Joe Dougherty,
In a disaster, you may not have all of the reliable comforts of home, including your toilet. Make your own with a few simple supplies, so you'll always be ready.

Editor’s note: This is the seventh of a series of columns to help Utahns get ready for emergencies, disasters and the Great Utah ShakeOut 2013. Read the rest of the articles here.

The toilets were working backward during Hurricane Irene in 2011. Instead of water going down the drain, it was coming back with a vengeance.

Gallons of water every minute poured out of toilets as the surge of water that overcame the sewer system had to find somewhere to release the pressure. It was almost like payback for being the least-respected fixture in the house.

My point in telling you this is not so you will greet your commode more cheerily each morning but to remind you that toilets only work as long as the sewer system is uncompromised.

Damage that system with, say, a flood or a major earthquake, and you’ll probably need to see that man about a horse somewhere else, possibly outside.

Today, plan to be able to go to the bathroom when toilets don’t work: Make your own.

To help the state prepare for any disaster, Emergency Essentials, the Deseret News and Be Ready Utah are bringing you helpful preparedness tips each week. We’re also inviting you to register for the Great Utah ShakeOut, the state’s largest earthquake drill. It’s a chance for 2.8 million people to practice using their emergency plans. Currently, more than 640,000 have registered. Are you in?

Assembling your own toilet requires just two parts: a 5-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, gather the following items and keep them in your bucket until you need to use it:

Several boxes of 8-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 to reduce odors.

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.

After a few uses, tie off the bag and throw it in your garbage can. Perfect! Once you’ve assembled your toilet, you’re taking care of No. 1 by planning for No. 2!

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