Regional Disaster Sanitation Task Force

A Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake would change all aspects of life as we know it, including running water and flushing toilets. Most people in this part of the world have no experience living without water and sewer service, and many would not know how to maintain adequate hygiene practices. When pipes break across the region, we could see a secondary disaster affecting public health and the environment.

The RDPO’s multi-disciplinary and multi-jurisdictional Regional Disaster Sanitation Task Force is addressing this issue. The task force is comprised of representatives from public health, public works, waste removal, environmental sustainability, and emergency management.


Chair: Justin Ross, Multnomah County Emergency Management
Vice Chair: Scott Johnson, Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency

Emergency Toilet Project

Several recent disasters in the United States have caused damage to portions of water and wastewater systems, leaving major metropolitan areas without access to clean water and flushable toilets for prolonged periods. Emergency managers, among others, have recognized a need to improve post-disaster sanitation management and educate communities on how best to manage human waste.

Three Steps to Staying Healthy.PNG
Photo credit: Columbia Regional Emergency Services Agency

Photo credit: Columbia Regional Emergency Services Agency

Photo credit: Laura Hall

Photo credit: Laura Hall

Phase 1: guidelines for the public

In 2016, Sue Mohnkern of Washington County Public Health (in Oregon) led the Regional Disaster Sanitation Task Force in developing guidelines for disaster sanitation following a catastrophic, pipe-breaking event.

In 2017, the technical content created by the sanitation task force was passed to the RDPO’s Disaster Messaging Task Force. With the help of an Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) grant, they hired Portland-based consulting firm Barney and Worth to help transform the disaster sanitation guidelines into pre- and post- event education campaign tools, which can be found on the Emergency Toilet Project web page.

Phase 2: Collection, Transport & Disposal

In 2018, the Regional Disaster Sanitation Task Force convened again to complete the project. They are currently meeting to create recommendations for local jurisdictions on how to collect, transport, and dispose of human feces as soon as systems begin to function. The recommendations will include multiple options so they can make informed decisions based on the options available to them.