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Staying Safe in Power Cuts

Access to electricity is something many of us don’t think about – it’s just always there, in the bulbs that light our homes, the cords that charge our devices and the screens that provide us with entertainment. But what if is suddenly doesn’t work? While power cuts are usually unpredictable, caused by weather or accident, there are a number of things you can do to keep you and your family safe (and happy) before, during and after a power cut.

First things first – is your emergency kit up to date?

An emergency kit is a necessary item in any home, and something that could turn out to be a lifesaver during a disaster. Essential items include:

  • Enough non-perishable food (dried or canned), water (3 litres per person) and baby/pet needs for 3 days
  • First aid kit plus essential medicines
  • Radio/torch and spare batteries for both
  • Wind and waterproof clothing plus strong outdoor shoes
  • Toilet paper and large rubbish bags
  • Face/dust masks

Don’t forget an emergency getaway kit as well – these are for each person to take if you need to leave in a hurry. Use a sturdy, durable backpack to store:

  • Basic spare cell phone (charged)
  • Spare clothes/blanket/raincoat/hat/sleeping bag
  • Water bottle and easy-to-carry food rations
  • Important documents – birth certificates, insurance policies, wills, passports etc
  • First aid kit
  • Toiletries
  • Face/dust masks
  • Special needs – hearing aids, glasses and essential medication

See getthru.govt.nz for more information on emergency kits, getaway kits and first aid.

Before a power cut

Unless it’s a planned outage, there aren’t many instances where we can predict when a power cut will strike. However, we can be prepared for one happening, especially if there is weather forecast that could cause an outage, such as thunderstorms, snow, floods and tornados.

  • Stock up on torches, spare batteries, and blankets. If you’re going to be using candles, actively supervise them, put them out when you go to bed, and ensure they’re placed in sturdy metal holders, away from anything flammable.
  • Ensure any electrical medical equipment has back up batteries or a generator of appropriate size.
  • Fill lidded containers with water and place them in the freezer. These blocks of ice can be used in the freezer and fridge to keep things cool if a power cut does strike.
  • If you use a wood fire with a chimney, get it cleaned and inspected regularly.
  • If you’ll be using a camping stove or similar for cooking food, ensure you have plenty of gas for it and know how to operate it safely.

During a power cut

While inconvenient, power cuts can be turned into a time for relaxation and fun. Aside from the safety tips, here are a few ways to have fun during a power cut:

  • When the power goes out, look outside to see if it is off everywhere. If your neighbours still have power and the streetlights are on, there may just be a problem with your switchboard or fuses.
  • If the power is out in your neighbourhood, turn off all the lights (except one to know when the power is back on) and unplug appliances and devices to protect them from damage if a surge occurs when power returns. Make sure any electrical medical equipment is still operating.
  • Open the fridge/freezer as little as possible to retain the cold temperature inside.
  • If you’re using a camping stove to cook, keep it next to an open window or other appropriate ventilation to eliminate gas build-up in the area.
  • If it’s dark, use a torch to make shadows and have a shadow puppet show.
  • Break out the board games and puzzles!
  • Set up a tent inside (or out, weather permitting) and have a camping experience.

After the power returns

  • After 10-15 minutes, plug everything back in. If perishable food has been exposed to temperatures above 4°C for more than two hours, throw it out.
  • Check your fuse box to make sure everything is working.
  • Reset electric clocks and alarms.
  • Re-stock your emergency kit with batteries etc to replace the things you’ve used.