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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Break from Energy Efficiency:

The Dos and Don’ts of Turning Off Your Gas and/or Electricity in Case of an Emergency

I will take a break today from my main Energy Efficiency and Lowering Utility Bills theme to remind everyone that April marks the anniversary of San Francisco, California’s, great earthquake and fire of 1906.

This make it a good time to mention disaster planning concerning utility services.

As it did in 1906, and as happened the recent tragic events in the Abruzzo region of Italy, severe earthquakes strike without warning.

Even areas not prone to tremors sometimes get them (read about a quake in Alabama).

This means that now is the best time to plan what you would do in the event of a disaster.

Disaster can wear many masks: It can be caused by major storms, fierce winds, fire, or quakes. It may be only a local problem, only endangering your family and neighbors. But whatever the causes, electric and natural gas safety may be a major concern. Sometimes -- but not always -- the emergency may be such that you have to turn off utility services yourself.

What does a meter look like?

The Energy Saver Guy provides a brief demo on YouTube. Take a look.

Now that you know what your meters should look like, here is a basic overview of how you can turn off your electricity and gas in an emergency. However, take a moment after your read this to also visit your local electric and gas companies’ websites for specific local advice about how you should respond to an emergency.

  1. Fuses or circuit breakers are usually located in the metal box near where the main power line enters the house
  2. Fuses or circuit breakers should automatically shut off all electricity, or electricity to one or more branch circuits, in the event of trouble. So you should not have to turn off electricity yourself in case of an emergency.
  3. To restore service, replace the fuse or reset the breaker. However, do NOT try to restore service if there are signs of heat damage to wires or to the fuse box or circuit breaker box!
  4. NOTE: If you smell natural gas near your main electric meter or switch box, do NOT attempt to shut off the electricity! As always, evacuate the area and call your local utility or 9-1-1 from a location away from the gas leak.
  5. If you are uncertain how to restore electric service, contact your local utility for help.

Natural Gas

  1. Do not turn off the gas to your house UNLESS you detect the odor of natural gas, see damaged pipes, or see or hear gas escaping from your pipes.
  2. If you smell, see or hear a gas leak, immediately leave your house or the area near the leak. Do NOT telephone for help from inside the house or anywhere near the leak. Your phone could generate a tiny spark that may ignite the gas and cause serious injury or death.
  3. Do NOT turn light switches or electrical appliances on or off. Do not light matches. Do not ring your door bell. These also can ignite the gas.
  4. Do NOT start your car or open your garage door.
  5. Leave the vicinity of the leak and then telephone 9-1-1 and/or your local utility.
Why all this extra fuss about gas leaks?

Leaking gas pipes were responsible for many of the fires that broke out across San Francisco early that morning of April 18, 1906. The fires ended up killing more people and inflicting greater damage than the earthquake that came before them.

Also, natural gas generally is very safe. However, in the rare event of a gas explosion, the effects can be catastrophic!

You may have to turn off gas at the meter.

If you cannot call 9-1-1 or your local utility for help, then you may have to shut off the gas at the meter.

The main shut off valve is located on the pipe next to the meter. Use a wrench to give it a quarter turn either way.

Once the gas is off it must be left off. Do not attempt to turn on the gas yourself. Only a qualified gas service professional from the local utility can re-establish service.

Do not turn the valve in any direction after shutting off your service.

An Eyewitness Account of the 1906 San Francisco Quake and Fire

Jack London, the American author of Call of the Wild and other exciting stories, lived near San Francisco when the earthquake and fire swept through the city. Here is his published account.

In addition, London took many photos of the ruins.

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