by Randy W
One topic that I have not seen a lot of coverage on in recent years is the topic of getting one’s home prepared just prior to running out the door due to a forced evacuation or a “Bug Out” scenario.
If you live in an area susceptible to Hurricanes, tropical storms tidal waves, Wild fires and the like there will certainly be public service announcements, and News programs contain many of the things I am discussing here but in a situation where you do not have a large “ time budget”, due to impending disaster, there are several things that should be addressed (if there is time to do so) prior to evacuating your home. (Please note all of these procedures should be followed if sufficient warning allows for the time to do so).
Personal property and belongings can always be replaced, take care of your loved ones and their safety as the first priority, then if there is time address these measure to prevent your home from sustaining additional non-storm related damaged caused by a compromised utility or system in your home.
First of all, I believe it is essential to leave you home as secure as possible being certain to remove, or secure any pets, cash, jewelry, valuable papers, documents firearms and ammunition. If possible, rare antiques, and valuable should be wrapped, boxed or protected, where they will be out of harm’s way. In case of potential flooding any and all household items that can be moved, should be placed on upper floors of the home rather than left in the basement or on the first floor if applicable. Valuable Items that cannot be moved or taken away should be left out of sight. If valuable electronics or furniture can be seen from an open window then cover all windows and doors with the blinds, or curtains so no one has the ability to see the contents of your home.
If you live in areas where storm evacuations occur such as along the east coast, it is a good Idea to have functional storm shutters installed on windows that face the prevailing direction a storm will usually come from and have plywood (at least ½ inch thick) pre-cut to size to fit all other doors or windows not so equipped. Having plywood precut to size, and properly labeled in advance, can save valuable time and ensure protection is afforded if sufficient warning for such measures is given. If you are forced to leave your home for long periods of time, this practice that will not only protect your windows from windblown objects, wind compression damage, and hail, it will also offer some additional security, protection should the area be overrun by vandals, looters or marauders.
Another good Idea to protect your home prior to evacuation is to learn where the main water shut off is in order to prevent non storm related, water damage. Once the water main has been shut off, it is a good practice to test a low lying faucet to see if the water is off prior to departure (if the is sufficient time to do so). More than one home owner has returned from vacation or a short evacuation to find the exterior of their home in good condition but flooded from a damaged washing machine hose, ice maker water line or other non-storm related, water damage that could have been prevented if water to the home had been shut off.
In rare instances if you should be forced to evacuate your home in winter conditions or for extended periods of time, the water meter should be disconnected and capped, the supply lines should be drained, pressured cleared, and all drains filled with a few cups of RV anti-freeze. This will prevent pipes from bursting in colder climates. While this would be rare in most evacuation scenarios weather related steps should be taken. In most cases of short term evacuations the possibility of frozen water lines would be small, but it is of course weather dependent.
In an event of a possible Forced evacuation there may not be time to drain and winterize the lines but be aware there are conditions where this could be warranted.
One of the scariest cases of having to evacuate your home would be due to a possible wild fire looming in your area. The Local Fire Marshal may ask to have home owners leave their water on with garden hoses at the ready (should the home owner be forced to leave, at least the fire department would be able to douse the roof or siding should here be a save opportunity to do so). Each forced evacuation may be different and the Local authorities will announce their methodology for such an evacuation. This is by no means a comprehensive guide and is just mentioned for educational purposes.
In addition to shutting off water flow to the home in case of a Bug-out, the natural or LP gas supply to the home should be shut off at the meter or the LP tank dome.
There are certain appliances that rely on pilot lights to start the flame when they are placed in use (water heater, gas log, etc.). These appliances will need to be re-lit once the home can be re-occupied. Most modern stoves/ovens, furnaces, and fire places have electronic ignition or igniters and do not need to be relit prior to use. Learn were the shut offs to you gas supply is located (Meter or tank) and educate yourself and others in your family how to shut them off. For most homes the gray colored gas meter will have a pipe coming from the curb (buried at least 2 ft.) carrying the gas to the meter and a pipe running to the ground that will enter the home on one of the exterior walls. Once located, the gas line shut off will generally be on the pipe line coming to the meter from the curb. This valve will look like a brass spool valve with a tab standing out from the spool. This should be turned 90 degrees from vertical or in the horizontal position to shut off gas to the home. In situation where the home is fueled by an LP tank the shut off valve will be in the tank dome and may be a ¼ turn ball valve or a screw valve similar to an outdoor hose bib (water faucet). Each valve application may be different so familiarize yourself with safe and proper procedures prior to performing these precautions. A trained professional, utility employee or contractor may need to be contacted in order to familiarize you with your own home system and how it functions, but do not wait until an emergency to find someone to show you the ropes.
In the event of a storm surge, flood, or even earth quake such precautions could prevent further damage to your home caused by a gas leak and resultant fire. It might even prevent being overcome by gas fumes as you reenter your home. Advanced training in systems functionality may prevent additional non-related storm damage to your home.
One additional potential for non-storm related damage to your home would be your electrical system. It might be possible for it to sustain damage from severe weather. While it takes a Utility employee to shut current off to the home at the Mast head (Location where the lines come into the home). Most new homes do have the ability to shut off the circuit panel using the main shutoff, located in the circuit panel (many times this is the first breaker at the top or bottom of the panel, this will appear at least twice the size other circuit breakers in many cases). In some regions, building codes may also call for an exterior, electrical, main, shutoff, breakers, between the circuit board and the meter.
This is very convenient for the Local fire department in case of a home fire, but unless secured by a seal or padlock can also allow a thief to shut off power to the home in order to bypass security. While contriversial, cutting power to the home at the circuit panel, during extended evacuations, may be a viable option. It is probably lower in priority that the other utilities, but if there is a large windblown objects that strikes the exterior wall or you home an electrical line can be damaged in the wall, causing an ark and resultant fire at this location, especially if the object happens to be metal. In most cases of flood, the utility company will shut electricity off as a main distribution switch to prevent emergency workers from coming in contact with live lines. But do not assume this is the case without first contacting the utility prior to entering your home, after a natural or manmade disaster
Extreme caution should be used when reenergizing the main circuit to your home after a natural disaster due to potential damage to your wiring. Never stand in front of the main circuit panel when activating the main shut-off to the on position. Use a protected stance, off to one side of the panel with as much of your body away from any potential electrical fire ball that may form if a large ark occurs due to a power surge in the panel.
Please consult your utility or a professional electrician if you have any questions about shutting your power off to your entire home and prior to re-energizing the home if you have any concerns, this article is for educational purposes and is by no means an all-encompassing manual.
Many people have returned home to a natural disaster to see their home in ruins due to damage that occurred from non-related storm damage that could have been prevented by following a few simple steps to insure that damage to the systems of their home that we take for granted in normal times. Please do your homework so this.
We have taken time today to explore 3 of the systems in your home that may fail or cause potential damage to your home due to a natural or manmade disaster but this is not all inclusive as there may be other sources that I may have over looked that may be unique to our own situation such as solar array and batteries, Exterior wood furnaces, water or steam heat to your home just to mention a few. Making all of the systems of your home as inert as possible prior to bugging out may prevent additional non-storm related damage occurring to your home in your absence.
In summary, it is prudent to be knowledgeable about the main utility systems of your home and how they can be de-energized or shut off in case of an emergency. The main systems we have discussed today all allow us to live in relative ease and comfort compared to our ancestors of less than 100 years ago, but they also have the potential to cause harm to our property or loved ones if they are not properly shut down in times of emergency evacuations. Electricity, Gas, and water when properly controlled are truly a blessing but when they are not contained or controlled in their proper infrastructure, can lead to additional damage to our home should they be left unchecked during a disaster. With proper knowledge these modern conveniences can be shut off or disconnected in such a way that they will remain in a contained and controlled manner that will allow our homes escape unintended damage that can easily be contained with proper education.
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