EM - Managing Utilities in A Disaster

Managing Utilities in a Disaster 

The creature comforts that natural gas, water and electricity provide make life quite comfortable. Without them, we would be eating less warm meals and reading at night would be difficult at best.

But in the aftermath of a natural disaster like a tornado, the utility systems that bring us such comfort can become potentially serious threats to health and well-being. Leaking natural gas is a major source of fires after a disaster, down power lines, lack of communication channels for receiving updates, and your simple tap water can become contaminated with harmful chemicals, bacteria or microbes, as we are reminded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Disaster preparedness experts recommend that you know how to safely turn off these three utilities immediately after a severe natural disaster.

Natural Gas Lines

Because leaking natural gas can be such a threat, FEMA suggests that everyone in a home knows how to turn off the main valve. DO NOT attempt if you haven’t taken the time to learn where its located and how to turn it off quickly and safely. 

If you smell gas or hear it leaking, you should open a window for ventilation and leave the area immediately on foot before trying to turn off the gas. You should only try to turn off the gas yourself if you are certain it is safe to do so. 

The shutoff is typically the first valve on the pipe that runs into the gas meter from the buried line. Some newer meters have the shutoff located on the pipe that goes from the gas meter to the home. 

Be sure to know the location of the gas meter/shut off valve so you are not unprepared if the need should arise.

The majority of gas companies recommend that you simply leave the area and call them to come and handle the situation, putting yourself out of harm’s way. However, in the aftermath of a significant natural disaster, the utility companies will be overwhelmed with work, meaning it could take days or even weeks to reach your home. Contact them if possible to assess the timeline of their arrival.

To shut off the gas, use a wrench to turn the valve a quarter turn in either direction. If the valve is perpendicular (creating an x or cross look to the pipe) the valve is closed. If the valve is parallel (in-line) with the pipe, it means the gas line is open.  REMEMBER – a quarter turn is all it takes. Many agencies/companies warn that a standard wrench could produce a spark that could ignite leaking gas.  If possible, you should use a wrench that is designed not to spark against the metal of the gas meter.

The Federal Emergency Management Office recommends that every household have the appropriate tools to shut off their gas and water in the event of a natural disaster.

People living in multi-unit apartment buildings should consult with the landlord or property owners about disaster preparedness plans.


Turning off the power to a home is crucial after a disaster because sparks from electric devices could ignite natural gas leaks.

Unlike gas, turning off the electricity doesn’t require any tools. To shut down the power to your home, locate the electrical circuit box. For safety - switch off all the individual circuits before turning off the main circuit. Wait to get confirmation from a professional that there are no gas leaks in the home, before turning the electricity back on.


Water is one of the most crucial resources anyone needs be prepared for  with the potential loss of tap water. The best preparation is to have ample water reserve on hand before there is a need.

But a home also has several sources of water that are potentially useful if gathered as soon as it is safe to do so. Here are some tips for collecting water after a natural disaster:

  • TURNING OFF THE MAIN WATER VALVE. This does two things: It prevents contaminated water from entering the lines in a home, and it keeps gravity from draining water out of the home’s lines if there is a break in a pipe outside.
  • HOW TO TURN OFF THE WATER MAIN. Locate the main shut off valve and turn the knob or handle clockwise until it no longer turns which should mean that the main completely closed. FEMA recommends replacing the valve if it is rusted and difficult to close fully.
  • BOIL WATER IF NEEDED. Again, government agencies say that you shouldn’t turn the water back on until you know it is safe to do so, if the need arises for water even if you have shut the main off, boiling the water will remove many types of contaminants an provide you with a better source of water.  
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  1. Paul L. Haley

    Emergency Management Coordinator

  2. Physical Address
    2800 Third St.
    Trenton, MI 48183

    Mailing Address
    2800 Third St.
    Attn: Emergency Mgmt.
    Trenton, MI 48183

    Fax: 734-675-4088
    Emergency Phone: 734-676-3737

    Monday through Friday
    8:30 am - 5 pm

    Additional Contact Information
    Emergency Fax: 734-692-1633