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Postcards from Rio: Partnering to keep the Pilbara safe

As the network operator that supplies electricity to the majority of Western Australians, we’re fortunate to be able to service a diverse geographic area that ranges from dense metropolis, to thick forested areas, to the seemingly unending grain crops of the east.

What we don’t often see is the contrast of beauty and harshness that is our Pilbara region. That’s not our service area. While we look after the south west corner of our state, other operators are keeping the lights on throughout the vast expanse that is regional WA.

Rio Tinto manages one of the largest privately-owned networks in the state. They look after around 20,000 connections, servicing mines and nearby towns from Dampier to Pannawonica, Paraburdoo and Tom Price. It’s their responsibility to educate their communities on what to do in an electrical emergency.

Through a longstanding partnership with Western Power, Rio recently invited our Community Education Specialist Paul Farina to the Pilbara, where he visited remote schools to talk about electrical safety, who to call in an electrical emergency and how to stay Shockproof.

In Paul’s words:

“Jumping on an early plane to Karratha was an exciting and somewhat daunting prospect. Early mornings aren’t always the best but heading to a new school always proves an interesting experience – especially one in a region you’ve never visited.

As a teacher, you’ve got to be able to walk into the room and be ready to go. Jumping off an early flight and straight to a day of presentations with eager young minds is a great way to wake you up.

I’ve been running these sessions at Western Power for two years now, you can never get too complacent, you have to be ready for new questions, new thoughts and new challenges. The great thing about kids is that they often don’t have a filter – they tell it like it is. That unpredictability makes every session unique and, quite often, entertaining.

Kindy kids will often put their hand up to answer a question about what we use electricity for and end up telling you about what they had for dinner last night. It happened a lot.

What I encountered throughout my six days in the region was not only a welcome change from Perth’s cold winter, but six schools with engaged students who were eager to get involved, ask questions and understand more about how electricity works.

Sessions are designed to find out what students know about electricity, demonstrate what it takes to bring it to communities and how to stay safe. Students learn to respect electricity and understand the dangers of becoming part of the electrical circuit.

I’ll be honest, after six days of presenting, you become pretty exhausted, but I left so encouraged that the 2,000+ students I met were heading home that night with the knowledge of how to stay safe.

While the face to face activities prove to be very successful they can be difficult to fit in amongst a busy curriculum. That’s why we’ve developed our Shockproof website.

The interactive and fun website teaches students everything we would cover in an in-school experience. It just means they can do it when it suits their schedule and teachers have the added bonus to track their students’ progress. It’s available 24/7.

I’d definitely encourage all teachers to jump online and check it out.

See you in Rio!”

Rio Tinto Electrical Inspector Wayne McKernan (left) hosted Paul throughout his Pilbara trip, including a visit to Dampier Primary School

This student 'nose' how to make a circuit

The rugged beauty of Roebourne

Paraburdoo Primary School learning about step potential and why you should stay at least 8 metres away from a fallen powerline

It takes a lot of energy to power a minesite, and a lot of electrical infrastructure to transport it