Power Cuts.

A few weeks back, I received an advice leaflet about power cuts from my electricity company. I took a quick look at it and immediately thought of my friend Toby, who runs Tread Lightly Survival School and also teaches at SHTF School . Toby runs courses on how to prep for and cope with a variety of emergencies in a variety of settings. The leaflet I received purports to be giving people advice on how to prep for and cope with a power cut in their own homes. Different scale of emergency, same topic; an obvious match.

…in all honesty, though, that’s not why the leaflet reminded me of Toby. I thought of him because we’ve had a few chats about what we think of The Way Things Are Going, and I know that reading that leaflet would have caused him to headbutt the nearest wall.

Happy Yule, Toby. Don’t say I never get you anything nice.

The advice contained within the leaflet is as follows:

“Power cuts do happen from time to time, often due to circumstances beyond our control. So we recommend that you are prepared.

  • Check you have a phone available that will work in a power cut – digital or cordless ones may not work.
  • Keep a battery/solar charger handy so that you can recharge your smart phone or tablet and follow updates on social media and our online power cut map.
  • Keep our telephone number handy or save it into your mobile phone so that you can report a power cut or call for information and advice.
  • Have things like a torch ready (it’s best not to use candles or paraffin lights).
  • Protect sensitive electrical equipment such as computers with a surge protector plug.
  • Keep a wind-up/battery/solar radio ready so you can listen to local radio updates.
  • If you have a mains operated stair lift, check to see if there is a manual release handle that can be used to return the stair lift safely to ground level if it stops working.”

And that’s it.

I look at that list and I wonder what the hell can be wrong with the people whose priorities it reflects. On the one hand, it lists a number of important, basic steps to ensure that people can stay informed, stay in touch, and don’t get stuck halfway up the stairs. On the other hand, it ignores the fact that there’s more to coping with an emergency than staying connected.

If you live in a city, and the power cut doesn’t go on for that long or it doesn’t affect a very wide area, finding out what’s going on may be all you need, I guess. It gives you the opportunity to hole yourself into the nearest functioning coffee shop and eat cake until it all blows over. If you live in a self-sufficient cabin in the woods, you’ll probably not care either way. But I live in a rural area, in a conventional house. My house, like most houses here, runs entirely on electricity. No power means no lighting, heating, cooking facilities, and refrigeration. Given that power cuts tend to happen in bad weather, these kind of things are important. We do have a couple of local shops, but they run on electricity too. I seriously doubt I would be able to go and camp out at the local butcher’s until the emergency passes, and the lady running the vegetable shop disapproves of browsers. Because we’re a rural area, we’re also not terribly high priority for repairs. A friend of mine had a power cut last year that lasted 3 days.

From past experience, being in an unheated house with no edible food in severe weather truly sucks. I suppose it’s lovely to be able to update your Facebook status as the hypothermia sets in, but it wouldn’t be my first priority.

I would have probably just shrugged the whole thing off if it wasn’t for the comment about lighting. That really annoyed me. ‘Torch’, in this country, means flashlight. The advice is steering people away from using flames for lighting purposes. Now, I can’t deny that battery lights are safer to use. It’s supremely hard (though not impossible) to set your house on fire using them. However, it’s also supremely hard to warm up your soup with them. Fire makes heat. Fire cooks food. The control of fire by early humans was a turning point in the cultural aspect of human evolution.

2016, and human evolution has gotten us to a point where we deem people too irresponsible to manage naked flames.

Without the comment about candles, I could almost convince myself that that the power company officials figured that most people are clever and proactive enough to sort themselves out when it comes to food, heat, water, and other insignificant stuff like that, though I’d be wondering why they felt the need to mention that phones need batteries. I wonder if the leaflet has nothing much to do with what the power company officials think is most important in an emergency situation; whether it’s just a reflection of what they feel able to say without getting blamed for any resulting accidents. These days, if they advised people to keep a store of dry biscuits, someone’d be bound to choke on one and sue them. Any which way, I find it disheartening.

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