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Helpful tips during a power cut

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Everything you need to know if you experience a power cut in Northern Ireland.

We all value our electricity supply most when it’s suddenly not there. The loss of electricity in a power cut can be inconvenient and can even create a safety risk for some people. Fortunately, most power cuts don’t last very long. This guide will give you all the information and tips you need to help you during a power cut.

Article Contents

  • Why do power cuts happen? 

  • What to do during a power cut  

  • How to prepare for a power cut  

  • Help for vulnerable people during a power cut 

  • Power cut FAQs  

Why do power cuts happen?  

Power cuts happen for a variety of different reasons. Severe weather conditions, such as strong winds and heavy snow, equipment failure, maintenance work, overloads and higher demand for electricity than is currently available in the network are all common causes of power cuts.  

Let’s look at some of those power cut causes in more detail. 

  • Natural causes - Lightning strikes, flooding, fallen trees and gales can damage overhead lines and other equipment. 

  • Human error - Building work, pipe laying and people cutting trees or digging in their gardens can cause damage to cables. 

  • Fires and theft - Fires in substations or near power lines, vandalism to cables and theft of equipment. 

  • Planned maintenance - Power lines being switched off to allow people to work safely on or near the electricity supply. 

What to do during a power cut 

If you’re in a power cut there are some simple things you can do to stay safe and increase the chances of getting your power back as soon as possible. You need to check whether there is a power cut in your area, report the power cut, turn off appliances, find torches and other lighting, and gather your family members to make sure everyone’s safe. 

Here are all the tips you need to follow to deal with a power cut in Northern Ireland. 

Step 1. Confirm if a power cut has happened 

Just because your electricity is off doesn’t necessarily mean there has been a power cut. You need to check whether or not there is a power cut. To do this: 

  • Check prepayment meter - If you use pay as you go electricity, make sure there’s money in your prepayment meter. 

  • Check with neighbours - Are your neighbours’ lights on? Check to see if any nearby properties have also lost power. 

  • Check fuse box - Look in your consumer unit to see if an appliance has tripped your electricity. 

  • Check for power cuts in your area - If you’ve still got an internet connection you can check online for power outages near you. 

Step 2. Report the power cut  

Once you’ve confirmed that there is a power outage in your area it’s important to report the power cut to NIE Networks, which is responsible for managing and maintaining the electricity distribution network in Northern Ireland. Power NI is a separate company and doesn’t oversee the network, so we’re unable to make repairs to the electricity supply.  

To report a power cut in Northern Ireland: 

  • Call NIE Networks - You can call 03457 643 643 to report a power supply failure. The phone line is open 24 hours a day for power supply problems. 

  • Report a power cut online - Visit NIE Networks’ website to report a power outage

Step 3. Turn off appliances  

Make sure your appliances are turned off and unplugged during a power cut. This is to avoid any damage to your appliances if there’s a power surge when the electricity supply returns. It also gives you peace of mind that you didn’t leave any appliances on that could create a safety risk when the power comes back. 

  • Keep fridges and freezers closed - Avoid opening the doors on fridges and freezers to keep temperatures down and help your food to last longer. 

  • Turn off and unplug hazardous appliances - Fires, cookers, irons and hair straighteners could create a fire risk if they’re left switched on and your electricity supply is restored. 

  • Turn off and unplug sensitive appliances - Computers, televisions and microwaves could be damaged by a sudden surge of power after a power cut. 

Step 4: Organise lighting  

Use lighting to keep your household safe and avoid unnecessary hazards during a power cut. Think about which areas need to be lit, the best way of lighting them and how people will be moving around the home when it’s dark. That could mean making sure everyone has a torch to take to bed and ensuring your stairs are well-lit. 

  • Use torches and battery-powered lamps - Battery-powered lighting will help you move around your home and get on with life if your power’s off during the hours of darkness. 

  • Light candles - Use candles to provide extra light in areas where it’s safe to do so. 

  • Leave one light on - Leave one of your lights switched on so you immediately know when your power has been restored. 

Step 5: Gather household members  
Try to bring your family together in one room during a power cut, especially if it’s dark outside. This will give you reassurance that everyone’s safe, particularly if you have young children, elderly family members or pets in your home. 

  • Check on pets and animals - Tropical fish and exotic pets might need extra care during a power cut because air pumps, filters and heaters will stop working. 

  • Stay entertained - With no TVs, consoles or Wi-Fi, gathering your household will help to create a bit of amusement and conversation. 

  • Stay warm - Bringing all the people and pets in your home together will help everyone to keep warm. 

How to prepare for a power cut  

There are things you can do to get ready for a power cut. This could be planning ahead just in case there’s an outage or getting ready for a power cut you know is going to happen due to planned maintenance. 

Some of the top tips to prepare for a power cut are: 

  • Keep torches and batteries accessible - Have a good supply of torches and batteries in your home — and make sure they are kept somewhere that's easily accessible if it's dark outside when the power goes off. 

  • Charge devices - Keep phones and other devices well charged, or have a power bank ready-charged to provide an emergency charging source if needed.  

  • Make an emergency kit - Create a bundle of basic first-aid kit and any other items that your family might need in an emergency. 

  • Consider a backup generator - If your household is reliant on medical equipment or another mains-powered device for something really important, you could buy a generator to use during a power cut. 

  • Create a list of useful contacts - Your Wi-Fi won’t be working so you might want to keep a list of useful contacts, especially if the mobile data network isn’t reliable where you live. 

  • Protect perishable food - Prepare to move perishable food from your fridge to your freezer to help it last longer or keep ice blocks in your freezer that can be transferred to your fridge to maintain a low temperature for longer. 

  • Stock up on food, blankets, and hot water - Keep a supply of non-perishable food, blankets and flasks of hot water in your home to use during a power outage. 

Help for vulnerable people during a power cut 

There is extra support available for vulnerable people in power cuts in Northern Ireland. NIE Networks has a Medical Customer Care Register for people who need electrically-powered healthcare equipment.  

Join the register to get priority service during a power cut. 

Power cut FAQs  

How long do power cuts last? 

Most power cuts last only a few minutes. How long you’re without power will depend on what has caused the outage and how long the repair or planned maintenance takes to complete. 

What should I do after a power cut? 

After a power cut, make sure that all hazardous appliances are switched off. If cookers, irons and other appliances were on when the power cut started they could create a safety risk when power returns. Remember to reset the clocks on any appliances that use timers. Depending on the cause of the power outage, you might also be able to claim compensation

What should I do if I see a damaged overhead electricity line? 

If you see a damaged overhead electricity line in Northern Ireland, you should report this to NIE Networks, which is responsible for maintaining the electricity network. You can report an issue online or call NIE Networks on 03457 643 643. 

What happens if there is a nationwide planned emergency power cut? 

If there’s a planned emergency power cut in Northern Ireland this will usually be because the demand on the electricity network is greater than the supply of electricity available. If this happens to the degree that the entire system is at risk, the System Operator Northern Ireland (SONI) will instruct NIE Networks to start load shedding — enforcing power cuts — until the system is balanced and there is enough electricity being generated to meet customer demand. 

Can I get compensation for a power cut? 

You might be able to claim compensation for a power cut if NIE Networks' service to you failed to meet any of its 11 guaranteed standards. There are some exceptions if the level of service fell below the guaranteed standards for reasons that were out of NIE Networks’ control. If you’re eligible for compensation for a power cut, you will get a payment of between £25 and £125 depending on the circumstances.