Power Outages in Canada and Four Things an Immigrant Needs to Know About Them

Power outages conjure different memories, emotions, and reactions based on our past experiences.  As immigrants, we must learn about our new home including hazards, risks, and emergency preparations. 

In this article, I will share 4 things that an immigrant needs to know about power outages in Canada.

Severe Weather Conditions Cause Power Outages in Canada
Severe Weather Conditions Cause Power Outages in Canada

Power Outages in Canada May Be Different Compared to Our Home Country

As immigrants, we are conditioned to adjust to our life in our new country.  It is amusing, but not entirely surprising, that we must also adjust to how we prepare for emergencies.

Power Outages in My Home Country

Scheduled and unscheduled power outages were common when I was growing up in the Philippines.  At its worst, the power crisis resulted in daily eight to ten-hour rolling power interruptions.  Unscheduled brownouts were expected during typhoon season when the Philippines is battered by strong winds and rain.

Some nights were fun as my siblings and I would entertain ourselves.  We would make animal shapes with the shadow of our hands or invent other games.  Sometimes, it was quite scary sitting in the dark while listening to strong winds howling, branches falling off from trees, or roofing materials landing on the pavement.  Daytime outages were very uncomfortable as it meant having no fans to cool us off at almost 40oC.  It was challenging to perform basic tasks such as preparing meals but we always found a way. Propane-powered stoves are popular in the Philippines. Also, regular homes in provinces have a “dirty kitchen” where cooking is done using wood or charcoal.

Power outages in the Philippines are part of life’s reality.  Since people are used to it, they have made contingency plans for these events.       

Snowfall That Caused Cancelled Flights in Toronto in 2020
Power Outage Experiences in Canada

The power supply in Canada is very reliable.  A typical household experiences 1.87 outages per year in British Columbia and 2.52 outages per year in Ontario according to BC Hydro.  Although it is a rare event, the loss of power may mean a matter of survival as homes without heating can be uninhabitable in freezing conditions. 

According to the country’s official website, Canada is the third biggest producer of hydroelectricity in the world.  Further, it exports about 8% of the electricity it generates to the US.

Because of these and the fact that Canada is a well-developed nation, we seldom think of contingency plans for outages.  For example, I didn’t have a backup to my electric stove until a colleague lost power for 3 days due to a windstorm.  That made me decide to purchase a small propane-fired stove just in case it happens to me. 

Though power outages in Canada are rare, these happen so we have to be prepared for them.

CBC News, November 2018: Widespread Power Outages as Winter Storm Batters Atlantic Canada

Causes of Power Outages in Canada

In British Columbia, the top 3 causes of power outages are trees, adverse weather, and equipment failure. In my experience on the West Coast, windstorms usually cause weather-related outages. On the East Coast, they have snowstorms and other severe weather conditions to contend with.

Causes of Power Outages According to BC Hydro
Causes of Power Outages According to BC Hydro

[What’s Causing Outages?]. (n.d.). https://www.bchydro.com/news/conservation/2017/power-outages-facts-numbers.html

What I Do When a Power Outage Occurs

BC Hydro: What happens during a power outage? How BC Hydro gets the lights back on when electricity goes out.

When I experience a power outage, I check if it has already been reported to BC Hydro by going to their website or phoning them.  The times that I did this, the outage was already known to them.  If a new and unplanned outage is not yet in their system, I would proceed to report it.

I monitor the details of the outage on the BC Hydro’s outage map or list.  I watch out for details such as crew status, area, number of affected customers, and cause of the outage.

Other provinces and territories may have the same efficient system.

Resources To Help Prepare for Power Outages

Canada’s Emergency Preparedness Programs are truly impressive.  My observations are limited to British Columbia but a quick internet search tells me that procedures are similar in other provinces.

Resources are readily available to prepare people for emergencies. Here are a few websites to help enhance your emergency preparedness:

Canadian Red Cross: First Aid Kit Contents

Government of Canada’s Publication: Power Outages – What to Do

Manitoba Hydro Emergency Preparedness Handbook

SaskPower: Preparing Your Home for Unplanned Outages

Power outages in Canada are rare due to the reliability of its system and its dependable power supply.  However, risks associated with outages still occur.  For immigrants, these risks and the necessary precautions may be different from what we know.  Effective adjustment to our new life in Canada must therefore include learning about emergency response and preparedness.

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