 Aid workers in Tacloban City, Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan bring SolarBags for their own use.

In a disaster, electricity is lost and water infrastructure is damaged.  Fresh water sources might be polluted with all of the chemical toxins in the region as well as sewage and physical debris.  First responders refer to the “Rule of Threes” – 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food/shelter and people will die.  In recent disasters, like the Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, the Tsunami in Japan, Hurricane Sandy and Katrina, and the earthquakes in Haiti, for instance, by Day 3 of the crisis, water became extremely valuable –the most expensive water on the planet – flown in by helicopters by emergency medical personnel and first responders, or supplied by desalination systems on battleships in the harbor.   In many of these disasters, the water need continued for 3-18 months after the initial disaster had passed, and became the greatest risk of survival.

In the first days of such a crisis, bottled water is often flown in and distributed, both for the protection of the aid workers and emergency responders, and for those immediately displaced by the disaster.  Stored or supplied bottled water runs out in a few days.  Within the first week or so, it becomes impractical to supply water this way, and aid agencies switch to interim disinfection strategies like boiling water, chlorine or iodine tablets.  These are able to partially disinfect the water and filters can remove some particulates, but they are not able to remove the chemical toxins that are also in the available water sources.  While is it is widely recognized that water must be both disinfected and detoxified to be a safe water source, disinfection only solutions are acceptable for short periods as outbreaks are the largest short term risk.

These minimalist disinfection-only solutions, while satisfactory for short term solutions with clear water sources, are completely inadequate as the disaster expands to weeks and months. The shortcomings of these methods become significant.  Chemical toxins left in the water from the disaster, like petrochemicals, pesticides, cleaning supplies, pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, etc. become a significant threat to health that could impact those affected for years to come.  Unfortunately, most people who prepare for a disaster, and most government and aid organization that provide support after a disaster do not have equipment to detoxify the water from these chemical toxins.  Water quality quickly becomes the biggest risk after the first days of the crisis, and may continue to be for weeks, months, or even years ahead.

Safe water has been defined by the World Health Organization’s Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality [4] as having access to enough water where the pathogens and toxins have been reduced to acceptable levels as shown in figure 2.

Figure 2 For water to be Safe, a person must have access to enough water, it must be disinfected of germs, and detoxified of chemical and naturally occurring toxins.

Figure 2 For water to be Safe, a person must have access to enough water, it must be disinfected of germs, and detoxified of chemical and naturally occurring toxins.

Specific contaminants are listed in the guidelines, including microbial, chemical, radiological, and taste contaminants levels that must be achieved to make up safe water.  Unfortunately, the solutions recommended by most government and aid agencies cannot remove these contaminants to safe levels if they are present:

  • Filters cannot remove viruses, toxic heavy metals, radiological, or most toxic chemicals.
  • Disinfection lamps cannot remove any chemical, radiological, or taste contaminant.
  • Chlorine and other treatment chemicals create carcinogenic disinfection byproducts with the chemical residuals in water, and cannot remove radiological or toxic metal or chemical contaminants.

A new technology, based upon light-activated nanotechnology is able to both disinfect and detoxify water to safe levels.  Employing a combination of five photochemical processes that research has shown to reduce a broad range of contaminants, these processes include:

  • Photocatalytic Oxidation – an advanced oxidation process employing hydroxyl radicals produced at the surface of nanotechnology when activated by light.
  • Photocatalytic Reduction – reduction of a contaminant to a less toxic state at the surface of the nanotechnology
  • Photoadsorption – the light enhanced adsorption of contaminants to a surface.
  • Photolysis – the direct breaking of molecular bonds by light of appropriate wavelengths.
  • Photodisinfection – using one or more bands of light to disinfect water.

The Puralytics SolarBag [5] based upon this nanotechnology is unique in an emergency, because it can both disinfect and detoxify the water, providing safe water that meets US EPA and World Health Organization’s “highly protective” safe water guidelines as shown in Figure 3.  Sunlight, even on a cloudy day, activates the nanotechnology coated mesh insert, activating the 5 photochemical processes listed above that purify water and reduce or destroy contaminants found in virtually all water sources.

Figure 3 Comparing different water treatment technologies, only one is able to both disinfect and detoxify the water.

Figure 3 Comparing different water treatment technologies, only one is able to both disinfect and detoxify the water.

While this patented technology is relatively new and only mentioned in the most recent survival handbooks, it is widely available in stores and online sources, and has been adopted by a number of international aid organizations.  For instance, in the recent disaster in the Philippines, SolarBags were used by Medical Teams International, Relief International, Forward Edge International, and by the Red Cross. As aid organizations supply SolarBags instead of bottled water or chlorine tablets in the early days of a disaster, many more people are helped in the earliest days of the crises with a resource that can last for up to a year.  The SolarBag received the International Water Association’s Global Honour Award for long term use of the SolarBag in rural villages in Africa.

The SolarBag can treat up to 10 liters of water per day and can be reused over 500 times.  It can be stored for 7 years or more, and can be used by anyone, even children, to purify virtually any water source to make safe water.   It is also very light to transport – while 1 gallon of water weighs about 8 lbs, 1 SolarBag which can make 500 gallons weighs only 4 ounces.

Figure 4 Planning for an emergency longer than 3 days requires being able to treat water to both disinfect and detoxify the water.

Figure 4 Planning for an emergency longer than 3 days requires being able to treat water to both disinfect and detoxify the water.


Disasters will continue to occur, and may grow in frequency in coming years due to global warming and environmental effects.  In a crisis, it is important to both disinfect and detoxify water to acknowledged safe water guideline.  New technologies such as light-activated nanotechnology water purification provide new tools to combat the impact of these disasters providing safe water to those in need.



  1. Activity Report 2012. Geneva: The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. (2013).
  2. Gutierrez, D. (2008). Natural Disasters Up More Than 400 Percent in Two Decades. Natural News.
  3. Jennifer Blanke, e. a. (2014). Global Risk 2014, Ninth Edition. World Economic Forum.
  4. World Health Organization (2011) Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality – 4th ed.
  5. For more information on the SolarBag, see the company’s website –


About the Author:

Mark Owen is the Founder and CEO of Puralytics which develop water purification products based on light activated nanotechnology, and is a primary inventor of the company’s technology. Puralytics has received many industry awards including the National Grandprize in the Cleantech Open, best water investment by Global Water Intelligence, Cleantech Group, and Inc Magazine, and  recently was given a Global Honour Award from the International Water Association for work in Africa.  Mark was elected as a Pivotal Leader in the NW Cleantech community in 2012.

Prior to founding Puralytics, Mr. Owen was the founder and CEO of Phoseon Technology, the world leader in UV LED photo-curing systems to the inks, coatings, and adhesives industry, growing the company to  market leadership and remaining involved as a Director for 11 years.

Mark has also held business development, marketing, and engineering management roles at Agilent Technologies, Electro Scientific Industries, and Tektronix.  He has over 50 patents issued or pending, has published over 50 technical articles, and more than $1B in revenues have been derived from products involving his patents.

Mr. Owen holds a Masters in Advanced Manufacturing Technology from the University of Limerick, Ireland  and a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering degree from Oregon State University.


This article first appeared on Ed That Matters.

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Todd Sepulveda

I'm the owner/editor of Prepper Website, a DAILY preparedness aggregator that links to the best preparedness articles on the internet. I'm also a public school administrator and a pastor. My personal blog is Ed That Matters, where I write about preparedness and from time to time, education. Connect with me on one of my social media outlets below.

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