Story sponsored by Essential Energy.
A ferocious start to the Australian summer is prompting a re-evaluation of community safety planning.
The tragic consequences of devastating bushfires and fierce electrical storms wreaking havoc across the nation in December has highlighted the need for every household, business and community organisation to constantly review their individual safety plans.
With official warnings of a greater risk of grass fires this summer - and grasslands covering more than 80 per cent of NSW - safety planning becomes even more relevant than ever before for many parts of Australia.
Emergency authorities are reporting a greater awareness of the need for safety plans but are urging individuals to take responsibility in understanding how to best protect themselves, their family and property based on the most up-to-date information.
While regional Australia needs no reminder about seasonal fluctuations, NSW regional electricity distributor Essential Energy has warned of the dangers that emerge in the summer, highlighted by a relatively early start to the long, hot and dry conditions.
Essential Energy works closely with the NSW Rural Fire Service in the bushfire season. During last month's bushfires across the north coast of NSW, Essential Energy teams were embedded with emergency authorities in operations centres to ensure seamless information flows and rapid responses.
One of the key community safety concerns that emerges with the threat of bushfires is the dangers from fires that impact and damage powerlines.
Essential Energy Chief Human Resources Officer Craig Thomson says when fires approach power lines, everyone should stay back at least 25 metres from the powerline. That includes people in vehicles.
"Electricity, especially at high voltages, can 'jump' across several metres of air gap which means that you can still receive an electric shock or be electrocuted, even without directly contacting a high voltage powerline," Mr Thompson explained.
"For example, smoke can act as a conductor while fires burning on or near powerline easements which can greatly increase the chances of a flashover occurring."
Fallen power lines are also a serious safety concern. Members of the public often underestimate the dangers or don't realise the power lines remain live.
That's why Essential Energy urges people to stay at least eight metres away from fallen power lines and to call emergency authorities immediately.
Essential Energy technicians also advise customers to always treat powerlines as live, even though they may appear to be de-energised.
Community members who are carrying out clean-up activities should never direct the hose stream on to the powerline, into a smoke plume within 25 metres of a powerline or at a burning bush or tree in a powerline easement.
Ensure the stream is aimed no higher than a person's head height and that the spray is directed away from powerlines.
When it comes to the potential dangers of working around powerlines and other network infrastructure, there are extra precautions for farmers, rural workers and agribusinesses.
Essential Energy advocates the long-standing electricity safety advice for rural communities: "Look up and live".
Machinery measuring over 4.6 metres has a high risk of contacting overhead powerlines and should be closely monitored to ensure required minimum approach distances are maintained. Mr Thomson says awareness is the key.
"Overhead powerlines should be identified and marked at ground level. Before accessing paddocks and work areas, check the location and condition of poles and wires," he said.
"Conditions can change without notice, with both heat and wind being able to affect powerline height and sag," he continued.
"It is imperative to be mindful of the height of farm machinery in raised and lowered positions so you can maintain safe clearance distances from powerlines and always lower machinery fully before moving off.
"If machinery does come into contact with overhead powerlines, stay in the vehicle and call emergency services immediately."
Essential Energy can provide electrical network maps showing the location of overhead powerlines on all rural properties to assist farmers and landholders in regional areas.
Free safety stickers are also available via www.essentialenergy.com.au. Machinery heights can be recorded on some of the available stickers - reinforcing the stowed and extended height of the machinery.
With no sign of the drought ending and all indicators pointing to a continuation of a hot and dry summer, rural property owners will be required to delay stubble burning until total fire bans are lifted.
Essential Energy warns stubble fires require careful planning and constant monitoring as they can cause widespread damage and power disruptions if they burn out of control.
Electricity providers have reported a number of incidents caused by stubble burning in recent years. Mr Thomson urged farmers to remain vigilant by regularly monitoring stubble fires and checking power poles before, during and after burning.
"In order to avoid the cost and inconvenience of repairs to damaged electricity infrastructure, we recommend that farmers clear vegetation from around the base of power poles to at least 3 metres," he said.
"Importantly, mobile fire units should be easily accessible in case stubble fires get out of control and if, despite taking all precautions, power poles or powerlines have been compromised, report the damage to Essential Energy immediately on 13 20 80."
Essential Energy bushfire preparation tips
- Consider installing alternative power sources for water pumps
- Understand how to open your garage doors and gates manually if there's no power
- Clear firebreaks
- Know your bushfire survival plan
- Keep an eye on fire danger ratings on the Rural Fire Service website www.rfs.nsw.gov.au.
- If you see branches hanging over our powerlines, contact Essential Energy on 13 20 80 to report the issue
- Stay at least eight metres aware from fallen powerlines, or anything touching powerlines, and call 13 20 80 immediately
Essential Energy storm preparation tips
- Do not approach or pick up fallen powerlines
- Keep yourself and bystanders safe by staying at least eight metres away and call 13 20 80 immediately
- Keep an eye on our StormTracker at www.essentialenergy.com.au/stormtracker so you can prepare for storms
- Before a storm arrives, recharge phones and laptops to stay connected with radio alerts, family and friends
- Trim trees around the house - do not attempt to prune trees in or near powerlines - call us on 132080 or visit www.essentialenergy.com.au/trees to report the trees near our powerline
- Consider alternative power sources for water pumps and cooking sources
- Unplug your television, computer, modem and other sensitive electrical equipment during a storm and minimise the use of telephones and electrical appliances
- Keep a torch and battery powered radio in an easily accessible place in the event of a power outage
- Remove loose debris, which could become airborne in strong winds
- Prepare an emergency plan and emergency kit
- Visit the SES website, sesemergencyplan.com.au for more information and tools for creating your emergency plan
Story sponsored by Essential Energy.