Suppose right after an earthquake, you're standing outside your house. Now comes the question: Is it safe to go back inside?

One of the first things you want to do is see if your house is still resting on its foundation. If it's not, your house probably isn't sound enough to enter.

Also, look for downed electrical lines. If you find those, you should obviously get away and not touch them.

If it does appear safe to go inside your house, look around for signs of fire. Also, smell for the presence of natural gas and listen for a hissing sound which may indicate that a gas pipe is broken. If you detect the presence of gas, go back outside.

If you want to turn off the gas to your entire house, find the meter located outside and use a long-handled wrench to close the valve (which is a reason to have a suitable wrench ahead of time). Puget Sound Energy says everyone in your family should know where your gas meter is and how to turn off the gas. Use a long-handled wrench to give the valve one-quarter turn (90 degrees) in either direction so that the lever is crosswise to the pipe.

Once the gas is off, leave it off. Contact your local gas company to inspect the system, check and relight appliances.

Know where your circuit breaker or fuse box is. If you do find damaged wiring and you know what circuit it's on, you can turn off that individual circuit. If you're not sure or have widespread electrical damage, you can turn off your main power supply.

Check cabinets, closets and even pictures hanging on walls to make sure they're secure and won't fall off during an aftershock, hurting someone.

Check medicine and cleaning cabinets. Look to make sure that medicines and chemicals haven't spilled. Sometimes chemicals that are typically regarded as harmless can mix together, creating very poisonous substances.

Make sure your sewer system is working. If it's not, go to a neighbor's house or use a portable camping toilet. You don't want raw sewage backing up into your house.

Try and let your local utility know if your water's been cut off, your sewer is disconnected, your power is out or you've had to shut off your gas. But don't expect a repair person to come out right away, because thousands of other people are in the same boat you are.

The best thing you can do at this point is to try and have patience.

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