In a recent article for the Horsell Resident magazine, we asked residents 10 questions to help them understand how prepared they are for supply problems. Here are the answers (where we can give them) and why each question is important.
But first, why is it important to be prepared?
Short-term power cuts happen all the time, but they rarely last a long time. If you have mobility problems or a young family, however, it’s more important to be prepared for these.
Larger-scale problems are more of a concern for everyone. If there is a large-scale black-out (for instance caused by power stations being stopped by cybercrime), it could take days to get power back up and running,and this could be a regional or even a national problem. A large-scale power cut also affects the water supply and would affect transportation and therefore the food supply.
The Questions and Answers
1. Do you have bottled water at home in case of a water supply problem?
Your drinking water is likely to come out of your kitchen tap which is usually the only tap in the home which is linked directly to the mains water supply.
Other taps in your home are likely to be served by the cold water tank, where the water will have been standing in a tank which may not be so clean, so the water from your other taps is less suitable for drinking.
This means that as soon as you have a water supply problem, your drinking water is immediately affected.
It’s best to have some bottled water “just in case”, so you always have some water to drink. Other precautions to take are to check how clean and well-sealed your cold water tank is (in case you need to drink water from it), and, if you’re unsure whether water is fit to drink, use water purification tablets or boil the water and let it cool before drinking it.
2. Do you have a water butt in the garden to collect extra water which could come in handy in a water supply emergency?
Of course a water butt in the garden is no substitute for bottled drinking water, however if there is a water supply problem, by using this water for non-drinking purposes (for instance, for flushing the toilet) you can conserve the cleaner water that remains in your cold water tank, which helps you keep going for longer.
3. Do you have water purification tablets at home “just in case”?
Water purification tablets are a relatively cheap purchase and can last for along time, so it’s a great idea to have some around just in case you are uncertain whether water is fit to drink. If you can’t boil water to kill germs (for instance if there is a power cut as well as a problem with the water supply), these could prove invaluable.
4. Do you have torches, spare batteries, candles and matches at home, for use in an electricity blackout?
Being prepared with extra light sources that aren’t dependent on the electricity supply will pay dividends in both a short-term and a more sustained power cut. Wind-up torches which can be re-powered by hand are a really good idea. Also, glow sticks can be helpful in an emergency and at Horsell Prepared we have a stock of glow sticks to give out if there is a major blackout.
5. Do you have enough non-perishable food at home to feed your family for 72 hours, and/or a camping stove to cook on?
Think about how you might cope if there was a problem with food being delivered to Horsell. The Co-op in Horsell is not a big supermarket, and would soon be out of stock if there are severe delivery problems.
Good examples of food to have around are any kind of cans (baked beans, tuna, tinned vegetables, etc – these are good because they generally don’t need cooking). Dried pasta is good to have around but obviously needs a heat source to cook it, so think about a camping stove with a gas canister in case the power is out. (If the gas is out, did you know you can cook pasta using water from an electric kettle? Just pour over boiling water to twice the depth, and leave to stand for 10 minutes with a plate on top).
Why 72 hours? 3 full days should be just about enough to re-start power stations and get power back on, even in the most severe blackouts, which then should get the country moving again.
6. Have you signed yourself up (if eligible) to the Priority Services Register?
Did you know it's possible to go on a register to get extra support when there is a power cut? UK Power Networks, who deliver electricity to households in the South East, keep a secure list of people who need priority help in the event of a power cut. If you're on the list, you'll be updated, and checked on to see if you need extra support such as home visits, hot meals or advice. In certain scenarios you may be entitled to a free hotel overnight and transportation.
All sorts of people can sign up for the Priority Services Register - including anyone of pensionable age or with children under the age of 5, and also residents with dementia, or a disability or chronic illness or with sight or hearing problems.
To sign up, go to http://www.ukpowernetworks.co.uk/internet/en/power-cuts/priority-services-during-a-power-cut/
to find out more and add your name.
7. Do you know how to cut off the electricity, gas AND water supply to your home, if necessary?
All homes are different, but in general, here's how to do it:
To cut off your electricity supply, locate the main electrical panel (and know where it is before you need it!) and flip the main circuit breakers at the top (usually a pair) to OFF.
To cut off your gas supply, find your gas meter (again, know where this is!), and give the handle a quarter turn in either direction to switch it off. The shut-off valve is closed when the handle is at a right angle to the pipe. If your handle is missing, it shouldn't be! Call the National Grid gas emergency line on 0800 111999 as this could be dangerous.
To switch off the water supply, find your internal stop tap (also known as a stop valve or stop cock), which is the point where you can shut off the water supply. It's usually under the kitchen sink, but could also be in an airing cupboard, in a location where the kitchen sink used to be, or under the floorboards near the front door. Turn the valve clockwise (slowly!) to close it. It may take a few minutes for the water to stop altogether. Always turn it slowly, never forcing it. It's a good idea to test this valve regularly as it can get very stiff if untested. If it's not turning, contact a plumber to help fix this before you need it.
8. Do you know exactly what to do first in a power cut?
If you experience a power cut you should contact UK Power Networks (the electricity Distribution Network Operator for our area) on 0800 3163105 from a landline, or 0333 3232105 from a mobile.
If you can't remember these numbers, call 105 - an easy-to-remember number which will direct you towards the relevant Distribution Network Operator.
You can also register for text message updates by texting your postcode to 80876.
Switch off all appliances - such as irons, ovens, electric fires and fryers - as they could pose a hazard if the power comes back on when you are not there.
9. Do you have the kind of ‘old fashioned’ phone which will still work with no power?
Mobile phones eventually need charging, so won't be helpful in an extended power cut, unless you have a way of keeping them powered-up, such as a spare battery or a separate generator. If you have a traditional copper-wire phone, these take their power from the local telephone exchange (in Woking) which has back-up power available, so they don't require electricity in your home to make calls.
However, if your landline phone is cordless (like 8 out of 10 homes), this won't help you if you have lost power. If you do have a cordless phone, you could consider keeping a traditional corded phone in your house, stored in a handy place, in case you need to use it in a power cut.
10. Do you know what to do in a gas emergency?
For gas emergencies dial 0800 111999. If you smell a leak, switch off gas (if safe), open windows, do not use light switches or any naked flame, go outside.