Natural disasters come in many shapes and sizes, and they can strike without warning. But emergency planning can 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 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 strikes.
Natural gas leaks and explosions are responsible for a “significant number of fires” following disasters, according to FEMA, 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 shutoff procedures vary slightly. But it’s likely that you’ll need a specialty wrench to perform the procedure.
Contact your local gas company in advance to determine what your home requires, and the exact procedure 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 open a window and 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, the agency says.
Water is an extremely important resource after a natural disaster, so you want it to remain clean. Cracked lines can 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 shutoff valve.
Locating this main shutoff 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 shutoff valve, make sure everyone in the household knows where it is, and how to turn it off. To prevent any possible confusion, consider labeling the water valve with a colored identification tab.
Electrical sparks can ignite leaking natural gas, resulting in an explosion, says FEMA. Which is why, following a natural disaster, the electricity may need to be shut off immediately. If your home has a basement, the electrical circuit box is likely 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).
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, they certainly can help prevent them from getting worse.