Everyone knows to call 911 for emergency rescue, safety or medical services. But sometimes when disaster threatens or strikes, you must act immediately to shut off utility service while you wait for help to arrive.
As part of disaster planning for your home or business, locate and tag your utilities, and think through the scenarios that might require action.
Purchase valve tags from commercial sign companies, or make your own from luggage or package tags available at office supply, organizational or travel stores. Some are self-laminating. Water lines are typically marked in blue, gas lines in yellow.
Whether a disaster causes you to stay put or evacuate, consider:
- WATER SERVICE – When a pipe breaks suddenly or when there’s a threat of below-freezing weather, you may need to shut off the water supply. Locate your water shutoff valve in advance and clearly tag it so you’ll be ready to take quick action. Some utilities will tag the valve for you, or you can make your own tag or purchase one from a commercial source. Shutoff valves can be in a basement, garage or utility room or even under the sidewalk or lawn. Some water valves require a special tool; check with your water service provider and have a spare available. Make sure your plan takes fire protection and water sprinkler systems into consideration. In many situations, you will want to leave those operational.
- GAS SERVICE – If there’s a leak, don’t endanger your life or anyone else’s by lingering inside. Get out of the building! But if you have a situation where you need to evacuate your home or business for an extended period, think about whether it’s prudent to shut off the gas at the main valve where it enters the building. Know where your gas shutoff valve is and tag it. As with the water valve, some gas valves require a special wrench. And, if you do shut off the gas, engage your gas utility, local fire department or other qualified professional to restore service. Remember that pilot lights for water heaters, furnaces or stoves also may need to be relit.
- ELECTRICITY – Find the circuit breaker or fuse box that serves your location and know how to operate it. This can allow you to cut power only to selected areas. Also find the main shutoff switch that quickly cuts power to all the circuits in your structure. Most outdoor air conditioning units have separate fuses. Your disaster plan should consider whether intermittent power outages or brownouts could damage the equipment and blow those fuses. If so, you may need to temporarily cut off power to air conditioning units even if you leave power to the rest of the building.
Plan ahead for the disasters that could occur in your area, locate your utility shutoffs, and think about when it might be necessary to shut off utility service to your home or business.
Ready.gov, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster preparedness website, offers additional information and tips for safe utility shutoff.
This loss control information is advisory only. The author assumes no responsibility for management or control of loss control activities. Not all exposures are identified in this article.