Utilities Disruption

Do you know what to do in the event of major utilities failures? Find out what you need to know, how to prepare, what to do when it happens and also what to do after the event.

‘Utilities’ are organisations and companies that provide the essential services to your home and community.

These normally fit into four categories:

  1. Energy: electricity, natural gas and petroleum products (responsibility of commercial retailers).
  2. Three Waters:  drinking water, wastewater, and storm water (responsibility of Local Council).
  3. Telecommunications: landline, mobile phone, and internet (responsibility of commercial retailers).
  4. Transport: local roads (responsibility of Local Council) and State Highways (responsibility of NZ Transport Agency), airports and seaports (responsibility of Local Council and Commercial Operators), and railways (responsibility of Kiwi Rail).

A failure of one or more of these utilities can occur as a result of any type of natural disaster, such as a flood, storm, severe weather, earthquake, volcano, landslide or tsunami. In these situations, Civil Defence will work alongside the utilities companies to restore and maintain services to the community.

What can I do to personally prepare for this event? 

  • Make a plan with your family/flatmates/friends to get through an emergency. Think about the things you need every day and work out what you would do if you didn’t have them.
  • Know when, where and how to turn off the water, electricity and gas at the mains switch to your home or business. Remember to treat all electrical equipment as ‘live’.
  • Have your utility company’s phone number, email and website address handy. That way you can report any faults and follow the progress on the restoring of services. Note that in an emergency call centres and websites may become overloaded.
  • If you are reliant on electricity for a medical device, notify your electricity retailer directly.
  • Being prepared with food, water, medication and alternatives to power and gas will lower dependence on transport and supply chains.

No Electricity or Gas:

What would you do if the power was out for days? How will you see, cook, and keep warm?

  • Treat all electricity as live and never touch exposed electrical equipment.
  • Report electricity and gas faults to your retailer via their faults number or website.
  • Do you have spare cash in case ATM's, EFTPOS machines, and payWave are not working?
  • Do you have enough fuel in case petrol pumps are not working?
  • Make sure you have torches and batteries, either in your emergency kit or somewhere everyone can find them in the dark.

No Water

Imagine having no water for three days or more. How would you wash, cook, and clean? What would you drink?

  • Do you have enough drinking water (3 litres per person per day for 3 days or more). What will we cook and clean with? What will we use for a toilet? It is best to change the water every 12 months.
  • Keep your empty water, juice and other drink bottles, give them a good clean and fill them with water. Don’t forget to store water for babies and pets too.
  • Remember to store water for cooking and cleaning as well. You can use the water in your hot water cylinder, but store some extra in large plastic containers.
  • You can also fill plastic food containers with water and keep them in the freezer. These can help keep food cool if the power is off and can also be used for drinking.

No Phone or Internet

If the phone and internet lines are down, how would you keep in touch, arrange to meet up, keep up with news and weather alerts?

  • In most emergencies it’s best to stay in your own home, so make your home your meeting place and have an alternative in case you can’t get there.
  • Talk to your family about how you will get in touch and where you will meet up in an emergency if the phone lines and/or internet are down.
  • If you have kids, make sure you know the school/day care’s emergency plans and give the school names of three people who could pick the kids up if you can’t get there.
  • Have a solar or battery powered radio so you can keep up with the latest news and alerts. Know which radio stations to tune in to for information during an emergency.
  • Keep a written list of important phone numbers/ email addresses.
  • In an emergency, phone lines can become overloaded quickly. Keep them clear so emergency calls can be made and, if you can, use text or online messaging to keep in touch.

No Transport

In an emergency, trains and buses may not be able to operate, roads may be closed, and streets or neighbourhoods might be blocked off.

  • If you can’t take your normal route home, how will you get there? Who will you go with? Where will you meet up if your street is a no-go zone?
  • Agree on a meeting place if you can’t get home. It might be the school, a friend’s place, or with whānau.
  • If you work away from home, find workmates who live in your area. In an emergency you could travel together.
  • Have a getaway bag at work or in your car, with walking shoes, warm clothes, some snack food and a bottle of water. A torch, batteries and radio are useful too.
  • Give the school or day care a list of three people who can pick the kids up if you can’t get there.

No Sewerage System

Toilet systems are likely to be affected by a disaster through broken pipes, flooding of the sewerage system or breakdown of the pumping machinery.

  • Remember, human waste can spread disease.
  • You will need a makeshift toilet if your toilet cannot be used and an alternative working toilet is not available to you.
  • Have handy a sturdy, large rubbish bin with a lid, some leak-proof bin liners, a toilet seat and toilet rolls.
  • Use makeshift toilets until advised by authorities that it is safe to use the flush.
  • Mark all toilet sites.
  • Get your septic tank pumped out to remove all silt and sludge if it has been covered by flood water.
  • Septic tanks may not work properly until the level of water underground has gone down.

For details on how to make a temporary toilet or long drop, visit the Ministry of Health website.

  • Put in place your household or business emergency plan.
  • Contact your utilities provider, inform them of any faults and find out the estimated restoration times.
  • Have a solar or battery powered radio so you can keep up with the latest news and alerts.
  • If the power goes out, eat the food from your fridge first, then your freezer, before you eat the food in the cupboard or your emergency kit.
  • Talk to your neighbours about what they’ll do if the power is out. You might find they have a gas bbq and you have enough food to share (or the other way round).
  • Watch out for fallen power lines or broken gas lines and stay out of damaged areas.
  • Do not overload phone lines with non-emergency calls. Only use the phone for short essential calls to keep the lines clear for emergency calls.
  • Keep updated on traffic and travel information. Roads could have been damaged and roads could be closed. It is important that you adhere to the instructions of officials and detours that might be put in place. These are put in place for your safety.
  • Stay away from affected sites until they have been properly inspected and authorities give the all-clear.
  • Look for and report broken utility lines to appropriate authorities and suppliers.
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