“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
― Benjamin Franklin

2017 was a year where many dealt with major disasters and their aftermath. From Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria to the recent train derailment in our own backyard, the importance of being able to sustain oneself after a major disaster is essential.

West Pierce CERT’s resolution for the New Year is to help you “Prepare in a Year”. As with any goal, preparing for a disaster can seem like a monumental task. West Pierce Fire & Rescue is here to guide you in completing this important task. The goal is for this to be easy and as inexpensive as possible. Each month will focus on one aspect of disaster preparedness and assist you in one hour of a disaster preparedness activity.

July: Utility Management

With the nice weather, it is a great time to get outside and become familiar with the location of your gas meter. Knowing the location of your gas meter and how to turn it off is essential, should you smell natural gas or suspect a leak.

Signs of a gas leak include:

  • Bubbles rising in a puddle or other pool of liquid
  • Dust or dirt blowing from a hole in the ground
  • Dead or dying vegetation in unexpected locations
  • Hissing (small perforation) or roaring (large break)

If you smell natural gas (“rotten eggs”):

  • Immediately evacuate the building. DO NOT use anything which may create a sparking, or igniting source, such as ringing a doorbell or using light switches. Open windows and doors as you leave, if possible, to allow for ventilation.
  • Call your natural gas service provider or 911 a safe distance from the leak.
  • Turn off your gas meter. Keep a crescent wrench at least 12 inches in length in an accessible and known location. You can attach the wrench to the meter or on the wall directly behind the meter. If keeping the wrench by the meter, adjust to fit the valve ahead of time, it will be ready to use in case it rusts in position.

How to turn off your gas meter:

  • Locate the main shutoff valve. It’s usually on the first fitting of the pipe coming out of the ground next to the meter.
  • Use a non-sparking tool to turn the lever 45 degrees so it is crosswise to the pipe.

DO NOT turn your gas meter back on once you have turned it off. Your gas company MUSTturn the meter back on. This allows them to check the system to make sure it is safe to turn it back on and to relight appliances for use.

Electrical Safety

  • Know the location of your electrical panel.
  • Do not place items in front of the electrical panel to hide it. This makes it difficult for those in your family and first responders to find it, should they need to access it in an emergency.
  • Label each individual breaker in the electrical panel and post shutoff instructions. This allows quick access to turn off power to an item in case of an emergency, such as turning off power to the source of an electrical fire.
  • If you must turn power off to the entire house, it is best to turn individual breakers off starting from the bottom and working to the top, then turning your main breaker off. However, in an emergency you can turn off the main breaker to turn off power to the entire house.
  • You can turn on your main breaker once it has been deemed safe to do so. MAKE SURE ALL the individuals breakers are OFF BEFORE turning the main breaker back on. Having the individual breakers on when turning the main breaker on can cause a huge power surge, which can start a fire.


  • Locate and label the water main to your house for easy identification by others.
  • Know how to turn off the water main so you can do this in an emergency or disaster. Turn the valve right to turn off. This will require a special valve wrench available from a hardware store. Turning the water off in a disaster will prevent contaminated water from entering your water heater and plumbing. (see Prepare in a Year March 2018 post for more information on this topic)

Spend time this month with your family locating your gas meter, electrical panel and water main to the house. Include these locations in your written family emergency plan. Make sure your family members know how to turn off each of these utilities should the need arise in an emergency or disaster situation.

For more information from your service provider:

Puget Sound Energy, Lakeview Light & Power, Tacoma Power, Lakewood Water District


For previous entries, please visit the links below to our Prepare in a Year series:

January: Make a Plan

February: Identify an Out-of-Area contact

March: Water Storage

April: Create a Three-Day Kit

May: Important Documents

June: An Extended Event

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