Hidden costs of blackouts
Rampant load-shedding is not just plunging households and small businesses into darkness, its far-reaching effects are also having an impact on crucial provisions for people’s security and health.
Those using oxygen or sleep apnea machines and home dialysis equipment in Nelson Mandela Bay are terrified a lack of electricity could have lifethreatening consequences.
Bay security companies have also warned that prolonged periods of outages are compromising security systems with “false alarms” becoming more frequent as battery backups fail.
Alongside reports of households experiencing breakdowns of appliances, such as fridges, as a result of surges when power is restored, the outages have caused an unprecedented activation of alarms due to technical issues which, in turn, have affected response times. Operations manager for Atlas Security in Port Elizabeth, Monty Montgomery, said load-shedding was “having a hell of an impact” on household security and the security industry.
“The security game is all about timing and responding as fast as possible.
“So when traffic lights are down and there is traffic congestion, this has a major impact on response times.
“In addition, the number of alarms that are activated has increased tenfold due to rundown back-up batteries.
“But we have to treat each alarm activation in exactly the same way as there could be a genuine emergency.”
Montgomery said local organisations, such as neighbourhood watches, communities and businesses, were, however, playing a positive role.
“We have been receiving lots of assistance from neighbourhood watches, help and understanding from communities, and businesses have been playing their role doing things such as being more vigilant and closing early during load-shedding to avoid criminality.”
He urged communities to be more vigilant, take more precautions and to get more lighting, such as candles and solarpower lamps, in their homes.
He also urged residents to check their alarm system batteries and to acquire back-up batteries.
“While we have experienced far more alarms and other challenges, if I look at the statistics, the crime rate has not really changed,” Montgomery said.
Small enterprises were found to be coping with the additional security challenges by either closing their businesses during blackouts, or using generators and access control whereby only a few people are allowed into a store at a time.
For many small convenience stores in areas such as Richmond Hill and Central which tend to operate into the night, access control was their primary defence against criminality, with owners and employees serving customers through security gates.
Fidelity ADT national marketing and communications manager Charnel Hattingh urged residents to test their domestic security systems as a matter of urgency.
Hattingh added there were a number of practical steps that could be taken to ensure security was not compromised, including ensuring the alarm system has an adequate battery supply, that all automated gates and doors are secured, and to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity.
Hattingh said power cuts could also impact on fire-control systems, meaning they need to be checked regularly and that the more frequent use of gas and candles could also
increase the risk of fires.
With regard to alarm activation due to load-shedding, Hattingh said: “You can assist by manually cancelling any potential false alarms and thus help call centre agents in prioritising the calls needing urgent attention.”
Prominent Port Elizabeth children’s activist and author Dianne Lang, who is extremely ill, has been put in a life-threatening predicament by loadshedding.
Speaking on Lang’s behalf as she is too ill to communicate with the media, friend and well-known musician Ulagh Williams on Friday described the nightmare situation Lang is currently enduring.
“Due to load-shedding, she is unable to run her oxygen . . . We are trying to get the public mobilised to donate towards helping to get the medication she needs from overseas and also to get a generator for them
[Lang and her husband] to use.
“We are desperate – she has saved so many lives, literally, and does not deserve to suffer this way.”
Williams said Lang needed continuous power supply due to her illnesses.
“Acquiring a generator is very expensive, but something that she really needs. We are trying to raise funds for this right now.”
Retired nurse Ryna Bakkes said on Friday she was exhausted after a week of Stage 4 loadshedding.
“I look after my mother who is 86 years old. She has serious heart problems and is on oxygen. She uses oxygen about 95% of the time.
“We have a contract with a company to hire the equipment and the 1.8kg oxygen tank. The company couldn’t refill the tanks in time as people bought multiple oxygen tanks.”
Tanks are used when oxygen machines are off due to outages.
“On Sunday, we had to phone around because apart from an empty tank, the ma-
chine was also giving trouble,” Bakkes said.
“At night, I stay awake to switch off the machine and switch over to the oxygen tank.
“It happened once or twice that I didn’t wake up in time and my mom had to wake me up because of serious chest pains,” she said.
“I have been up every two hours all week.
“At 6am on Tuesday, my mom had to go to the hospital to get oxygen. We have now in desperation bought a 4.8kg oxygen cylinder.”
Requesting not to be identified, a Bay man who uses a continuous airway pressure machine for his sleep apnea, said load-shedding was a serious concern.
“It is a concern as with any wall socket-powered medical device if they do not run on batteries. Sleep apnea is a very serious sleeping disorder where your sleep is interrupted due to
lack of air in your lungs.
“Imagine sleeping with a full face mask covering your mouth and nose and enjoying continued airflow into your lungs and then when the electricity goes off, this airflow stops.
“When the power goes off, it is a bit of a shock to the system which will wake you up – if you don’t wake up, you can imagine the consequences.”
He said while there were models of machines which had built-in battery backups, they were far more expensive.
Aurora Hospital, which provides inpatient and outpatient care, said it was compelled to use a generator.
Hospital manager Gaokaerlwe Moseki said: “We do have outpatients. Should they have problems, they can come into the hospital. The problems associated with load-shedding include our computer systems and the high costs involved in operating the generator.
“With the high cost of fuel, the load-shedding is making a serious impact on running costs,” he said. -Additional reporting by Estelle Ellis..