South Africans need to mitigate the risk and damage caused by load shedding by being prepared, Marius Steyn, Santam’s personal lines underwriting manager, says.

Eskom implemented load shedding this week, leaving up to 20% of South Africa without electricity at a time. Stage 3 load shedding continued on Wednesday, with no indication on when Eskom would be able to reliably power the entire grid again.

The embattled power utility implemented stage four load shedding for the first time in history on Monday.

As load shedding stages increase, so does the possibility that appliances get damaged by repeated power cuts, Steyn said.

"[Consumers] must cope with the damage to appliances brought on by power surges or risk loss through theft, or burglary as a result of faulty security measures."

Christelle Colman, Old Mutual Insure executive for high-net-worth solutions, said in her experience, the most common risks associated with load shedding are the possible damage to appliances and the security threat.

“The risk of increased opportunistic crime should be top-of-mind for South Africans, considering the load shedding schedule is made public for all – including criminals – to see,” Colman said.

Colman and Steyn gave 11 tips for South Africans to stay safe at home during load shedding.

Get back-up batteries for alarm systems

Double check that alarm systems are in working condition, and have back-up batteries in the event of a power failure, Santam’s Steyn said.

Load shedding causes power packs and batteries to wear out faster, Old Mutual Insure’s Colman said, resulting in reduced functionality.

This may also cause alarm systems to produce false alarms and panic signals, so units should be checked frequently.


Have a spare torch or headlamp

Steyn advises keeping a torch in the car in the event of arriving home at night during a power outage.

“Most smartphone also have a built-in torch or torch apps which come in handy during unexpected power outages,” Steyn said.

Because the load shedding timetables are open to the public, criminals may see blackouts as an opportune time to undertake illegal activities, Colman said. Extra vigilance is especially required when arriving or leaving the home.


Install reserve batteries for fences and gates too

Ensure electric fencing and gates still work during load shedding by installing – and maintaining – batteries, Colman said.

Such batteries typically last between 6 hours and 8 hours when electricity supply goes down.

“[But] load shedding dramatically decreases a battery’s lifespan, so it is incredibly important that these are tested or replaced.

She added homeowners should also ensure that their homes are locked up and adequately secured, in order to reduce the risk of a burglary during load shedding.


Save Emergency contact information

People should save emergency contact information on their phones and also keep a paper copy safe and accessible, Steyn said. T

he list should include numbers for emergency services such as the fire department, police, and medical services.

“Also, include contact information of friends and family along with insurance information.”


Charge electronic devices

Always keep cell phones, laptops, and tablets fully charged in case of an unscheduled blackout, Steyn said

“It's also a good idea to have an emergency phone charger close by, this comes in handy during extended power outages.

“Remember to use devices sparingly during outages so that you don't drain the battery completely before the power returns.”


Have gas for cooking and lighting

A small LP gas bottle and lamp gives good quality lighting for a large area and can also be used for cooking and boiling water, Steyn said.

He also suggests keeping hot water in a thermal flask so that you can make hot drinks.


Have frozen bottled water

Keeping emergency water stored is easy when frozen, Steyn said. And a frozen bottle of water helps keeping food cold, and prevents it from spoiling, for longer.


Unplug all cables

Colman said it’s always a good idea to unplug appliances, or any electronic devices, when the electricity goes out.

These appliances, which include cell phones and computer equipment, can be damaged when the power comes back on due to a spike in electricity flow, she said.

Steyn said residents should consider any electrical connection as live during a power outage as power can return at any time.


Install surge protection

Electric surges are one of the biggest causes of damage to equipment during a power outage, Steyn said.

Installing a surge protection device can help minimise some damage.

“Have a surge protection device fitted to your electrical distribution board or alternatively at the power outlet to the electronic device,” he said.


Back up data

Make it a priority to save data offsite, in case of a hard drive crash or unforeseen electrical fault, Steyn said.

Online "cloud-based" backups are very convenient and are mostly automated, which means that you have one less thing to worry about, he said.


Only use generators outside

While people may purchase generators, it is critical that these are never used inside the home or in an enclosed area, Coleman said.

“Generators produce carbon monoxide, which can be fatal if inhaled and is highly flammable,” she said.

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