Infrastructure Failure

Gas

Pure natural gas is colorless and odorless. Scents are usually added to assist in identifying leaks. This odor commonly takes the form of a rotting egg aroma. Persons detecting the odor should immediately evacuate the area. Do not start a fire or use sparking electrical equipment. As a result of the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002 passed in the United States, Federal safety standards require companies providing natural gas to conduct safety inspections for gas leaks in homes and other buildings receiving natural gas. The gas company is required to inspect gas meters and inside gas piping from the point of entry into the building to the outlet side of the gas meter for gas leaks.

Power

The loss of electrical power for a long enough time would be expected to cause a certain proportion of affected persons to undergo serious hardships ─ particularly those who have special medical needs or disabilities. Shortages of certain types of goods or services may affect Colorado, even if the blackout itself is not directly experienced here. Similarly, gaps in communication, information, or service networks may have an effect well beyond the actual area that lacks electrical power.

Water

Water is an essential part of every community.  It is a necessary component of producing sectors, a key ingredient to sustaining life for its population, and is indispensable to fire protection and other specialized uses. The reality is that Colorado is far from 100% self-sufficient in its fresh water supplies. Moreover, waterways that import water into the region are vulnerable to natural disasters, terrorist attacks, technological accidents, and regulatory changes.  A major disruption of these external water supplies could potentially have devastating effects on the economy and the quality of life of its people.

Banner photo courtesy of FEMA/Wendell Davis

Within text photo courtesy of FEMA/Norman Lenburg

Before

Gas

Be aware of your surroundings and note things such as:

  • A damaged connection to a gas appliance.
  • Dirt or water being blown into the air.
  • Dead or dying vegetation (in an otherwise moist area) over or near pipeline areas.
  • A fire or explosion near a pipeline.
  • Exposed pipeline after an earthquake, fire, flood or other disaster.
  • An unusual sound, such as a hissing, whistling or roaring sound near a gas line or appliance.
  • The distinctive odor of natural gas.

Power

  • Along with a supply of water, flashlights with extra batteries are essential home emergency supplies. More powerful battery-powered lanterns also are a wise investment.
  • Portable generators are increasingly popular and invaluable during a power outage, but they emit deadly carbon monoxide gas and must be used properly. Never use generators indoors. Always place them at least 15 feet from doors and windows.
  • Some families use dry ice for refrigeration following an outage. Families with members who have power-dependent health needs (i.e. oxygen, dialysis) should have an emergency plan in place at all times.

Water

  • Families should have enough bottled water on hand at any time to get through a water outage lasting up to 72 hours. According to federal standards, that is at least one gallon per person, per day, for drinking and sanitation. If you are a pet owner, purchase and store extra water for your pets. Count a pet as a person when figuring how much water you need.
  • If you are an elderly individual or a person with disabilities, ask a family member or a friend to purchase extra water for you at the store. Conversely, if you have vulnerable relatives or neighbors, make sure they have extra water. Do not wait until an outage occurs!
  • A tip for citizens on the municipal water system: During an outage, pour water down your toilet bowl to manually flush it. Consider purchasing additional water strictly for flushing. In the winter time, snow is a great resource during a water outage. Melt snow in large pans and use the melted snow rather than purchased water to flush your toilets.

During

Gas

  • Remain calm.
  • Don’t light matches, candles, or cigarettes.
  • Don’t turn electrical appliances or lights on or off or use any device that could cause a spark.
  • Immediately evacuate the area.

Power

  • Fire officials strongly discourage the use of candles during a power outage because of the risk of fire.

Keep food as safe as possible by:

  • Keeping refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. First use perishable food from the refrigerator. An unopened refrigerator will keep foods cold for about 4 hours.
  • Then use food from the freezer. A full freezer will keep the temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed.
  • Using your non-perishable foods and staples after using food from the refrigerator and freezer.
  • If it looks like the power outage will continue beyond a day, prepare a cooler with ice for your freezer items.
  • Keep food in a dry, cool spot and keep it covered at all times.

Be safe with electrical equipment by:

  • Turning off and unplug all unnecessary electrical equipment, including sensitive electronics.
  • Turning off or disconnect any appliances (like stoves), equipment or electronics you were using when the power went out. When power comes back on, surges or spikes can damage equipment.
  • Leave one light turned on so you’ll know when the power comes back on.
  • Eliminating unnecessary travel, especially by car. Traffic lights will be out and roads will be congested.
  • When using a portable generator, connect the equipment you want to power directly to the outlets on the generator. Do not connect a portable generator to a home’s electrical system. If you are considering getting a generator, get advice from a professional, such as an electrician. Make sure that the generator you purchase is rated for the power that you think you will need.

Water

  • Reduce your consumption and water usage.
  • Water contaminated with fuel or toxic chemicals will not be made safe by boiling or disinfection. Use a different source of water if you know or suspect that water might be contaminated with fuel or toxic chemicals.
  • If you don’t have safe bottled water, you should boil water to make it safe. Boiling is the surest method to make water safer to drink by killing disease-causing organisms, including viruses, bacteria, and parasites

After

Gas

  • Open windows and doors to air out any enclosed areas.
  • Make sure any necessary repairs are completed.

Power

  • Do not touch any electrical power lines and keep your family away from them. Report downed power lines to the appropriate officials in your area.
  • Throw away any food that has been exposed to temperatures 40° F (4° C) for two hours or more or that has an unusual odor, color or texture. When in doubt, throw it out!
  • Never taste food or rely on appearance or odor to determine its safety. Some foods may look and smell fine, but if they have been at room temperature too long, bacteria causing foodborne illnesses can start growing quickly. Some types of bacteria produce toxins that cannot be destroyed by cooking.
  • If food in the freezer is colder than 40° F and has ice crystals on it, you can refreeze it
  • If you are not sure if food is cold enough, take its temperature with the food thermometer. Throw out any foods (meat, poultry, fish, eggs and leftovers) that have been exposed to temperatures higher than 40° F (4° C) for 2 hours or more, and any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture, or feels warm to touch.

Water

  • There will likely be air in your water service piping causing cloudiness and/or could be discolored due to particles that dislodge during the filling of the water pipes.  The water is safe to use even if discolored.
  • It is a good idea to flush your system through a faucet that does not have an aerator screen such as an outside water faucet or bath tub cold water faucet by allowing the water to flow until clear water returns. If the water has not cleared after several minutes, call the local water district.
  • If kitchen or bathroom faucets do not perform normally following a water outage, it is most likely due to debris in the aerator screen.  Simply remove the aerator screen, clean it, then return it to the faucet and check for normal operation.

More Information:

References, Resources and More Information:

  • Ready.gov – Blackouts
  • Department of Energy
  • American Society of Civil Engineers
  • Frequently Asked Questions : Water Infrastructure & Sustainability
  • U.S. Department of Transportation: The State of the Nation Pipeline Infrastructure

Fast Facts:

  • Aging gas infrastructure comes with risk of corrosion, damage, leaks, and collapse.
  • Water pipes can last between 15 and 100 years, depending on maintenance.
  • Much of our water infrastructure was built following World War II
  • Water treatment plants have about 20-50 years of use before they need to be expanded or rehabilitated.
  • Blackouts don’t just leave homes dark ─ they can also shut down transportation, hospitals and other critical necessities
  • There are more than 450,000 miles of high voltage power lines in the U.S., which connect some 5,800 major power plants to populations and that doesn’t include normal power lines or smaller plants!