As we enter the more treacherous months for New England weather, it is important to plan ahead for an emergency. While it is important to have an evacuation plan and an emergency preparedness kit, it is also essential to know how to shut off the utilities before a disaster. If these utilities are not shut off they may cause damage to your home and possibly endanger your family.
Water can become a critical resource during an emergency. If you have time to prepare before a major storm, be sure to store or stock up on as much water as possible. Fill containers from your tap if the water is safe for drinking, or go out to and buy some. Another good tip to conserve water for washing is to fill the bathtubs and sinks with water.
In an emergency situation, it is important to shut off the main water valve to your home. Burst pipes can cause extensive water damage, and cracked lines can make the water unsafe for drinking. The main shut-off should be located in the basement or attached to the outside exterior of your home. There are two type of valves, a gate valve or a ball valve. Both are easy to shut-off. A gate valve looks like a wheel and is more common in older homes. To close this, turn the wheel clockwise until it tightens (typically 6 turns). A ball valve is a simple lever, usually red. Turn this handle clockwise a quarter turn to close.
It is not usually necessary to shut-off your natural gas, even during a storm. This is because the pipes are buried deep in the ground and are not usually affected. According to FEMA, if your gas meter is inside your home you should only shut off gas flow when instructed by local authorities.
Make sure you contact your natural gas company in advance to learn about emergency shut-off procedures. Ask them for a diagram and post this next to the meter. Typically you will need an adjustable pipe or crescent wrench to turn off the gas, so make sure you have one on hand.
In the aftermath of a storm or earthquake, be aware and use your senses. A gas leak is extremely dangerous, and could cause an explosion. If you smell gas (similar to the smell of rotten eggs) or hear the sound of gas escaping (a high pitch whistle sound), evacuate your family immediately and leave the door open. Contact your local authorities, and do not go back inside of your home until a licensed professional has inspected your gas pipes.
The best way to detect a gas leak is to install professionally monitored gas detectors. These alarms will sound when as soon as a leak is detected, and your family will be able to escape as quickly as possible.
After a disaster a broken power wire may spark and catch fire, especially if there is also a gas leak. To prevent this it is important to shut off the electricity.
To shut off the electricity, locate the main electrical panel. Always shut off all of the individual circuit breakers BEFORE you flip the main circuit breakers at the top to “off”.
It is especially important to turn off the electricity if there is a potential your home will flood. In addition to turning off the circuit breaker, make sure you unplug all electronics from electrical outlets and try to store them in a place where they won’t be damaged. If flood waters rise above your outlets DO NOT plug anything in, even after the water has receded. Make sure a licensed electrician has inspected your home before restoring power.