Civil Defence: Recent Outage Stats + Preparedness for Busy People on a Budget


This month Auckland experienced a major power outage due to a fire at the Penrose electricity substation. All suburbs in the Eastern half of the Auckland isthmus were affected. 85,000 households and businesses (185,000 people) lost electricity. Almost a half of these households and businesses were without electricity for between 1 and 2.5 days. Most shops and businesses closed due to not having electricity. At the height of the outage 128 cell towers and 7 telephone exchanges were down and traffic lights on 140 road intersections stopped working. 49 wastewater pumping stations lost electricity resulting in 4 wastewater overflows into the environment.

This was an accident; there was no natural disaster and no weather-related difficulties. And yet there wasn’t enough capability to deploy enough fuel-powered generators quickly to keep communication and wastewater services running without interruption. How would the city cope if a natural disaster affected multiple substations while imposing harsh weather conditions or flooding or road damage?


When it comes to preparing some supplies for a chance of an extended power cut or a natural disaster, many people feel like preparation is a complicated and expensive exercise and end up not preparing anything at all. This article outlines the cheap, quick and easy ways to be prepared. When it comes to preparedness remember this golden rule: something is a LOT better than nothing.

WATER: Buying bottled water can be expensive. A better way to store water is to wash the glass and plastic bottles left over from juices and soft drinks, fill them from the tap or from a filter, and store them away from sunlight. Aim for 10 bottles per person over time.

FOOD: $50-80 is all you need to spend in a supermarket to get over 40 large servings of food that keep for 3-4 years.

  1. CANS – corn, baked beans, lentils, spaghetti, etc – canned meals do not require cooking, are waterproof, and keep for a few years. Best way to buy them is when you come across a good special at the supermarket – just grab a tray of 12 cans for $20 or less and stash it in the cupboard. When the specials change, add a couple more kinds of canned food for variety. These quick meals will also be handy on days when you run out of supplies at home and don’t feel like going to the shops.
  2. GRAIN – 5kg bag of a tasty variety of rice (like Basmati) costs $15 at Countdown and contains 40 large servings. You can buy it in an insect / water proof sealed plastic bag. When stored in a cool dark place it can keep for 5-10 years. Rice is a great source of energy and can serve as a base for your canned food when cooking facilities are available.

WARMTH: Human beings can survive a week without food, a couple of days without drinking water, but only few to several hours without sufficient body warmth. Hypothermia claimed the lives of many amateur trampers in New Zealand and many NZ homes are not much warmer than the outdoors in the winter when unheated. It is especially important to keep this in mind for the children and the elderly.

The basic guideline is to be able to get through three cold winter days and nights without the use of electric or gas heating. One way to go about this is to have warm clothes including thermal underwear and bedding that is comfortable in an unheated room. The alternative is to own a sleeping bag that is rated to zero degrees. Some say that a warm sleeping bag is the #1 disaster preparedness item.

COOKING: It is important to have one alternative way to cook and heat water in case electricity becomes unavailable for a few days. A camping gas cooker or primus, a BBQ, or a suitable wood burner can be great back-ups. Drinking warm water, tea or soup can be a good source of warmth during the day, while hot water bottles are an excellent way to keep warm in bed at night.


  1. PHONES – Mobile phones will not work if cell phone towers are without electricity. Many modern home telephones will also stop working during a power cut. However, you can still buy a corded telephone that does not use mains electricity – for $20 at the Warehouse, or even less on Trademe. Being able to phone your relatives and friends is very important in an emergency.
  2. RADIO – TV, computers, mobile phones and internet may all go down in a large power cut. Radio is most likely to remain operational and will be the official channel for updates about the situation. It is important that you have a battery powered radio (with a spare set of batteries) and know which station to tune to (101 MHZ FM – National Radio). You can also buy emergency radios that have a built-in hand cranked dynamo and a torch (for $30-50).


  1. Fill five used soft drink / juice bottles with water and store them away from sunlight.
  2. Next time you’re at Countdown, buy a 5kg sealed plastic bag of Basmati rice and stash it away.

Done! Even if you can’t cook this rice yourself during a prolonged power cut, someone in the community will organize cooking facilities and you will own a substantial food asset (40 servings) that is easy to share and barter. The worst situation is having absolutely nothing and being a burden on limited supplies prepared by others. Having something is a lot better than having nothing.


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