Utilities

During a disaster, there are unique challenges and concerns for all utilities: gas, water, electricity, and sewer. It is important to know potential hazards associated with each utility and how to reduce the risk to yourself, your property, and others immediately on and around your property.

Natural Gas
Due to the explosive nature of natural gas, educate your family about what they can do to remain safe.

  • Find the main shutoff valve to your home (see diagram below) and teach family members how to turn off the natural gas (i.e. give lever a quarter turn to the right or left so it crosses the pipe as shown below). Keep a wrench near the shutoff valve for quick access.
  • Show children what natural gas smells like and advise them to tell an adult if they ever smell natural gas.
  • If you think you smell gas, hear gas escaping or see a broken line, shut off the main value and open all doors and windows. Go to a neighbor and call your local utility company for help.
    • DO NOT use a hard wired phone in your home to make a call for help; doing so can create a spark and cause an explosion.
    • DO NOT turn on any light switch or appliance; this can cause an explosion.
  • Never use matches or candles if you smell gas.
  • Never turn the gas back on yourself. Always wait for your utility company. This may take several days.

Water
Teach your family about risks associated with water leaks including damage to your home and electrocution hazards.

  • Find the main water shutoff valve to your home and teach family members how to turn off the water. Water valves may be located near the water meter, in a basement or garage. They are typically round wheels that you turn clockwise to shut off or lever handles that you give a quarter turn to the right or left.
  • After a major disaster, such as an earthquake or hurricane, turn off your main valve to protect the water in your home. Cracked or damaged pipes may allow contaminates into your home’s water supply.
  • If you have structural damage to your home, turn off the main water valve to prevent flooding and electrocution hazards.
  • If you lose power during severe winter weather, consider turning off the water to your house and open a faucet to drain your pipes. Or, leave one or more faucets on allowing water to trickle which will keep pipes from freezing and breaking.
  • When you travel and leave your home vacant, turn off the main water valve and leave one faucet open to drain pipes. This will help ensure you come home to a dry house.
  • Whether your home has city or well water, follow boil orders during disasters.
  • Ensure your community water has been declared safe for use before turning the supply back on to your home.

Electricity
In normal circumstances and in times of disaster, maintain a healthy respect for electricity. Coming in contact with live wires, anything energized by these wires, or charged appliances can result in electrocution; especially, if you are in standing water or have wet feet.

  • Find the location of your electrical panel box and teach all family members how to turn off the main breaker to your home. Electrical panel boxes are typically located in a garage, basement, laundry room, or closet. Make sure the box is properly installed so you cannot see or accidentally touch exposed wires. Call a professional electrician for proper installation.
  • If you have significant flooding, smell burning insulation, smell something hot, see blackened plugs or outlets, or see lights browning or dimming several times and then go off, turn off electricity immediately and call for help.
  • If you have a generator and lose power to your home, DO NOT hardwire generator into your electrical panel to feed your house; an explosion, fire or electrocution can result. Contact a professional electrician or vendor for information about whole-house backup generators and transfer switches.
  • When using a gasoline powered generator, follow manufacturer’s operation guidelines including placing generator outside in a well ventilated area to avoid carbon monoxide buildup.

Sewer
Human waste can become a significant issue in times of disaster when water and/or sewer pipes are damaged.

  • If you have no water in your toilet and the sewer lines are undamaged, you can flush by pouring 3 to 5 gallons of water into the toilet bowl. You can use swimming pool water, laundry, bath, pond, lake, river, or ocean water.
  • If you suspect sewer lines are damaged, DO NOT flush toilet. Turn off the main water supply to your house. Cracked or damaged pipes may allow contaminates into your home’s water supply.
  • If sewer lines are damaged, double-line your toilet bowl with garbage bags to collect waste. After use, add a small amount of bleach, seal the bag and place in a tightly covered container away from people.
  • If toilet is not useable, double-line a sturdy bucket with garbage bags to collect waste (e.g., 5-gallon paint bucket). Attach a tight fitting lid. Before discarding, add small amount of bleach, seal the bag and place in tightly covered contained away from people.

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