• Leon Pantenburg | Survival Common Sense


Urban Survival | How to shut off the gas and water during an emergency

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Shutting down your house’s gas, electricity and water mains is not something you want to learn under duress. Here are some instructions!

My backyard when a sprinkler pipe burst at -5 degrees. Learning how to shut off the utilities is a real survival skill!

by Leon Pantenburg

“Look how pretty the ice is in the backyard!” I commented to my wife. The sun was coming up over an Winter Wonderland scene in the backyard. Ice sculptures covered all the patio furniture and about a foot of ice was everywhere.

Reality hit as soon as the words were out of my mouth. A water pipe had broken during the sub-zero temperatures the night before. I grabbed my coat and shoes, ran down to the garage, pulled out my water pipe shut-off wrench and headed for the street.

The lid that covered the main water line valve was covered with several inches of solid ice, and jammed, and my pounding didn’t loosen it.

My training came through. The survival mindset exercise worked.

“STOP. Stop. Think. Observe. Plan.” I thought. This took about 10 seconds. The water was spurting out of the side of the house by the lawn sprinkler valves. There had to be another valve under the house. I sprinted to the crawl space, low-crawled to the valve, and shut off the water.

In the event of a disaster, such as an earthquake or forest fire, you may be instructed to shut off your utility services, and there might be no one to help you. In the event of broken pipes after a deep freeze, you won’t want to be searching your front lawn for the shut-off valve while water pours from the broken pipe under your kitchen sink.

On a non-emergency basis, keep a list of the phone numbers for your water, gas and electricity companies, and call them when a problem occurs. On weekends or holidays, if you can’t contact a utility company technician, call the police non-emergency number.

But you may be on your own. It is a really good idea is to know where the shut-off valves are and to have the correct tools to shut them down. For almost all valves, remember: Righty, tighty; lefty, loosey.This means to tighten or shut off a valve, turn the valve clockwise, or to the right. To open a valve, turn counterclockwise, or to the left

Natural gas

Natural gas leaks and explosions are responsible for a significant number of fires following disasters, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window and get everyone out of the house quickly, recommends Larry Rosok, spokesman for Cascade Natural Gas in Bend, Oregon. Don’t use your phone, or touch or try to operate any electrical appliance or light inside the house.

The main thing is to leave immediately. Go to a neighbor’s house and call 911, Rosok said. Your phone, or a cell phone, could cause a spark that ignites the gas.

During a disaster, turn off the gas using the outside main valve, Rosok said. Locate the valve by looking for the square or rectangular bit of metal on your gas meter supply pipe that’s the tang. Use an adjustable crescent wrench or pipe wrench to grasp the tang, and turn it clockwise a quarter-turn, until it is crossways to the pipe.

If you turn off the gas, Rosok recommends having the gas company turn it back on to make sure there are no
safety problems.

The gas company will locate the valve for you if you can’t find it, Rosok said. When you learn the proper shut-off procedure for your meter, share the information with your household.


Shutting off the water when a break is detected can stop further damage while you wait for a plumber.

In newer houses, there should be a city water meter somewhere between the curb and the house. It will most likely have a green or black plastic cover. Find it, and you’ll probably find your shut-off valve in the same box. If a water valve is on city property, then a city employee must shut it off, unless there is an emergency, said Andrea McCullough, spokesperson for the city of Bend, OR.

Generally, the city is responsible for the water main that runs down the middle of the street, and for the line that runs up to the curb, McCullough said. Once the line gets past the curb, it is the home-owner’s responsibility. When you buy or rent a house, you need to ask about the utilities.

Generally speaking, water companies don’t want anyone shutting off anything on the city’s side of the meter, said Jan Dobson, utility worker for the city of Prineville, OR.

All houses have to have a shutoff valve on their side of the meter, Dobson said. To find yours, start at the meter and trace the line to the house.

In older houses in some areas, there may not be a valve between the street and the house. This shut-off will be located somewhere inside the house. Generally speaking, most cites won’t locate shut-off valves for individuals, Dobson said, so the best bet is to look on the original house plan or call a contractor if you can’t find the valve.

Since your water valve may be located below the surface of the ground, you may need a specialized tool.  These range in size and price from $4.95 for a 30-inch meter key to $7.95 for a 4-footer.

“We sell a ton of these,” said Crist Garcia, salesman at Searing Electric and Plumbing in Bend. “Some people come in knowing what they need, and some don’t. You have to look at how long a wrench is needed.”

Once you locate the valve, use the wrench to turn off the valve.
“You should be able to turn the valve by hand,”  he said. “But make sure you have the right-sized wrench if you can’t.”


You may be asked to shut off your electricity in case of disaster, or you may need to cut off power because of internal flooding (the risk of electric shock exists any time water and electricity mix).

Most houses will have a main breaker box that all electrical circuitry is routed through. This box, typically in the garage, will probably have a lever on one side or on the top that shuts off the juice. Other boxes might have a main breaker that is pulled out to break the electrical circuit. If you don’t know where the breaker box is located or how to shut it off, call an electrician or someone who knows.

For safety, FEMA recommends shutting off the individual circuits before shutting off the main circuit breaker. It is wise to teach all responsible household members where it is and how to shut off the electricity.

Like all survival/preparedness situations, the right tools, practice and preparation can be the key to surviving, be it in a wilderness or urban setting!

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