Handling Utilities in a Disaster

In the event of an accident or disaster you may lose the service of one or more of your utilities without warning. You may also want to shut them off yourself should there be a break or movement in one of the lines. First, however, you will need to know who is responsible for the various utilities you use so you can contact the proper agency for help. Having this information ahead of time will save time during an actual emergency. If you are in doubt about your utility service provider, check your recent utility bills for specific information.

Electricity Providers:

Natural Gas Providers:

Water Providers:

In an Emergency

Electricity

At some point, perhaps due to a severe storm or other event, you may find it necessary to turn off the electricity to your home. If there is no immediate threat to your safety, and you can get to your circuit breaker box without walking through water, you can turn the power off yourself. Familiarize yourself with the location of your circuit breaker box ahead of time and mark the master power switch so you can immediately identify which one to throw during an emergency to stop all power coming into your house.

Portable Generators

Portable generators can be a big help if you are without power, but remember:

  • Connect appliances one at a time to the generator.
  • Never hook a generator directly to your household wiring yourself. Only a qualified electrician can do this safely.
  • Use generators outdoors only. They give off carbon monoxide fumes.
  • Avoid using extension cords with generators. If you must use them, check them often to make sure they have not become hot.

Natural Gas

Gas appliances and pipes may be moved or broken during a flood, earthquake, or similar disaster. Even slight movement could cause a gas leak. If you suspect a leak or smell gas, leave your home immediately and call the gas company from a neighbor's phone. Do not flip any light switches when you leave the house; leave the door open and shut off the gas at the meter. When you return to your home, have the gas company inspect and restore the service.

How to shut off your gas meter: Your gas meter is located outside of your house, usually on the side of the structure. There is a valve in the gas line next to the meter. The valve is a circular device which allows you to turn it to open or close it. The top of the valve is rectangular so that you can use a crescent wrench, pliers, or similar tool to turn it on and off. The shape also allows you to tell at a glance if the valve is in the on or off position. If the top of the valve is parallel to the gas pipe, then the gas is turned on and flowing through the valve. If the top of the valve is perpendicular to the gas pipe, it is in the off position. To be sure the gas is off, write down the number on all the dials on the meter. Check the dials at least 5 minutes later. If the numbers have changed, the valve is not closed. If the gas is still flowing, contact your gas provider for help and keep clear of the area until the gas has stopped flowing.

Water

If you are unsure of the safety of your water supply after a disaster, use it only to clean your home or for sanitation purposes (toilet flushing). Buy bottled water for drinking if you can.

A "boil order" may be issued in your community during a disaster. If such an order has been issued, do the following:

  1. Fill a large pot with water from the tap.
  2. Strain the water through cheesecloth, a sheet, a coffee filter, or other clean, porous material to remove as many solids as you can.
  3. Bring the water to a rumbling boil and keep it boiling for at least 10 minutes.
  4. Pour the water back and forth between two clean pots. This will help it cool and will also add air to the water to make it taste better.
  5. Let the water cool. After it is cool, add 8 drops of liquid chlorine bleach for each gallon of water. Let the water stand for a half hour. If it gives off a slight chlorine odor and looks clear it is safe to use.
  6. If you do not smell chlorine, or if the water is still cloudy, add another 8 drops of liquid chlorine bleach and let it stand another half hour. If you have added bleach twice and the water still does not smell like chlorine, don't use the water for drinking or cooking.

Do not cook in pots and pans or use eating utensils, baby blankets, or any other items that could go into the mouth or be used to cook until they have been washed and disinfected in water that has been tested and approved by the water department or health department.

You should also familiarize yourself with the location of your inside and outside water cutoff valves. In an emergency where water purity could be a concern, you can shut off your main water valve to protect the water in your hot water heater from contamination and use it as a source of clean emergency drinking water.