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Getting ready and getting through

How many prods do we need to get our emergency supplies and systems sorted? A couple of short power cuts at my house on the Sunday of the Greener Neighbourhoods civil defence challenge, followed by a two day power cut for 85,000 Auckland homes and businesses has me going through my civil defence kit and plan.

Visiting many of the participating households during the recent challenge has given me plenty of good ideas and an appreciation for some of the unexpected effects of doing without services most of us take for granted these days.

Challenged to choose between limiting their power use (fridges stayed on) or going without running water, having enough light to see by and managing without the internet seemed to be two of the biggest challenges faced by Greener Neighbourhoods households.

Participating households in Paekākāriki, Raumati Beach and Otaihanga were visited by Scott Dray from WREMO and myself on a wet, cold weekend. We found households coping well, with several having opted to go without both power and water. The loss of water meant flush toilets were out of action so several people were trialling a two-bucket composting toilet system in their existing bathrooms or a space like a laundry. For Joe Wilson of Paekākāriki however, the event was an opportunity to get creative, rigging up a gravity-fed water supply for their toilet cistern from a rainwater-filled wheelie-bin in the garden.

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Lighting posed a real challenge for many, with issues ranging from torches missing batteries to the hazards of candles and children. Candles were a CD kit staple, though Scott noted they need to be used with caution – easy to knock over, they can pose a significant hazard in case of earthquake aftershocks. Solar lights provided a good alternative and were often left around as nightlights. More than one household just gave up though and went to bed early.

Wood burners were filling multiple functions in many households, providing heating, cooking and hot water. Heather and John Dawson got up to a cold house on Saturday morning but their burner soon warmed things up while they made their breakfast bacon and eggs on the top.John w kettles & wood burner

A common observation was how much longer everything took – from boiling water to sweeping the floor – but this was balanced out for some households by the time freed up due to the lack of internet access.  Children were particularly unimpressed by the enforced technology fast with several ‘evacuating’ to friends’ homes. Board games, reading and candlelit dinners came into their own as fun alternative pastimes.

Many households had rainwater tanks ranging from WREMO’s 200L model through to large in-ground tanks. For those with large tanks, electric pump systems were unavailable and water was being bucketed out and carried to the house. This water was being boiled for washing and cooking, with drinking water often coming from stored containers. The challenge was a timely reminder for Hillary Wooding of Raumati Beach to use and replace her stored water. She thought it may have been sitting in a cool, dark cupboard for nine years but reported it tasted “fine, if a bit lifeless”.

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Scott from WREMO was keen to point out that civil defence preparedness isn’t about becoming a survivalist but being as comfortable, healthy and confident as possible in your own home after a civil defence emergency (or even a power cut).

“If people are able to meet their own needs at home, with the things, food and people that they know, they’ll feel better.

“Knowing your neighbours is also important. Neighbourhoods where people know each other are friendlier, nicer and safer places to live. In some kind of stress or emergency, neighbours who know each other are more likely to look after each other.”

171All of the Greener Neighbourhoods groups took the opportunity to get together for a shared BBQ on the Saturday night, no doubt comparing notes about their experiences.

For emergency preparedness information, see

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