cooking by candlelight & gas during a blackout

What To Do In A Blackout

It’s easy to take our day-to-day electricity use for granted until something like a power outage puts things in perspective. While blackouts in Australia don’t happen often we have seen some wild weather in recent times that has put whole communities out of power for weeks. 

Apart from being stressful, a situation where Canberra homes are without power can cause serious problems and safety issues. Knowing what to do in the event of a blackout can help give you a sense of control if your power is out for a few hours, or even a few days.

This article will help you have a blackout kit ready in your home and some steps to go through for how to manage power outages.

a tripped circuit

Causes Of Blackouts & Power Outages

Loss of power in your home can be as local as a tripped circuit at your powerbox, powerlines down in your local area or issues or as big and widespread as a fault or damage at the main distribution site.

Tripped Circuits

Your home has safety features that prevent your electrical circuits from overloading. If there is a surge in electricity your safety switch will activate and shut down power to save lives and equipment. In older homes, you may not have a safety switch but fuses trip if a circuit receives too much power. When your home loses power from the powerbox you will need to organise for this to be fixed yourself. Just be aware that you can’t carry out any electrical work on your home due to safety reasons, if there are problems you will need to call a licensed electrician to assist.

Powerlines Down

Damage to power poles and power lines or transformers can result in a local neighbourhood being cut off from the grid. Storms are the most common reason for community blackouts although there are a number of emergency situations where lines can become damaged such as

  • Car accident
  • Bushfires
  • High winds
  • Tree or large branches falling
  • Lightning strike
  • Flood
  • Heatwave
  • Nesting animals
  • Digging or excavation near a power supply

In cases where there is a community blackout or damage to power lines, the local electricity company will look after the repairs. You can notify them of problems by calling the ‘Faults and Emergencies’ number listed on your energy bill.

Power Supply Faults

From time to time upgrades will be made and maintenance work will be carried out. In this case, your power distribution company will notify you as far ahead as possible. Your power supplier may also notify you by text if there is an outage in your area that isn’t planned. This can be helpful if the outage occurs while you are at work so you can check on your property and any electrical devices that are affected when you return.

man holding candles prepared for blackout

Preparing For Future Blackouts & Power Outages

During the day a power outage might not be difficult to manage but blackouts that leave you in the dark can be much more inconvenient and hazardous. Preparing a blackout kit is easy and will help you move around in your home safely if the lights go out. 

To prepare for a blackout you can:

  • Charge your phone when a storm warning is issued
  • Move your car under cover if possible
  • Keep a torch in an easy-to-access location
  • Have a list of emergency phone numbers on hand
  • Use a battery-operated radio to tune in to disaster reports 
  • Keep a well-stocked first aid kit close by
  • Consider keeping a fully charged power bank for longer outages so you can recharge your phone 

During a blackout you can use candles instead of (or as well as) a torch but make sure you place them on safe, heat-proof surfaces and away from fabrics, such as curtains, that can catch in the flame. You will need to keep candles and matches in an easy-to-access location so you can find them quickly in the dark.

Some homes may have water supplies cut if their home water pump is electric. Having an emergency water supply, such as bottled water, will be necessary for drinking as well as an alternative supply for bathing.

In a life-threatening situation call 000. Other emergency contact phone numbers you may need are your power faults and emergencies contact, State Emergency Services (SES) as well as a locally based emergency plumber and emergency electrician.

If You Have Life Support Equipment

If you or someone in your home has life support or medical equipment that needs electricity to run, make sure you are registered with your power company and inform them of any changes to your contact details.

Hand holding a candle checking switchboard during blackout

What To Do During A Blackout & Power Outage

Keeping yourself and your property safe is easy when you know how. Always ask for professional advice as assistance regarding power, don’t try to fix electrical issues yourself.

Locate The Cause

The first thing to do if you have no power is to determine the cause. The easiest way to check is to try different lights in your home. If a single circuit has been shut down other lights and electronics will be working okay.

If your whole home is affected, check your street to see if your neighbours have power. Only do this if it is safe to leave your home. During a severe storm stay indoors and keep well clear of fallen or broken power lines, even if you believe the lines are not live.

Your power company or council website may have outage listings online, on social media or via their app that you can monitor. If you are unsure, phone your supplier to get more details or to report an outage.

Take Care Of Your Property

To protect your home and electronics, switch everything off and unplug all your electrical appliances from the wall. When power is restored it will connect to all your plugged-in devices at once, which can cause a power surge. This is especially important for heaters, irons and hotplates that may cause damage if they come back on unattended.

It’s a good idea to keep one light switched on so you will know as soon as the power is back.

Take Care Of Yourself

In hot weather stay hydrated and cool off with a cold shower if you have running water.

If it is safe to do so check in on your neighbours and assist them if they need help.

Food spoiling during blackouts creates a risk of food poisoning. Try to keep the fridge and freezer doors shut as much as possible to reduce temperature loss. In most cases, food will be okay for a few days without power when looked after correctly. A bag of ice in your freezer can keep food cool for longer. Make sure you cook and consume any food that is no longer cold within a few hours of it reaching room temperature.

Stay Calm

Most power outages don’t last long. For more severe cases help will be at hand. Call an electrician or SES and stay informed on what’s happening online. While we are dependent on power we can get by without it for a day without trouble.

After The Blackout & Power Outage

Once power is restored you can plug in your electronics one by one and switch them on as you need them. 

Check the food inside your fridge and freezer and throw away or immediately use anything that has defrosted or feels at room temperature. If food has been at room temperature for a long period (more than four hours) throw it away.

Replace any torch batteries that are reaching the end of life and put your blackout emergency equipment back in place for next time.

Conclusion

While there can be a number of causes behind an electrical failure, a power outage doesn’t need to be difficult or dangerous. Have your emergency kit on hand and follow the steps to get through a blackout. A simple plan can give you back control and keep yourself, your family and your property safe. When it comes to power you need to be safe and call in professional electricians to conduct any work on your home. If you need emergency assistance, explain your situation to the professionals over the phone. They are trained to support you. 

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