Natural disasters come in many shapes and sizes, and they can strike without warning. But emergency planning may help minimize the risks when such events do happen. And knowing how to shut off utilities — long before a disaster occurs — is something that should be a part of every emergency plan, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Here are some tips, in the event that you need to power down utilities after a natural disaster or an emergency strikes.
Natural gas leaks can be dangerous, so it’s important that every household member knows how to shut off natural gas in an emergency. Of course, different homes have different gas meter configurations, and, therefore, the shut-off procedures vary slightly. But it’s likely that you’ll need an adjustable pipe or crescent wrench to perform the task, says FEMA.
Contact your local gas company in advance to help determine what your home requires, and the exact steps for shutting off the gas. It might even be a good idea to post instructions somewhere near the meter. If at any point, though, you smell gas or hear a hissing noise, FEMA advises that you get everyone out of the house. Contact your gas company immediately.
FEMA also cautions against turning the gas back on once you’ve turned it off. A qualified professional needs to turn it back on, FEMA says.
Water is an extremely important resource after a natural disaster, so you want it to remain clean. Cracked water lines may pollute your water supply, which is why FEMA recommends you shut off the water after a disaster until you know it’s safe to drink. The water line that enters your home will likely have an easily recognizable shut-off valve.
Locating this main shut-off valve in advance of a disaster is important. If you have trouble, contact a local plumber or your area water utility for assistance. Once you’ve identified the main water shut-off valve, make sure everyone in the household knows where it is, and how to turn it off. To help prevent any possible confusion, consider labeling the water valve with a colored identification tab.
Electrical sparks may ignite a number of things following a natural disaster. This is why, in an emergency, the electricity will likely need to be shut off immediately. If your home has a basement, the electrical circuit box is generally located there, but that’s not always the case. Be sure that everyone in your home knows where the circuit box is, well in advance of an emergency.
If you need help identifying the circuit box, or just feel uncomfortable about the process, contact a qualified electrician for help. Typically, to turn off the electricity, you simply flip the “main” circuit breaker located inside the electrical panel (usually at the top), says FEMA.
Knowing how to locate and turn off the utilities in your home well in advance of an emergency is a good step toward disaster preparedness. (You should also have a plan on how to get by without utility service.) And while these tips can’t do anything to prevent natural disasters or emergencies, they may help prevent them from getting worse.
Originally published June 26, 2013.