Our community is increasingly reliant on technological lifelines, including electricity, petrol and gas, transport, water supplies & waste water and sewage and communication networks. An infrastructure failure may result from hazard event or from equipment failure, but the consequences of a prolonged loss of these services, especially in the urban areas can be significant, causing social disruption and economic loss.

One of the significant risks identified in the Hawke’s Bay Engineering Lifeline Study was that the supply of electricity to Hawke’s Bay is limited by the capacity of the single line from Wairakei to Whirinaki. This line crosses two major fault lines. If this supply were to be lost, other sources would not be capable of maintaining the full supply of electricity to Hawke’s Bay to enable all homes and businesses to continue functioning. This means there is a real threat that following a major earthquake, power could be lost to the region for at least several days.

If Hawke’s Bay had prolonged power losses the following could occur:

  • Severe disruption to all services and businesses in the affected areas including phone and computer failure affecting banking and trade transactions.
  • Short-term economic losses to industries and businesses operating in the affected area, in particular to the retail, hospitality industries, and industrial sectors.
  • Long-term economic losses to many industries and businesses in the affected area, with an estimated long-term economic impact equivalent to 0.1-0.3% of GDP. The 1998 Mercury Power Crisis in Auckland forced 54% of businesses to vacate their premises. 400 businesses failed.

Any lifeline failure may significantly disrupt our communities, and can have a large economic impact. Depending on the time of year, disruption to utilities such as power could have a potentially serious affect for people trying to heat their houses in winter. People who rely on electrical medical equipment are especially vulnerable in a power failure.

If we had a communication failure, there are a number of risks such as being unable to access assistance in an emergency or life-threatening situation, families being unable to contact one another, and disruption to ATM, EFTPOS and banking/financial systems.

The company whose equipment causes the loss of service would be the lead agency responsible for coordinating restoration of supply. Each utility company in Hawke’s Bay undertakes comprehensive planning to reduce the likelihood that it would no longer be able to provide services in an emergency event, and to minimise the time it takes to restore their services in a crisis. The CDEM Group would have a role, if special powers were required to restore services, or to manage any social disruption issues.

Our community has become more and more dependent on technology as it has developed and therefore people often find it difficult to manage when services are cut or fail because of hazard events or accidents.

In September 2000 Hawke’s Bay was thrown into commercial and domestic chaos by the region’s biggest storm-driven blackout in almost 40 years. The power cut was estimated to have cost the region’s industry hundreds of thousands of dollars. The region blacked out twice when both the 110kv transmission line from Tuai and the 220kv links with Wairakei failed at the height of the storm, which left the region’s high country under snow. The first total blackout lasted about an hour and occurred in the middle of the night, but the most damaging blackout began in the early hours of Tuesday 26 September at 4:45 am and lasted up to 5 hours in some areas. It was the first time in 22 years that the area’s three electricity supply points, the Redcliffe, Whakatu and Fernhill sub-stations were all out at the same time.

On 15/16 August 2001 gale force winds and rain struck Hawke's Bay. Winds gusting to 90km/h caused power cuts from Dannevirke to Wairoa and closed the Napier-Taihape Road. The winds and electrical storm caused line faults and blew fuses that blacked out hundreds of homes in Napier and Hastings, particularly in Pirimai and in the area from Windsor Park to Havelock North in Hastings. In the Wairoa district, Morere and Taui were affected by blackouts. Snowfalls were also widespread.

lifeline generator
Maintaining a generator ensures local radio station stays on air during power cuts in September 2000 (Photo: HB Today)

Ensure your business is prepared. Ensure you have UPS (battery back-up) to allow you to close down IT systems in a controlled manner and to keep your telephone system operating as long as possible. The more dependent your business is on electricity the more important it is for you to investigate and install emergency back-up options such as diesel-powered generators.

Be prepared at home with:
• Torch with spare batteries
• Radio with spare batteries
• Alternative means of cooking and heating

Learn more about emergency power outages at Unison