It’s a good idea for every homeowner to have an emergency plan in place, and have a list of what everyone living in the house should know. Your emergency plan could be the difference in averting or being victim to a real disaster. Most of us have very busy lives and don’t really think we have time to set up a solid emergency plan, but isn’t it better to be safe than sorry? Your safety plan could be making and updating a list of emergency shutoffs, listing important information sources, and rounding up some basic tools.
You may need to have a professional help locate, repair or maintain some of the valves and switches. Locating and tagging these can be very helpful later on when a potential emergency has you confused, turned around or afraid. Following are some suggested tags to place on these systems and valves. After you have tagged each item make sure you explain to each family or house member what they mean and how to use and operate every one of them. Developing a list of emergency numbers and plotting an escape plan is also a very good practice.
Following is a checklist to help you get started locating and planning:
- Main Electrical Disconnect. Located at the main fuse box or breaker panel. This turns all the electricity off to the house. Typically there is on main breaker switch or fuse block, but some older systems sometimes have multiple disconnects. This was fairly normal on older systems, but it is not considered safe to have multiple disconnects. If your home has an old panel or fuse box like this, it is recommended that you speak to a licensed electrician about possible system updates to improve safety.
- Water Main Valve. This valve shuts all water off to the home. If the valve looks old, worn out or rusted, having a professional plumber inspect it to make sure it is operating properly is a good idea. If you have a municipal water supply, the valve will be located near the water meter. Most water meters are located right near the street in front of the house under a metal or heavy plastic access lid. In addition, some homes have main shutoffs inside the house, these will usually be located inside a cabinet under the sink in a bathroom or kitchen. A third location is on the outside wall of the house in warm climates, and on the “street side” wall of the basement in cold climates. If the home has a well, the valve will be located near the pressure tank. In this case, the system must be shut down by turning main valve and turning off the electrical switch to the well pump, to prevent damage to the pump.
- Water Heater Shutoff. This valve is located on the cold-water inlet at the top of the water heater. The valve shuts the cold water off to the water heater, and as a result, closes off the hot water to the house.
- Natural Gas Main. This valve is located near the gas meter, usually outside the home mounted on the wall or very near it. Many of the gas shutoff valves require a wrench to operate; a quarter-turn turns the valve on and off. When the wrench is parallel to the pipe, the valve is open.
- Local Gas Valves. These should be located at each individual gas appliance; each of these valves also close with a quarter-turn.
- Air Conditioning Disconnect. There is a switch near the exterior air conditioning unit that turns off the 240-volt electrical supply. This is for a refrigerated air unit. In addition, most AC systems should have a dedicated circuit, which can be turned off form the breaker panel.
- Furnace and Air Conditioning Main Switch. This switch is usually mounted on the furnace or very near it. On a newer system, it may look like a light switch. This switch turns off the central heating and air conditioning system.
- Emergency Release for Garage Door. There is an emergency release on automatic door openers, allowing you to open the door if there is ever a power failure. The emergency release is located where the door attaches to the opener track. Pull the handle (often it is bright red) to release the door. Make sure you use the emergency release when the door is down so it does not fall down the tracks and crash to the ground, then lift the door manually. Make sure everyone living in the home knows how to operate this emergency function.
- Emergency Release for Garage Door- With a Key (when there is no service door to detached garage). With this type of garage, you have to open a special lock and remove a cable, when the power is out to the opener. There will be a circular lock near the top center of the garage door. Open the lock and pull the attached cable out through the opening. This will release the opener from the garage door, you can then open the door manually. Make sure the door is down before you test this release.
- Emergency Phone Numbers. Make a list of numbers on how to reach the fire department, ambulance/rescue, police, Dad, Mom, relatives, workplace(s), and anyone else appropriate to your situation.
- Fire Extinguishers. You should have fire extinguishers in your kitchen, garage, and basement. Be sure everyone knows where they are located and how to use them.
- Escape Plan. You should have a plan on how to evacuate quickly in case of emergency. Pick a specific location just outside the house where everyone can meet. Do practice drills to prepare yourself.
- Emergency Toolbox. You should have a small toolbox or tool bag set aside for emergencies with basic tools. Make sure there is a good flashlight with extra batteries.
This emergency list is just a basic compilation of good habits and preparation. For more detailed information, you can always call your local utilities, police, and fire department. It is very important that you have a plan in place for emergencies, and that everyone knows how to react quickly and calmly. It is also important to know whether the emergency shutoffs work properly.