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1998-03-13 07:31:18


Near-Breakdown in Auckland: One Man's Testimony


The disaster in Auckland continues. Estimates are that it will last another ten weeks: through March and April. It's incredible.

This report gives us some idea of what could happen if power systems begin to fail in 2000. If they fail 100%, nothing this mild is likely.

This was posted on Peter de Jager's discussion forum. It's a long post. You had better print it out and read it.

* * * * * * * * *

From: "Communique Australasia Pty Ltd"


Subject: Re: SitRep - Auckland Power Crisis - A small business perspective

Date: Wed, 11 Mar 1998 09:27:15 +1100

In addition to Mark Roberts' valuable information on the Auckland NZ power crisis, I enclose the following commentary from a colleague who has her own small business, LawStaff, in Auckland:

Auckland NZ Power Crisis - One small business' perspective


During the last month of February intermittent power cuts occurred sometimes lasting up to four hours.  On Friday 20 February the power company advised that there would be full power cuts rotated through the central business district to effect various grids and these cuts would last four hours.

We were told to save our computer work and close off all equipment just before 11 am in case we were in the 11 a.m. to 3.00 p.m. grid.  We did that, but the power stayed on.  We assumed then that we were in the 3.00 - 7.00 p.m. grid and just before 3pm shut down all the equipment, however the power stayed on.  At 5.00 p.m. the power to the whole city went off unexpectedly causing major traffic problems in peak hour as there were no traffic lights.

A lot of people were trapped in the lifts at the time.  Luckily we hadn't left the office so we could walk down the 16 flights to the ground.

On Monday morning 23 Feb we were told that we would have power to one lift so that we could access our building to get our equipment out and we were all to vacate the building and relocate.  We arrived at 7.30 a.m. to do just this and the power went off at 7.40 a.m.  We had to carry printers, computers, stationery, all of our applicant registration details and anything else that we needed for a period of two weeks.  It necessitated three trips up and down the stairwell.  Luckily we still had light in the stairwell as many offices didn't and people were having to walk down in the dark.

Some of my clients were evacuating in total darkness and one firm actually had a partner with a broken hip on crutches going down the stairwell from level 12 !!  Another client of ours which employs 400 staff had to ring all the partners, solicitors and support staff over the weekend of 21 and 22 Feb and tell them to relocate that weekend and if they had to come into the office on the Monday they were to bring with them a torch a water bottle and a plastic bag to carry out their own human waste!

We relocated our office to my home and worked there under tight conditions with one "interview bedroom" for two weeks.  Our phone lines were transferred and it was business as usual for us.  During this time, all of our temps were unable to get work as they were not required during this crisis time.  However, we continued to interview and place permanent applicants.  Most of our clients had relocated out of the city and we were able to set up interviews within partners' homes or in cafes near to the city.

During the first week of March, the power company explained that the problem of fixing the cables could take up to 8 to 10 weeks before power could be fully restored to Auckland city.

On 5 March, 1998 I had to make a decision as to whether to stay working from my home in cramped conditions or move our company to serviced offices in the central business district.  These offices are in the ASB centre which is a grade 1 buidling which has its own generator so we could be assured of power for a full day.  Power had been restored to our building from 7am to 12 noon only.  This was useless to us as we couldn't transfer the phones backwards and forwards from my home to the office as the phone company said that this could not be done.

On Monday 9 March we moved into the ASB Centre and although they have a generator they must use minimal power so no internal office lights are on. We have had to bring lamps in to provide light.  One of our offices has natural light which is sufficient.

Mercury Energy has purportedly fixed one of the cables and is able to provide only 90% of the power required on a summers day and businesses are urged to leave lights off and save power wherever possible by not using aircon or have all lifts in action.  We have one lift on in our building instead of 3 so the wait for a lift can be painfully long!  Mercury has said that businesses may return to the city now but there are no guarantees that there will be no further power cuts.

Half of my staff are in the serviced offices and the other half in our normal offices, however, all of our equipment is spread between the two. When we return we will have to have the whole system re-networked again.

We hope to return to our own office space on Monday 16 March.  As we have paid a month in advance on the serviced offices at least we have somewhere to go if the power cuts out again.

There's a protest march happening in Auckland on Friday 13th called "Empower" and people are calling for the resignation of McGibbon the CEO of Mercury Energy.  There's a great deal of controversy about this situation as apparently there are memos on file within Mercury from staff warning the management some 20 years ago that the power cables were not going to last and needed to be replaced.

Slater and Gordon from Melbourne (Australia) are co-ordinating with Brian Ellis, Solicitor of Auckland to run a class action against Mercury which I have joined in the hope of recouping at least the extra rent that I have had to pay for that month and for the loss of temporary staff income.

A memo today from our Landlords says "Mercury Energy have announced revised requirements for electricity savings necessary to maintain a continuous supply of power to the CBD instead of the AM/PM zone system.  Given the current supply available, savings in the order of 30% of normal demand are required "so that the possibility of power outages in the CBD can be minimised".  We therefore wish to stress the importance of the power saving measures outlined in our last update and attach further advice from Mercury on means of saving power within your tenancy.  All systems should now be operating in "conservation mode" as outlined in our update of 9 March, 1998 and your premises remain available for normal use.  As per Mercury Energy's update of 6 March we wish to remind you that the call for businesses to return to the CBD was tagged with a strong request for conservation of power".

This memo doesn't instil a lot of confidence when you think of all the large corporates moving back to the city.

It's hard to believe that this could happen to a city of this size for this period of time. >> snip

Malcolm Heath Director Communique Australasia Pty Ltd Sydney, Australia email

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