Earthquakes are a reality of life when you live in California. Live here long enough and you will eventually experience being woken in the night or having your day interrupted by the roar and shaking of the earth as one of several faults shift about beneath you. When those from others states hear us talk about recent tremors or “the big one,” they tend to look at us as though we are a little crazy or at least a little too nonchalant about the reality of earthquakes.
However, Californians know the dangers of earthquakes; we know the damage to life and property they can cause. Speak to any Californian child and you’ll hear about the earthquake drills they do at school; speak to an adult and you will get a quick lesson in the importance of being prepared and having an earthquake kit ready.
When most of us think of earthquakes, we think of toppled buildings, opened roadways, and collapsed bridges. The reality is that many other dangers and risks to life and property can result from even small quakes and tremors, and in California, being prepared is a necessity. Preparation should include gathering and storing items needed if an earthquake cuts off utilities and fresh water—items such as flashlights, fresh drinking water, and food. In addition, being prepared includes securing large items that could cause damage to persons or property if they fell. For instance, water heater straps that keep water heaters upright and secure are required in California. It is also a good idea to secure bookcases and heavy picture frames and mirrors.
Furthermore, make sure you know how to turn off your utilities. Know where your breaker panel and water and gas shutoffs are before disaster strikes. You may need to access these for other reasons as well, such as a water leak or a gas odor.
Shutting off the electricity to your home is not difficult. First, locate the electric panel in the house. Usually at the top of the panel is the main circuit breaker; simply flip it to the off position. If you have an older style panel that uses fuses it is a little different and requires you to remove the fuses controlling the circuits.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends you shut off your water after a disaster as well. Cracked lines can pollute your water supply, and it is best to shut the water off until you know it is safe. You may also need to shut your water off to prevent flooding if a pipe breaks. Your water shutoff is sometimes located in your yard or could be in an outdoor closet or garage and is a simple valve that you close. However, many water shutoffs are in the ground and can become buried and difficult to close over time, so know where yours is at and ensure you have access to it and the valve moves freely.
Rick Sherman, service manager at General Air Conditioning and Plumbing, recommends having the water shutoff valve and the box it is often housed in inspected and cleaned once a year. “When we do a plumbing inspection on a home, one of the most important things we do is make sure the homeowner knows where the water shutoff is and how to shut it off. We also test the valve to make sure it is easy to move and make sure it is exposed and not buried. Sometimes homeowners will have us install an additional shutoff in a more convenient location for the homeowner.”
Last, know how to shut off gas to your home. According to FEMA, natural gas leaks and explosions are responsible for a “significant number of fires” following disasters. Most gas meters can be shut off with a 12- or 15-inch pipe wrench, or you can purchase a gas shutoff wrench and attach it to your gas meter.
For even greater safety, an automatic gas shutoff is an option recommended for every home. For a few hundred dollars homeowners can have a gas shutoff valve installed on their side of the meter. In the event of an earthquake or other seismic activity of 5.1 or greater, the valve will automatically shut off the gas to the home. The device is mechanical so it needs no power and has a simple reset that allows homeowners to reset it themselves.
Additionally, you should also make sure all of your gas appliances are connected to the gas line by a flexible gas connector. Also, make sure that gas lines that pass through an appliance such as a furnace are hard piped.
If you are unsure if your home’s gas appliances are properly installed or need help locating and learning how to shut off your utilities, give General Air Conditioning and Plumbing a call. As a courtesy to our community, we will have one of our plumbing technicians do a visual inspection of your gas connections and show you how to shut off your utilities in case of an emergency.