Who: determine who is issuing the order (could be public works or your local health district) and determine who is impacted by the order. Depending on the cause of the order, you may be impacted if the order is given for an entire city (ie: you receive city water in your home), if you live in a particular water district (some cities have multiple water districts/water sources), or if you are on a well. You may need to find out for yourself if your well water is safe to drink (ie: if the cause is flooding, all local water sources may be impacted, if it is a local event that impacts only one water district your well water may be fine).
What: a boil water order means your tap water has been determined unsafe to drink. This could be caused by a number of factors including flooding, a chemical spill into the water source, certain bacteria counts that are found to be above a safe level, etc.
When: boil water orders usually have a start time (you will often be notified as soon as possible by the local media, a reverse 911 call, or other notification from local authorities). They also usually have an end time (but be sure to check before using the water as the end time may change).
How: you need to be prepared for the time that the water coming out of the taps in your home becomes unsafe to drink. You should:
- have a good quantity of bottled water stockpiled for drinking, cooking, brushing teeth, etc.
- know how to use various purification methods to ensure safe drinking water.
- know that in some cases water cannot be purified so you shouldn't use it at all.
- find out if your community will be providing water to those impacted by the boil water order (call 211, check the local news, or call the health district to see if water will be provided and how it will be distributed)
- scout out possible sources of water in your area (river and creek water, collected rain water, spring water, etc are all possibilities. Remember all of these should be purified and depending on the cause of the boil water order--chemical spill, flooding, etc--it may not be safe to use at all)
- keep handi wipes on hand to use for washing up
- also have hand sanitizer available for waterless clean up
- learn how to bathe with only a small bucket of purified water and a scoop
- consider what other water may be unsafe to drink in your home and remove it (ie: water used for pets, water that goes into your ice maker, water that goes into hard-plumbed coffee makers, etc)
And a few more things:
- Toilets can be flushed as this water doesn't impact your drinking water system.
- At the end of the boil water order you may want to run the taps in your home (hot and cold) to get rid of any unsafe water in your home.
- If you think anyone in your family has been sickened by the water (gastrointestinal problems, symptoms of poisoning) be sure and seek medical attention immediately.
- Depending on how toxic the situation is, evacuating to a safe location (with family or friends or to a hotel in an area not impacted by the boil water order) may be your best bet.