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It's Time To Review Your Utility Earthquake Safety Procedures

With the giant quake off the coast of Mexico still making its effects known, Californians, and really anyone in a known quake zone, are reviewing their supplies, updating their contact lists, and once again going over escape plans. There's one more area to review for quake safety: your gas supply.

Lots of homes in the state still use natural gas for cooking, heating, water heaters, and more. And while smaller to moderate quakes aren't always cause for concern, the fact that the state can experience some pretty good shaking (remember Loma Prieta) means that you do need to know what you're doing.

Reviewing gas and utility procedures in case of a quake is not that hard. Schedule a couple of blocks of time, one for the initial review and the other to take care of anything you weren't able to cross off the list the first time.

Locate the Shutoff Valve and Wrench, and Teach Everyone to Use Them

Most important: Locate the main gas shutoff valve to your home and find the wrench that goes with it. If you live in a house, this will be easy -- walk around the perimeter until you find the gas meter. You'll see a metal tab sticking out of one pipe; the tag should be parallel to the pipe.

To shut off the valve, you turn the tab (also called a tang) 90 degrees. DO NOT attempt to shut off the valve now! If you shut it off, you can't restart it by yourself because then you'll have free-flowing gas in your home due to all the pilot lights going out when you turned off the gas. All you want to do now is just be sure you know where everything is.

If you don't see anything or are completely nervous about even glancing at the gas meter, call a plumbing and utility company like Souza & Viviani Plumbing Co. or your main utility company (for most that will be PG&E). If you live in an apartment complex, ask the maintenance crew where the valve is and let them know you're just reviewing your earthquake safety procedures.

Contact Utility Companies About Their Policy

One of the great problems that faces utility companies after a quake is getting everyone safely back online. Typically, utilities advise that you not turn off the gas unless you smell gas or suspect a problem (e.g., your stove falls over, yanking the gas lines, and you're not sure if there's a leak because you have no sense of smell). It can take a long time for the utilities to ensure everyone is fine.

And no, you may not restart your gas line yourself. That's an explosion and carbon monoxide risk right there.

However, as mentioned, if you have no sense of smell or are really not happy about having gas appliances in a quake zone, that's another problem. After you've located the valve, call the utility company and discuss with them what you should do if there's been a more-than-mild quake.

Secure the Water Heater Tank, Stove, and Everything Else

Next, if your gas appliances -- heck, all of your appliances -- have been braced and secured to a wall, check the bolts for corrosion. Replace any leashes or brackets that don't look like they're in good shape.

If you have not braced or secured your appliances, do that now, or get a contractors in to do it. Plumbing and water heater companies can secure your water heater tank; they may also be able to help you with other gas appliances like a stove or clothes dryer.

Once all of those have been secured (because even low appliances like stoves can fall over in shaking), look at whatever is around the gas lines and connections leading to those appliances. Your stove might be secured, for example, but if you have a freestanding pantry that isn't bolted to the wall, that could fall over in a quake. And if it falls onto the stove, that's bad.

Apartment dwellers can ask their managers about having the maintenance crew secure appliances within the apartment.

This may sound like a lot, but just take it one step at a time. As the old slogan goes, the more you know.
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