Utility Safety

Natural Gas

Natural gas leaks and explosions are responsible for a significant number of fires following disasters. It is vital that all household members know how to shut off natural gas. Because there are different gas shut-off procedures for different gas meter configurations, contact your local gas company for any guidance on preparations and response regarding gas appliances and gas service to your home gas shut-off valve.

When you learn the proper shut-off procedures for your meter, share the information with everyone in your household. Be sure not to actually turn off the gas when practicing the proper gas shut-off procedures.

  • If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window and get everyone out quickly. Turn off the gas, using the outside main valve, if you can, and call the gas company from a neighbor's home.
  • If you turn off the gas for any reason, a qualified professional must turn it back on. NEVER attempt to turn the gas back on yourself. If you don’t suspect a gas leak, don’t turn off your gas: You may unnecessarily deprive yourself of an important utility.


During earthquakes, propane tanks can break free of their supporting legs. When a tank falls, there is always a danger of a fire or an explosion. Even when a tank remains on its legs, its supply line can be ruptured. Escaping gas can then cause a fire. Similar problems can occur with smaller, compressed gas cylinders, which are often stored inside a house or garage.

One way to prevent damage to propane tanks and compressed gas cylinders is to anchor and brace them securely.


Water quickly becomes a precious resource following many disasters. It is vital that all household members learn how to shut off the water at the main house valve.

  • Before an emergency happens locate the shut-off valve for the water line that enters your house and label this valve with a tag for easy identification. Make sure all household members know where it is located.
  • Make sure this valve can be completely shut off. Your valve may be rusted open or it may only partially close. If so, replace it.
  • Cracked lines may pollute the water supply to your house. It is wise to shut off your water until you hear from authorities that it is safe for drinking.

The effects of gravity may drain the water in your hot water heater and toilet unless you trap it in your house by shutting off the main house valve. (This is not the street valve in the cement box at the curb - the street valve is extremely difficult to turn and requires a special tool).  

Common places to look for your master shut off valve are:

  • In the crawl space or basement where the water line enters the house.
  • In the garage where the water line enters the wall or ceiling, near the water heater, or by the clothes washer hookup.
  • Outside, near the foundations of your home, possibly protected by a concrete or clay pipe ring.

If you don’t find a hand-operated master shut off valve, have one installed on the house side of the meter; it will make it easier to shut off your water in an emergency.


A disaster can disrupt your electrical service or cause wires and electrical fixtures to separate, creating a shock and fire hazard. Electrical sparks have the potential of igniting natural gas if it is leaking. It is wise to teach all responsible household members where and how to shut off the electricity.

Before a disaster occurs:

  • Locate your main electrical panel or fuse box. It is most commonly located on an interior wall near your electric meter.
  • If your residence has a fuse box, maintain a supply of spare fuses of the correct amperage.
  • Always keep a working flashlight available, with extra batteries of the correct size and type.

When you lose power, check the fuses and/or circuit breakers to be sure the trouble is not in your household electric system.

  • Turn off all electrical equipment (e.g., water heater, electric furnace, heaters, TV/computer, appliances) to prevent system overload when the power is restored.
  • Turn on a porch light and one inside light so you and utility crews will know when service is restored.
  • If you have to step in water to get to the fuse box or circuit breaker, call an electrician first for advice.
  • If a generator is used as backup power supply, remember to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Connect lights and appliances directly to the generator and not the electrical system. An alternative method is to hire a licensed electrician to wire your generator into your electrical system.

If you see sparks or broken/frayed wires, or if you smell hot insulation, shut off your electricity immediately.

  • For a circuit breaker panel - Shut off the electricity by turning all circuit breaker switches to the “off” position – individual circuits first, then main circuit.
  • For a fuse box, pull out the two main (cartridge) fuses.