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Emergency Preparedness Part 8: Utility Shut-Off Basics

[Posted July 2, 2021]

Contributed by Robin Jensen and Patrick Pangburn for Hillsdale NET

This is the eighth in a series of articles brought to you by the Hillsdale Neighborhood Emergency Team (NET) and the Hillsdale News. To read earlier installments, click here.

The articles will help you prepare your family and our community for a major natural disaster, as well as share information on Hillsdale NET and what it does. We hope you will stay tuned over the coming months and that you find the content helpful and informative.

To learn more about the NET program or sign up for NET training, visit the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management NET website. There are also many auxiliary volunteer opportunities available with our Hillsdale NET team. Email to find out how you can help.


Earthquakes, landslides, or other disasters may break natural gas lines, causing fires and explosions, or burst water pipes, causing flooding. In the event of a gas leak, it may also be necessary to turn off the electricity. Everyone in a household should learn how to shut off the utilities. It’s a good idea to rehearse shut-off protocols, but remember not to actually shut off your gas at the meter, because only a qualified professional can turn the supply back on.

Gas will need to be turned off with a utility wrench. If you hear a hissing sound, smell rotten eggs or sulfur, or the dials on your meter show gas flowing when all appliances are off, leave the building immediately. Although natural gas has no odor, a chemical with an unpleasant odor is added to serve as an alert that gas is escaping. Once you have exited the building, follow the directions below to turn off your gas meter.

According to NW Natural, avoid setting off a spark if you think you have a natural gas leak:

  • Don't light matches, use a lighter or create any other source of ignition.

  • Don't use a telephone, or any mobile device that has a battery (until you are safely away from the smell of gas).

  • Don't operate any electrical switch, including turning lights on or off.

  • Don't start a car.

  • Don't use a flashlight (unless it is a special flashlight designed to be safe around hazardous materials such as natural gas; these are known as "intrinsically safe" flashlights).

An aluminum emergency gas shut-off wrench will eliminate sparks that could ignite leaking gas. Use the wrench to turn the valve 90 degrees, or perpendicular to the pipe, to shut off gas.

To shut off your gas meter: An aluminum emergency gas shut-off wrench or an adjustable utility wrench can be easily obtained at a hardware store. Portland Bureau of Emergency Management warns that a standard wrench can 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. Keep the tool hidden near your meter, so that it will be there when you need it. The shut-off valve is located next to the meter on the inlet pipe. The valve is in the “open” position when it is in line, or parallel, with the pipe. To turn the valve to the "off" position and stop the flow of gas, use the wrench to turn the valve 90˚ either way so that it is perpendicular to the pipe. Write out the instructions and post near or on the meter to avoid confusion later.

Shut off individual circuits by flipping switches to “off” position, then turn off main break switch at top (red arrow). If your electric system has fuses, remove fuses, then turn off main switch.

To turn off your electricity: Because electrical sparks can ignite natural gas and other flammables in a disaster, it is important to turn off electricity as soon as possible until the danger has passed. Everyone in the household needs

to know where the electrical box is and how to turn off the breakers. In an emergency it may be dark so be sure to keep the path to the breaker box clear with nothing in front of it. Turn the power off by first flipping the individual circuits to the “off “position and then flip the main switch to the "off"position. The main circuit breaker is usually a double-width switch located at the top of the service panel.

If your home is equipped with an older fuse box, pull the main disconnect or pull out the fuse block to shut off the power to the house. Unscrew (counterclockwise) individual fuses to shut off individual circuits.

To shut off the water to your house, turn the handle perpendicular to the pipe. The handle pictured here is yellow, yours may be different.

To shut off your municipal water: If city water becomes contaminated post-disaster, you may choose to shut it off until authorities determine it is safe to drink again. Or you may need to shut off your water if pipes in your house have burst. Locate your home’s water shut-off valve and be sure each person in your household knows how to turn it off. If you can’t find it, ask a plumber to locate it for you. It is usually set in an exterior wall where the water comes in from the street or on the pipe leading to the water heater. To turn it off, turn the lever perpendicular to the pipe. If your water comes in from a ground well, turn off both valves on either side of the pressure tank. In that case, turn the valves clockwise all the way until they won’t turn any further. Again, it is helpful to label the water shut-off valve and post instructions next to it. If for some reason you cannot get to the water shut-off in your house, you could also turn the water off at the meter at the street. You can find instructions for turning off water at the meter here.

Don’t wait for an emergency to figure out how to turn off your gas, electricity and water! As part of your emergency preparation process, locate each one and rehearse the steps to shut them off. Finding and knowing how to turn off your utilities in a disaster may reduce the damage to your house and neighborhood, as well as reduce the number and severity of injuries. Be prepared!


Hillsdale NET wants to know how you connect with your neighbors, as well the geographic boundaries of your local community networks.

Email to share information about the “how” and the “where” of the networks in your immediate neighborhood so we can help ensure that everyone is in the communication loop in an emergency.


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