Joe Dougherty
A portable toilet can be made from a five-gallon bucket and a plastic toilet seat. It can be used for camping or during emergencies.

Editor's note: This article is part of a series on earthquake preparation. Read the rest of the articles here.

Your body is a wonderful thing. You have the ability to take in the food you want, and your body expertly converts it into energy for muscles and siphons nutrients where they need to go.

And then your body creates, separates and disposes of waste. Amazing!

With modern plumbing and sewage management, our waste blissfully disappears with a single flush of the toilet and we move on with our lives.

But what if that modern plumbing and sewer system ceases to work in an earthquake? Your body doesn’t stop its own productive work. In fact, under the high-stress environment that accompanies a major earthquake, your body may speed up waste production.

To help the state prepare for an earthquake, the Utah Division of Emergency Management and Be Ready Utah are inviting all Utahns to join the Great Utah ShakeOut, the state’s largest earthquake drill ever. The ShakeOut is a chance for 2.8 million people to practice using their emergency plans. Currently, nearly 740,000 have registered. Are you in?

Today, as you continue to get ready for the ShakeOut, plan so you are able to go to the bathroom when toilets don’t work: Make your own.

Assembling your own toilet requires just two parts: a five-gallon bucket and a plastic toilet seat with a lid. I bought my seat from Emergency Essentials, which sells them for about $9. Group discounts on seats are available.

To make the most out of your toilet, there are a few other items you need to gather. All of them can be kept in your bucket until you need to use it.

  • Several boxes of eight-gallon garbage bags. Use a garbage bag to line the bucket before use.
  • Kitty litter. Store it in an empty two-liter bottle and shake it into the toilet after each use.
  • Toilet paper. Put a roll into a plastic zippered baggie and squeeze the air out of the bag. This will protect your toilet paper and allow you to keep various rolls in the bucket.
  • Disinfecting wipes or hand sanitizer. Use these if you can’t wash your hands.
  • Air freshener.
  • One roll of paper towels.
The online version of this story will have a photo of a completed toilet.

After a few uses, tie off the bag and throw it in your garbage can. Perfect! Once you’ve assembled your toilet, you have a great backup plan!

Joe Dougherty is a preparedness expert and spokesman for the Utah Division of Emergency Management and Be Ready Utah. Email your tips to [email protected]. Daily preparedness tips are at