What if the lights stay off?

2015-02-17 00:00

BE prepared to fend for yourself for at least two weeks in the event of a ­national blackout — the provincial ­government and Msunduzi ­Municipality are not coming to your aid should the power grid fail.

A city official yesterday confirmed they had no guiding disaster management policy to deal with the situation should the lights go out completely.

Should the grid collapse, the embattled Eskom would be forced to initiate a “dark start” and would need two weeks to restore power to the country.

Energy specialist Chris Yelland said established emergency procedures should already be in place.

“Our leaders at all levels of ­government should have plans in place to deal with the threat of a national blackout, given that the electricity ­crisis was first brought to the fore in 2008. Even though it is a remote ­possibility, emergency plans should be there, and if they are not then it is ­simple negligence,” he said.

“They will need to plan for a run on the banks and the potential of widespread looting. Communications will fail because cellphone batteries will run flat. People will run out of money ­because there will be no power to operate ATMs, and then we are faced with the possibility of looting when people get hungry,” Yelland added.

“There will be no electricity for ­petrol pumps and people don’t realise this; it would be bedlam for two weeks and people need to start thinking about this and how they would control things,” he said.

Yelland said that effective and ­efficient load shedding would be a measure to avoid a national blackout.

“Load shedding is the first stage in dealing with the prospect of a national blackout and is a manual intervention on the part of Eskom. It is necessary to bring supply and demand back into balance. Behind this manual process is an automatic process of under-frequency load shedding.

“Across the country the power ­frequency is monitored. As the system becomes overloaded, the frequency starts to drop. When it drops to a ­certain point, the system will cut itself off from the grid to bring the balance back to supply and demand.

“South Africa is reasonably aware and sensitised to this danger of the need to have properly prepared plans. We are practised at this and we are better than we were in 2008, when this took us all by surprise,” said Yelland.

Disaster management consultant Adrian Barnes said that in the event of a national blackout, potable water ­supply would be critical.

“What is vital to remember is that in the situation where South Africa is without electricity for two weeks, what will become the most important is ­access to water,” he said.

With treatment works down and the accessibility of clean water reliant on electrical pumps, most houses would run dry within five days.

“In less than a week, most houses would be without water. Then we look at a scenario of the haves and have-nots. The former have swimming pools and can draw water from there. The rest of the community, especially those in ­impoverished areas, will be in trouble. You can survive without electricity, but water will be the problem,” he said.

The Witness yesterday requested sight of the Msunduzi Municipality’s national blackout disaster ­management plan.

Spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha said: “Why would we have a plan? I doubt that any municipality in the country would have a plan like that.”

Co-operative Governance and ­Traditional Affairs spokesperson ­Lennox Mabaso said the province had plans in place, but they were not for public consumption.

“Eskom is the service provider to the entire country and should we be faced with a national blackout, measures have been implemented to secure ­critical government installations.

“We have generators that would ­supply institutions like hospitals and police stations and other state fixtures. This is to ensure that the country doesn’t slip into chaos.”

However, he said, businesses and the public had a duty to equip themselves.

“They [private sector business] make a profit and they must buy their own generators. Managing the ­potential disaster is everyone’s business and all our citizens must take part. We must all start living with a back-up plan. The unfortunate reality is that the government cannot afford to buy a generator for everyone,” he said.

• jeff.wicks@witness.co.za

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