Do not return to your damaged home before the area is declared to be safe by local building and safety officials. Returning home can be both physically and mentally challenging, so use extreme caution.

From a safe distance, walk carefully around the outside of your property and check for loose power lines, gas leaks, and structural damage. If you have any doubts about safety or the structural integrity of the building, have it inspected by a qualified building inspector or structural engineer before entering.

After a disaster, the gas and electric meters may be shut off or removed. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO TURN THE UTILITIES BACK ON YOURSELF. If you need the gas turned back on and the meter is still in place, contact a licensed plumber to check the gas system and let them light any pilot lights on furnaces, water heaters, stoves, etc. A plumber can also repair any leaking water lines. If you need the electricity turned back on and the meter is still in place, contact a licensed electrician to check the electrical system and reset the breakers. If either the gas or electric meters have been removed, a permit may have to be obtained, followed by any necessary inspections before the meters will be reset.

Entering the Building

Before you re-enter your home or building, protect yourself and others from injury. An excellent safeguard against injury is the use of proper personal protective equipment. Consider using the following items before re-entering your home:

  • Flash light
  • Hard hat
  • Safety glasses or goggles
  • Gloves
  • Coveralls
  • Sturdy non-slip boots (steel shank and toe)
  • N-95 Respirator

NOTE: A battery-powered flashlight should be turned on outside before entering the building. The battery may produce a spark that could ignite leaking gas, if present.

After a disaster, there can be serious health hazards present. The following is a brief list of things to consider:

  • If your home or building has a sign posted by the fire department or building officials that states that the property is unsafe to enter, do not enter until the dangerous conditions are made safe. A structural engineer may need to be contacted to inspect the site and determine the course of action to stabilize the structure and make the affected area safe
  • After a disaster, many building materials that may contain hazardous materials such as asbestos or lead, can become disturbed and/or airborne. These materials include but are not limited to acoustic popcorn, stucco, drywall taping mud, siding, floor tiles, vent pipes, duct taping, paint, etc. If disturbed, dust from these materials can contaminate the building and contents and pose a serious health risk. Before allowing items like clothing, furniture, toys, soft goods, etc. to be moved, contact a state certified environmental testing laboratory for a site survey of the materials to see if hazardous contaminants are present.
  • Occasionally after a fire is extinguished, it can re-ignite. If you see active smoke or flames, contact the fire department immediately by dialing 911
  • After a fire or flood, water can saturate wall board or plaster, especially on ceilings, causing the ceiling material to sag or collapse. If you see the ceiling sagging, stay clear of it. If you hear or see water leaking, turn off the water at the nearest shut off valve or at the water meter, usually located near the curb at the street

Natural Gas

Do Not Enter If You Smell Gas!

  • If you smell gas or hear a hissing or blowing sound, leave the building immediately and shut off the gas at the gas meter, unless doing so jeopardizes your safety or that of others. If you do not know where the meter is or how to shut it off, call your local utility company. All leaks are serious.
  • Do not turn on light switches, appliances, phones, or any electronic devices. Do not smoke. Do not use oil or gas lanterns, or candles, for light inside a damaged home until you are sure there is no leaking gas present. Do not search for gas leaks inside a damaged building if you smell gas
  • The gas meter shut-off valve is located next to the meter. To shut off the gas, use a wrench to turn the valve a quarter turn in either direction to the "off" position shown in the illustration below
Gas main shutoff
  • Once the gas is shut off, do not turn it back on. Contact a licensed plumber or your local utility company to turn it on and relight any pilots. Forgetting to relight all the pilot lights could result in a dangerous gas build up which could cause an explosion
  • If you have a propane gas tank or cylinder, turn the shut off hand wheel clockwise (to the right) as far as possible until it stops. This valve is usually found on top of the tank under a protective metal cover
Propane tank shutoff
  • Never use outdoor propane appliances indoors or in enclosed areas. This can result in carbon monoxide poisoning and death. Only use appliances indoors that are designed and approved for indoor use

or more information on natural gas safety, visit here.


After a disaster, the electrical system in your home may be damaged. If you see water or fire damage in or around the electric panel, DO NOT TOUCH IT. If there is standing water and the house must be entered to access the main power switch, call an electrician to turn it off. NEVER turn power on or off yourself or use an electric tool or appliance while standing in water. Never turn on a light switch, use any power source, or inspect your household appliances while standing in water. This can result in electrocution.

  • If you are concerned about the safety of your electrical system, shut off the main breaker, unless doing so jeopardizes your safety or that of others. Then have a licensed electrician isolate all circuits that feed any rooms or areas that may be damaged before turning the power back on
  • Beware of outdoor hazards like loose or dangling power lines. Stay away from any wire that might be live
  • Your electric panel may be equipped with fuses or circuit breakers. If the panel has fuses, you will find a knife switch handle or pullout fuse that should be marked "MAIN." If the panel has circuit breakers, and if it is safe to do so, flip the breakers to the off position
  • If your home has circuit breakers, you may need to open the metal door of the breaker box to reveal the circuit breakers. The main circuit breaker should be clearly marked showing "ON" and "OFF" positions
  • Remove all the small fuses or turn off all the small breakers first, then shut off the "MAIN breaker"
  • If there are sub-electrical panels next to the main fuse box or breaker panels in other parts of the home, in an emergency shut them off also. Electrical shorts can sometimes develop that can cause a circuit to bypass the breaker or fuse

For more information on electrical safety visit here.

Main electrical breaker shutoff

Portable Generator Safety

Never plug a generator into any electric outlet in your home or business. Before connecting your portable electric generator, call your local utility company. State law requires that you notify your local utility company if you will be using a generator.

During an outage a generator may be used for electricity. Before starting a generator, carefully read and follow the manufacturer's instructions regarding safe operation. Generators that are installed incorrectly or misused can feed electricity back into power lines, endangering your life and the lives of crews working to restore power.

  • Never use a generator or any other gas operated equipment indoors or in a partially enclosed area. Generators produce high levels of carbon monoxide gas, which is invisible, odorless, tasteless, and highly poisonous and can linger for hours, even after the generator is shut off. Exposure to carbon monoxide can cause fatigue, chest pains, nausea, vomiting, headaches, confusion, lack of coordination, impaired vision, loss of consciousness, and even death. If you start to feel sick or dizzy while using a generator, get away from it and seek fresh open air immediately and then seek medical care. Woodstoves, gas stoves, and unvented gas and kerosene space heaters are also sources of carbon monoxide indoors
  • Always locate a generator outdoors, on a dry surface, away from flammables, combustibles, windows, doors, or vents
  • For more information regarding portable generator safety, visit here.
Portable generator safety


In the event of a flood, you may need to shut off the water supply at the water meter. The water meter is usually located under ground near the curb at the street and housed inside a concrete box with a removable lid. Once the lid is removed, inside you should find a valve that can either be turned off by hand or may require a water meter shut off key. Before you put your unprotected hand inside the box, be aware of Black Widow spiders or other creatures that may be present. To turn off the water at the meter, the valve should be turned perpendicular to the water line.

Water main shutoff


Water damage increases the likelihood of mold contamination. Mold is a microscopic fungi that thrives in warm, damp, and humid conditions. Some molds have been determined to produce mycotoxins, which can be a health hazard. To prevent exposure that could result in adverse health effects from mold, persons should 1) avoid areas where mold contamination is obvious; 2) use environmental controls; 3) use personal protective equipment; and 4) keep hands, skin, and clothing clean and free from mold contaminated dust. Any structure that is flooded should be presumed to contain materials contaminated with mold, if those materials were not thoroughly dried within 48 hours.

Many people are sensitive to mold and exposure to mold can produce negative health effects through inflammation, allergy, or infection. Allergic reactions, including fever, are common after mold exposure. Symptoms of those exposed to toxic molds can include:

  • Immune system suppression
  • Respiratory problems including asthma and infections
  • Eye irritation with burning, watery or reddened eyes
  • Cough - dry and hacking
  • Nose or throat irritation or both
  • Skin rashes or irritation
  • Memory impairment
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Body aches and pain (Chronic Fatigue)
  • Food intolerances and allergies
  • Headaches
  • Mood swings
  • Nasal and sinus congestion

For more information regarding mold, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website at: to read the report entitled "Mold Prevention Strategies and Possible Health Effects in the Aftermath of Hurricanes and Major Floods". The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is another good resource for information regarding mold and indoor air quality issues. The EPA can be contacted by phone at 1-800-438-4318 or visit their website here.

Food and Drinking Water

Food may not be safe to eat after a disaster. Safe water for drinking, cooking, and personal hygiene includes bottled, boiled, or treated water. Your state, local, or tribal health department can make specific recommendations for boiling or treating water in your area. All food, beverages, and medications that have been exposed to heat, smoke, soot, or water should not be consumed. Make an inventory of these types of items before discarding them.

Identify and Throw Away Food That May Not Be Safe to Eat

  • Throw away food that may have come in contact with flood or storm water
  • Throw away food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture
  • Throw away perishable foods (including meat, poultry, fish, eggs and leftovers) that have been above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 hours or more
  • Thawed food that contains ice crystals or is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below can be refrozen or cooked
  • Throw away canned foods that are bulging, opened, or damaged
  • If cans are not damaged but have come in contact with floodwater or storm water, remove the labels, wash the cans, and dip them in a solution of 1 cup of bleach in 5 gallons of water. Re-label the cans with a marker and include the expiration date
  • Food containers with screwcaps, snap-lids, crimped caps (soda pop bottles), twist caps, flip tops, snap-open, and home canned foods should be discarded if they have come into contact with floodwater because they cannot be disinfected
  • When in doubt, throw it out

Feeding Infants and Young Children

  • Breastfed infants should continue breastfeeding. For formula-fed infants, use ready-to-feed formula if possible. If using ready-to-feed formula is not possible, it is best to use bottled water to prepare powdered or concentrated formula. If bottled water is not available, use boiled water. Use treated water to prepare formula only if you do not have bottled or boiled water
  • If you prepare formula with boiled water, let the formula cool sufficiently before giving it to an infant
  • Clean feeding bottles and nipples with bottled, boiled, or treated water before each use
  • Wash your hands before preparing formula and before feeding an infant. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer may be used if the water supply is limited

Clean and Sanitize Food-Contact Surfaces


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends discarding wooden cutting boards, baby bottle nipples, and pacifiers. These items cannot be properly sanitized if they have come into contact with contaminated flood waters. Clean and sanitize food• contact surfaces in a four-step process:

  1. Wash with soap and warm, clean water
  2. Rinse with clean water
  3. Sanitize by immersing for 1 minute in a solution of 1 teaspoon of chlorine bleach (5.25%, unscented) per gallon of clean water
  4. Allow to air dry

Keep Drinking Water Safe

Listen to public announcements to find out if local tap water is safe for drinking, cooking, cleaning, or bathing. Until the water is safe, use bottled water or boil or disinfect water.

  • If a "boil water'' advisory is in effect, do not drink tap water or use it to brush your teeth unless water has come to a rolling boil for at least 5 minutes, unless the water is cloudy, then double the boiling time. Water can also be treated with unscented household chlorine bleach. To treat water, add 1/ 4 teaspoon (approximately 1.5 ml) bleach to 1 gallon of cloudy water or 1/8 teaspoon (approximately 0. 75 ml) bleach to 1 gallon of clear water. Stir well and let it stand for 30 minutes before using
  • Dirty water should be strained through a coffee filter or paper towel to remove any suspended debris
  • Do not use contaminated water to wash dishes, brush your teeth, wash and prepare food, wash your hands, make ice, or make baby formula

Other Important Safety Tips

  • Keep all children and pets away from the damaged area until the conditions are made safe
  • Do not walk on a floor surface or roof until you have inspected the condition of the framing or structure below and verified that it is safe. For instance, when a fire burns from underneath a roof, floor, or stair system, the plywood sheathing may not burn all the way through, giving the appearance from above that the floor, steps, or roof is safe to walk on. However, this can be deceiving. The floor joists, steps and or rafters can be totally destroyed from below by a fire and any added weight may cause it to collapse
  • Stay clear from damaged chimneys or masonry walls. These structures can collapse if the members that support or brace them are damaged or destroyed
  • Stay clear of damaged roof overhangs and loose debris
  • Stay clear of free standing walls that may have no support or bracing. These walls can fall over
  • When water or mud is present, beware of slippery conditions
  • Beware of lumber that may have nails sticking up. Nails that stick up from lumber can penetrate a leather shoe or boot easily
  • Beware of broken glass
  • In the event of a fire, beware of a strong residual smoke odor. Even though the fire is out and there is no visible smoke, the odors left behind are toxic. Avoid prolonged exposure and if you need to be inside the damaged area, wear a proper High-Efficiency Particulate Arrestor (HEPA) type face mask and try to ventilate the area
  • Beware of spilled dry or liquid chemicals

NEVER MIX BLEACH WITH AMMONIA OR VINEGAR! Mixing these chemicals creates chlorine gas, which can be lethal. As a rule, never mix cleaning products.

Poison Gas warning
  • In the event of a fire, do not open safes or strong boxes until they have a chance to cool. Safes can hold intense heat for several hours. If the door is opened before the safe has cooled, the air that enters combined with the high internal temperature can cause the contents to burst into flames
  • When disposing of a refrigerator or freezer, be sure the doors are secured or removed to prevent a child from accidently getting locked inside

Digging and Trenching Safety

After a disaster, digging or trenching may be necessary to replace a fence or deck, remove or plant a tree, replace a foundation, run new underground gas or electric service lines, or simply install a new sprinkler system. California Law requires that before digging is performed, verification be made that there are no underground utilities buried in or around the area. These utilities may include electricity, gas, communications, water, or sewer. To ensure there are no utilities buried in the work area, contact DigAlert by dialing 811. As a FREE service, DigAlert will notify the utility providers for a site visit to mark the utility locations. Each utility company will mark the location of their lines with different colored chalk, flags, or paint. Digging may accidentally damage an underground utility and disrupt services to neighbors, cause electrocution or an explosion. For more information regarding what to do before digging, call DigAlert at 811, or visit their website at

Wild Animal Safety Guidelines

  • Do not corner wild animals or try to rescue them. Wild animals will likely feel threatened and may endanger themselves by dashing off into floodwaters, fire, and so forth
  • Do not approach wild animals that have taken refuge in your home. Wild animals such as snakes, opossums, and raccoons often seek refuge from floodwaters on upper levels of homes and have been known to remain after water recedes. If you encounter animals in this situation, open a window or provide another escape route and the animal will likely leave on its own. Do not attempt to capture or handle the animal. Should the animal stay, call your local animal control office or wildlife resource office
  • Do not attempt to move a dead animal. Animal carcasses can present serious health risks. Contact your local emergency management office or health department for help and instructions
  • If bitten by an animal, seek immediate medical attention

Snake Safety

After a disaster or fire storm, poisonous snakes, like rattlesnakes, may seek shelter in homes, garages, or under debris on the property. The following tips will help you to avoid a snake bite.

  • Beware of your surroundings and watch where you step when moving debris
  • Avoid placing your unprotected hands or fingers under boards or debris you intend to move. Use a shovel or other tool with a long handle to lift the object first, to see if a snake is present. If you encounter a snake, step back and allow it to escape
  • If a snake is found indoors, do not attempt to remove it. It may be poisonous. Contact an animal control agency or wildlife conservation officer to come and remove it for you

If you are bitten by a poisonous snake, do not try to treat it yourself. Stay calm and seek emergency medical attention immediately.

Insect and Spider Bites

Bites and stings from insects are usually more of a nuisance than dangerous. However, mosquitoes can carry the West Nile Virus and if fever, headaches and nausea occur after being bitten by a mosquito, contact your physician immediately. Ticks can carry Lyme disease and if fever, rash, or vomiting occurs after a bite, you should also contact your physician immediately. The best way to prevent insect bites is to use an insect repellent containing DEET, on exposed skin.


In the United States, there are a number of spider varieties that may cause adverse health effects, if bitten. However, there are two varieties in particular considered to be highly venomous. These are the Black Widow and Brown Recluse. The Black Widow can be identified by its shiny black body and on its underside it will have a red, orange, or yellow hourglass mark. If bitten, the bite may feel like a pinprick, but soon, excruciating pain and stiffness will set in. Symptoms may include vomiting, headache, abdominal pain and fever. If bitten by a Black Widow, seek medical attention immediately. A bite from a Black Widow can be lethal.

The Brown Recluse spider or Violin spider as it is commonly called, is a brown, gray, to yellowish colored spider. This spider has the reputation of being the most dangerous. It has a characteristic mark that looks like a violin on the top of its body. Bites usually become painful and itchy within a few hours and symptoms include severe pain, stiffness, rash, fever, weakness, and vomiting. The Recluses' venom destroys soft tissue that can lead to large open sores and gangrene. These sores can range in size from the size of a penny to 10 inches across. A bite from a Brown Recluse can be lethal. Anyone suspected of being bitten by either spider should seek medical attention immediately.

Venomous spider warning

Brown Recluse Spider Identification - an adult spider is 1/4 to 3/4 inch long in body - a dark violin shape is located on the top of the leg attachment region with the neck of the violin pointing backward toward the abdomen. The Brown Recluse has 3 pairs of eyes - one pair in front and a pair on either side.

Black Widow Spider Identification - the body of an adult Black Widow is about 1/2 inch long. The female is normally shiny black, with a red hourglass marking on the underside of the abdomen. The marking may range in color from yellowish orange to red and its shape may range from an hourglass to a dot.


The average scorpion is about 2-3 inches long, have eight legs and a pair of crab-like pinchers. Scorpion stings are most serious in young children, older adults and pets. Healthy adults usually do not need treatment for scorpion stings, but if a child is stung, always get immediate medical care. Most scorpion stings in the United States cause only minor symptoms, such as pain and warmth at the sting site. However, the venom of the Bark Scorpion, which is native to Arizona, New Mexico and the California side of the Colorado River, is more toxic and can be life-threatening in children. For more information on scorpions in the San Francisco Bay Area, visit here.

It's always best to be safe. If anyone is stung, follow these guidelines:

  • Get immediate medical attention for any child that is stung by a scorpion
  • For adults, seek medical attention if your symptoms become worse or new symptoms develop within a few hours of the sting
  • If you're concerned about a scorpion sting - even if your reaction is minor - call your local poison control center for advice

Poison Information

California Poison Control System

California Poison Control Hotline

The California Poison Control System (CPCS) is the statewide provider of immediate, free and expert treatment advice and assistance over the telephone in case of exposure to poisonous or toxic substances. The CPCS is available toll-free by calling 1-800-222-1222 from anywhere in California 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Interpreters are available for over 100 languages and the service is free and completely confidential.

Call for help anytime you, another adult or child:

  • Has touched, tasted, or breathed in something that might be harmful, such as a common household or personal care product
  • Has gotten a cleaning product, chemical, pesticide or other harmful substance in their eye or on their skin
  • Has taken the wrong over the counter or prescription medicine, the wrong dosage or combination of drugs, is having a reaction to a drug or may have overdosed. You can call about any medicine or drug
  • Has been stung or bitten by an insect, spider, or snake
  • Is showing signs of food poisoning

You can also call if you just have a question. The poison center phone number is 1-800-222-1222 and is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

For more information regarding safety after a disaster, you can visit the American Red Cross website at or FEMA's website at