DIY FRIDAY: 8 Tips for What To Do In A Power Outage

A week? A week has already passed since our first installment of DIY Friday. People say that things go pretty slowly in Cape Town, but I beg to differ. And with today’s national rolling black-outs (when most of us had to come to an alarming standstill), this week’s end could not have come any sooner.

The national electricity emergency that hit today has provided some food for thought. What can we do to make power outages slightly more bearable & a lot more safe?

Preparing Your Home

1. Lighting:

Most important: back-up lighting. Remember when we were all heading out to get rechargeable torches, etc. when Eskom first presented us with rolling blackouts? Time to check the torch batteries & bulbs & make sure that we have easy access to our back-up lighting. Don’t store it in your messy drawer in your kitchen. Have a set spot for it & try to get one for each room in the house. If you can’t afford expensive torches, get cheaper ones (less than R20 at Pick n Pay, for example) get candles or lanterns, but please be extremely careful with these as they cause large numbers of fires & fire-related deaths in the country.

2. Prepare your family:

  • It can be scary for the kids (and some of the adults) to be in the dark or without our comforts.
  • Let them know what’s happening before it happens, if you can.
  • Ensure that, particularly during this time of blackouts, that they keep main areas of the home free of clutter.
  • Ensure that, if you are using candles, they practice safe usage & remember to put them out (check everywhere!) once the lights are back on.
  • Ensure that they know emergency numbers, if necessary.

3. Sort out your electronics:

  • Needless to say, if you’re working on something important on your computer, save it constantly. But also, don’t forget to back up externally! You never know what could happen, so multiple backups are essential. Do it now, because in a few hours it may be too late.

  • Unplug electronics & appliances during the blackout so that circuits are not overloaded when electricity is restored.
  • Get surge protection for your outlets.

4. Keep communication lines open:

  • Don’t get stuck just because you don’t have internet! Ensure that, if you’re working, part of your work can be done directly on your hard

    drive & that you’ve backed up what needs to be. Of course, this only works if you have a laptop with back-up power. For the rest of you, pen & paper may have to do.

  • Save all contact details (including work contacts & e-mail addresses) in your phone or in a good old contact directory book. You wouldn’t believe how annoying it can be to nip off to an Internet cafe to work, only to realise that many of your contacts are stored in Outlook on your computer at work & you don’t have a clue what their e-mail addresses or phone numbers are.
  • Keep your cell phones charged. Or purchase a solar charger.

5. Ensure your security solutions are still working:

  • Your electrified fencing has a back-up system that should last a few hours. However, depending on the length of the blackout, it may cut out after a long while. Living behind electrified fencing can make one feel dependent upon it. Don’t panic, and if you feel as though you cannot relax in the dark in your home without your fencing, then we recommend you get out of the house, if possible, even if just to relax for a bit. If it is very late at night, we simply recommend that you keep your doors & gates locked. We assume you have burglar bars as with most South African homes, but ensure that windows are kept closed as well, to give you added peace of mind & prevent tampering.
  • Alarms & security beams will also be affected by extremely long bouts of electricity shutdown. Check with your service provider how long the back-up battery in your system should last & find out if there are solutions for prolonged power outages.

6. Get back-up cooking tools to preempt the outage.

  • Most people will probably be heading out to the nearest camping supply store now, so this idea is hardly original. But do get out there if you can afford it, & purchase a back-up gas stove (camping stove) & store it in a safe place (easily accessible – not on the top shelf in your garage behind the paint cans!). We don’t anticipate the power to be out for extremely long periods, but it may be handy, just in case. Or else, you could fire up the old braai! But For those of us who don’t have gardens, this may be a bit tricky!

  • Get a flask (easy to find at Clicks, etc.) & keep boiled water in it if you’ve had a bit of forwarning from Eskom. Nothing comforts like a cup of tea.

7. Prepare back-up entertainment!:

We’re entirely dependent on our electronic equipment! Have a kit prepared for entertainment for you & your family in the event of a power outage

at night. Put in their favourite games (which don’t require too much reading by torchlight) or get a battery-operated CD player/toys, etc. for them to busy themselves with. Play-dough & other tactile entertainment projects may be perfect for this.

8. Take care of people with disabilities or others requiring assistance

Consider those around you who may need a little bit of help during a power outage. Not only those in your household, but also neighbours & community members who may not be able to get by that well without the assistance of electricity or a helping hand. They may also be prey to opportunists during this vulnerable time, so do offer them some help! Help can come in the form of cooked food & boiled water for tea, or in helping them light their home before it becomes dark. It may be unsafe for them to get around with candles, so encourage them to get some lanterns or torches before the blackouts.

If you live in a flat, remember that the lifts will be out of action, so they may be stranded in their homes for a while. Offer to get them items they may need.

We’ve also added some information below from the Government of Canada’s emergency preparedness page.

Use of home generators

Home generators are handy for backup electricity in case of an outage, but must only be used in accordance with the manufacturer’s guidelines. A back-up generator may only be connected to your home’s electrical system through an approved transfer panel and switch that has been installed by a qualified electrician. Never plug a generator into a wall outlet as serious injury can result when the current produced by the home generator is fed back into the electrical lines, and transformed to a higher voltage. This can endanger the lives of utility employees working to restore the power.

To operate a generator safely:

  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Ensure that the generator operates outdoors in well-ventilated conditions, well away from doors or windows, to prevent exhaust gases from entering the house.
  • Connect lights and appliances directly to the generator. If extension cords must be used, ensure they are properly rated, CSA-approved cords.

After The Power Returns

  • Do not enter a flooded basement unless you are sure the power is disconnected.
  • Do not use flooded appliances, electrical outlets, switch boxes or fuse-breaker panels until they have been checked and cleaned by a qualified electrician.
  • Replace the furnace flue (if removed) and turn off the fuel to the standby heating unit.
  • Switch on the main electric switch (before, check to ensure appliances, electric heaters, TVs, microwaves computers, etc. were unplugged to prevent damage from a power surge).
  • Give the electrical system a chance to stabilize before reconnecting tools and appliances. Turn the heating-system thermostats up first, followed in a couple of minutes by reconnection of the fridge and freezer. Wait 10 to 15 minutes before reconnecting all other tools and appliances.
  • Make sure that the hot water heater is filled before turning on the power to it.
  • Check food supplies in refrigerators, freezers and cupboards for signs of spoilage. If a freezer door has been kept closed, food should stay frozen 24 to 36 hours, depending on the temperature. When food begins to defrost (usually after two days), it should be cooked; otherwise it should be thrown out or composted.
  • As a general precaution, keep a bag of ice cubes in the freezer. If you return home after a period of absence and the ice has melted and refrozen, there is a good chance that the food is spoiled. When in doubt, throw it out!
  • Reset your clocks, automatic timers, and alarms.
  • Restock your emergency kit so the supplies will be there when needed again.

Step 2: Make an Emergency Plan

Every household needs an emergency plan. It will help you and your family to know what to do in case of an emergency. Remember, your family may not be together when the power goes out.

Start by discussing what could happen and what you should do at home, at school or at work if an emergency happens. To be prepared, make a list of what needs to be done ahead of time. Store important family documents, such as birth certificates, passports, wills, financial documents, insurance policies, etc. in waterproof container(s). Identify an appropriate out-of-town contact that can act as a central point of contact in an emergency.

Write down and exercise your plan with the entire family at least once a year. Make sure everybody has a copy and keeps it close at hand.

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