In the event of a disaster, you may be instructed to shut off the utility service at your home in order to minimize damage and save lives. Always pay attention to communications from emergency management officials to learn if a utility shutdown is recommended.
Before a Disaster
- You should be prepared to shut off your electricity and water service in the event of an emergency, such as a flood. In Connecticut, the natural gas utilities do not recommend that customers attempt to shut off their gas service even in an emergency.
- Speak to an electrician or plumber to ensure that you are following safe procedures.
- Locate the main valve service points in your home for your water, electricity and natural gas. If you cannot find any of these mains, contact your landlord (if you rent) or the utility company. Speak to your landlord or the electrical or water utility companies to determine if any special technical knowledge or tools are required to operate the shutoff mechanism.
- Ensure that access to all utility shutoff points and meters is possible, including moving possessions, shrubbery, snow, ice, or anything else that may be blocking access. Do not use a shovel to clear snow and ice around your natural gas meter. Also ensure that snow and ice cannot fall from the roof onto your natural gas service point as this can cause a leak.
- Mark indoor service points with a visible tag.
- Be sure to have contact phone numbers for a plumber, electrician and the natural gas utility easily accessible.
- Test your water and electricity main shutoff points.
- Close main water valve completely.
- With the service turned off, test every faucet, toilet, and appliance connected to plumbing.
- If you are still able to use your sinks or toilets, you may have a faulty main valve or you may not have turned off the correct valve. Contact a plumber if you are unsure of what to do.
- When you turn the water service back on, check for leaks in the main valve. On plunger valves, you may need to tighten the packing nut.
- Contact an electrician who can show you how to trip your main electrical breakers if you do not already know how to do so.
- Turn off the individual breakers, and then the main breakers next, to test. Then test switches and outlets throughout your home to confirm that all power has been cut.
- If you have a generator installed, this is a good time to test what parts of the home are fed by the generator, if such a system is required.
- It is not recommended that you test the main gas valve unless you have done so in the presence of or with the assistance of a certified technician.
- If you do test the gas utility service shutoff, ensure that you relight all appliance pilot lights once gas service is returned. NEVER attempt to turn on gas utility service by yourself.
If a Disaster Happens
If a disaster happens and your home is affected, one or more of your utilities may be affected. Problems with each type of utility (gas, water, electricity) are handled differently. The following checklists can help you to act safely:
- Check for a gas leak. There are four primary ways to determine if gas is leaking:
- Smell for a rotten egg odor
- Listen for the hissing sound of escaping gas
- Look for a white cloud, fog, mist, blowing dust near or coming from walls, the ground, appliances or pipes; or if you see bubbles in standing water
- Check your meter to see if the dials are spinning rapidly
- If you suspect a gas leak in your home:
- Immediately leave your home and call your gas company from a mobile phone or from a neighbor’s phone. Do not call from inside your house.
- Connecticut Natural Gas: (866) 924-5325 or call 911
- Yankee Gas: (877) YG4-LEAK (944-5325) or call 911
- Do not use a telephone, even to call the gas company
- Do not assume someone else will report the condition
- Do not light a match or smoke
- Do not operate electrical switches or appliances
- Do not open windows and doors to ventilate the area
- Extinguish any open flames
- Power should be shut off any time there are visible live wires around the home (e.g., a wind or ice storm has pulled the service wires off of the house), or if you hear or smell arcing or burning insulation.
- In the event of a flood, shutting off power is especially important. If water is going to come into the house, or has already come in and is rising, the main should always be shut off to prevent currents in the water (especially when water rises to the height of outlets). Do not turn off electrical service if your feet are in standing water or if the electrical service box is touching water in any way.
- Shut off individual circuits before shutting off the main breaker.
- Watch this how-to video about turning off electricity.
- It is good to turn off the water supply if there is any chance commercial water might be cut off or lose pressure. This will prevent water from draining from the structure at the main valve.
- After a disaster, turning off the water will prevent further damage caused by leaks that may have occurred behind walls due to structural shifting.
- Watch this how-to video about turning off water at your home.
The National Fire Protection Association offers the following installation and maintenance tips.
- Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, including the basement, making sure that there is an alarm outside every separate sleeping area. New homes are required to have a smoke alarm in every sleeping room and all smoke alarms must be interconnected.
- Hard-wired smoke alarms operate on your household electrical current. They can be interconnected so that every alarm sounds regardless of the fire's location. Alarms that are hard-wired should have battery backups in case of a power outage, and should be installed by a qualified electrician.
- If you sleep with bedroom doors closed, have a qualified electrician install interconnected smoke alarms in each room so that when one alarm sounds, they all sound.
- If you or someone in your home is deaf or hard of hearing, consider installing an alarm that combines flashing lights, vibration, and/or sound.
- Mount smoke alarms high on walls or ceilings because smoke rises. Ceiling-mounted alarms should be installed at least four inches away from the nearest wall. Wall-mounted alarms should be installed four to 12 inches away from the ceiling.
- If you have ceilings that are pitched, install the alarm near the ceiling's highest point.
- Don't install smoke alarms near windows, doors, or ducts where drafts might interfere with their operation.
- Never paint smoke alarms. Paint, stickers, or other decorations could keep the alarms from working.
For more information, see the NFPA Smoke Alarm Installation Guide.
You can’t see or smell carbon monoxide, but at high levels it can kill a person in minutes. Hundreds of people die accidentally every year from CO poisoning caused by malfunctioning or improperly used fuel-burning appliances. Even more die from CO produced by idling cars. Fetuses, infants, elderly people, and people with anemia or with a history of heart or respiratory disease can be especially susceptible.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is produced whenever any fuel, such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood, or charcoal, is burned. If appliances that burn fuel are maintained and used properly, the amount of CO produced is usually not hazardous. However, if appliances are not working properly or are used incorrectly, dangerous levels of CO can result.
Symptoms of CO Poisoning
Know the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. At moderate levels, you or your family can get severe headaches, become dizzy, mentally confused, nauseated, or faint. You can even die if these levels persist for a long time. Low levels can cause shortness of breath, mild nausea, and mild headaches, and may have longer term effects on your health. Since many of these symptoms are similar to those of the flu, food poisoning, or other illnesses, you may not think that CO poisoning could be the cause.
If you experience symptoms that you think could be from CO poisoning:
- GET FRESH AIR IMMEDIATELY. Open doors and windows, turn off combustion appliances and leave the house.
- GO TO AN EMERGENCY ROOM and tell the physician you suspect CO poisoning. If CO poisoning has occurred, it can often be diagnosed by a blood test done soon after exposure. Be prepared to answer the following questions for the doctor:
- Do your symptoms occur only in the house? Do they disappear or decrease when you leave home and reappear when you return?
- Is anyone else in your household complaining of similar symptoms? Did everyone’s symptoms appear about the same time?
- Are you using any fuel-burning appliances in the home?
- Has anyone inspected your appliances lately? Are you certain they are working properly?
- DO NOT ignore symptoms, particularly if more than one person is feeling them. You could lose consciousness and die if you do nothing.
Prevent CO Buildup
- Have your fuel-burning appliances -- including oil and gas furnaces, gas water heaters, gas ranges and ovens, gas dryers, gas or kerosene space heaters, fireplaces, and wood stoves -- inspected by a trained professional at the beginning of every heating season. Make certain that the flues and chimneys are connected, in good condition, and not blocked.
- Choose appliances that vent their fumes to the outside whenever possible, have them properly installed, and maintain them according to manufacturers’ instructions.
- Read and follow all of the instructions that accompany any fuel-burning device. If you cannot avoid using an unvented gas or kerosene space heater, carefully follow the cautionary instructions that come with the device. Use the proper fuel and keep doors to the rest of the house open. Crack a window to ensure enough air for ventilation and proper fuel burning.
- If you must operate a gas-powered generator, do so according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Never run a generator in your home or garage, even with the windows open.
- DO NOT idle your car in a garage -- even if the garage door to the outside is open. Fumes can build up very quickly in the garage and living area of your home.
- DO NOT use a gas oven to heat your home, even for a short time.
- DO NOT use a charcoal grill indoors -- even in a fireplace.
- DO NOT sleep in any room with an unvented gas or kerosene space heater.
- DO NOT use any gasoline-powered engines (mowers, weed trimmers, snow blowers, chain saws, small engines or generators) in enclosed spaces.
For more information on how to reduce your risks from CO, contact the US Consumer Product Safety Commission at 1-800-638-2772.
If the CO detector alarm goes off:
- Make sure it is your CO detector and not your smoke detector.
- Check to see if any member of the household is experiencing symptoms of poisoning.
- If they are, get them out of the house immediately and seek medical attention. Tell the doctor that you suspect CO poisoning.
- If no one is feeling symptoms, ventilate the home with fresh air, turn off all potential sources of CO -- your oil or gas furnace, gas water heater, gas range and oven, gas dryer, gas or kerosene space heater and any vehicle or small engine.
- Have a qualified technician inspect your fuel-burning appliances and chimneys to make sure they are operating correctly and that there is nothing blocking the fumes from being vented out of the house.
For more information on CO alarms, visit the website of the US Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The risk of home fires is raised considerably during times of disaster, both as a result of the disaster impacts themselves and the actions people take to respond. Disasters may also reduce the response time of the fire department. If your home doesn’t already have a fire extinguisher, purchase one as part of your emergency preparedness efforts.
There are four basic steps required for proper use of a fire extinguisher. Just remember the acronym: P.A.S.S.
- Pull the Pin at the top of the extinguisher. The pin releases a locking mechanism and will allow you to discharge the extinguisher.
- Aim at the base of the fire, not the flames. This is important. To put out the fire, you must extinguish the fuel.
- Squeeze the lever slowly. This will release the extinguishing agent in the extinguisher. If the handle is released, the discharge will stop.
- Sweep from side to side. Using a sweeping motion, move the fire extinguisher back and forth until the fire is completely out. Operate the extinguisher from a safe distance, several feet away, and then move towards the fire once it starts to diminish. Be sure to read the instructions on your fire extinguisher, as different extinguishers recommend operating them from different distances.