What to Do to Stay Safe During a Blackout

Power outages can happen at the most inconvenient times, but do you know exactly what to do (and what not to do) to stay safe during a blackout or brownout? Here are some top tips to help protect you, your family, and your belongings.

What is a blackout?

A blackout occurs when the electrical power goes out and you may not be able to plan for it. They can last as little as a few minutes up to several days or longer and may impact needs such as lighting, heating, cooling, communication, food and medicine refrigeration, cooking and medical equipment.

What is the difference between a blackout and a brownout?

A brownout is a dip in power, usually in response to much higher-than-average power usage in a certain area. In places like Brisbane where the weather has so many people using fans, air conditioners, and demand for power exceeds supply, there may be planned outages by energy companies to help control high electricity needs. This is done to prevent much more severe consequences, such as a large-scale blackout. Brownouts can also be unplanned, caused by severe weather. During a brownout, you may notice dim or flickering lights and appliances not working properly.

What causes blackouts?

Power outages may be caused by fallen or damaged power lines following a flood or storm. If this is the case, report it to your electricity distributor and stay more than 8 to 10 metres away from them, as they can be extremely dangerous, even fatal.

While not always the case, blown fuses can also cause your entire house to lose power. It is illegal in Australia and unsafe to fix this yourself, so it’s best to be safe and call a trained electrician who will be able to fix this easily.

Sometimes animals, car accidents or digging near underground powerlines can also cause interruptions to power.

How do I know if there's a blackout in my area?

If you do not find any blown fuses, then chances are good that it is a neighbourhood-wide blackout, in which case, you can call the power company to inform them of or confirm the blackout. You can also use your phone to check your power supplier's website for any information. Power outages caused by storms or damage to infrastructure can sometimes last for quite a while.

Tips for keeping your family, home and appliances safe during a blackout or brownout

Call your electricity supply company to let them know your power is out. You may also be able to do this online, as well as check for updates on the outage. Try to use torches, not candles.

Take out your pre-prepared emergency kit. It may be a good idea to prepare an emergency kit to help you get through any extended power outages or other emergencies. This could include water, non-perishable food items, torches, important contacts, and a charged battery pack to keep your phone alive.

Contact your support network. Let people in your network know that you are OK, check to see if they’re OK, and tell each other if you need help.

Prepare for power surges. Power surges can happen during blackouts, given the power grid tends to become unstable. Power surges can not only destroy your electronics but can be quite dangerous given their unpredictability. Dawson Electric advises unplugging and switching off all electronic devices in your home during a blackout. It is suggested to leave one light on, so you’ll know when the power is restored.

Prevent power overloads and fire hazards. Unplug appliances and electronics to avoid power overloads or damage from power surges. Trades company Service Heroes advises to turn off the utilities only if you suspect damage or if local officials instruct you to do so. Your gas line can only be turned on by a qualified professional. If any circuit breakers have been tripped, contact an electrician to inspect them before turning them on.

People who require electricity for medical needs. If someone in your house requires medicine that is refrigerated or relies on medical equipment powered by electricity, you will need an emergency generator installed to keep their equipment running until power returns. If you do not have an emergency generator installed, immediately get in contact with medical professionals.

Decide if you need to stay or go. Evacuate if your home is too hot or too cold, or if you have medical devices that need power. See if there is a family or friend who has power that you can stay with or a community emergency shelter you can go to.

If you need emergency assistance in a flood or storm, call the State Emergency Service (SES) on 132 500. For a medical, police or fire emergency call triple zero (000).

Tips for keeping your family, home and appliances safe during a blackout or brownout

Call your electricity supply company to let them know your power is out. You may also be able to do this online, as well as check for updates on the outage. Try to use torches, not candles.

Take out your pre-prepared emergency kit. It may be a good idea to prepare an emergency kit to help you get through any extended power outages or other emergencies. This could include water, non-perishable food items, torches, important contacts, and a charged battery pack to keep your phone alive.

Contact your support network. Let people in your network know that you are OK, check to see if they’re OK, and tell each other if you need help.

Prepare for power surges. Power surges can happen during blackouts, given the power grid tends to become unstable. Power surges can not only destroy your electronics but can be quite dangerous given their unpredictability. Dawson Electric advises unplugging and switching off all electronic devices in your home during a blackout. It is suggested to leave one light on, so you’ll know when the power is restored.

Prevent power overloads and fire hazards. Unplug appliances and electronics to avoid power overloads or damage from power surges. Trades company Service Heroes advises to turn off the utilities only if you suspect damage or if local officials instruct you to do so. Your gas line can only be turned on by a qualified professional. If any circuit breakers have been tripped, contact an electrician to inspect them before turning them on.

People who require electricity for medical needs. If someone in your house requires medicine that is refrigerated or relies on medical equipment powered by electricity, you will need an emergency generator installed to keep their equipment running until power returns. If you do not have an emergency generator installed, immediately get in contact with medical professionals.

Decide if you need to stay or go. Evacuate if your home is too hot or too cold, or if you have medical devices that need power. See if there is a family or friend who has power that you can stay with or a community emergency shelter you can go to. If you do need to evacuate, make sure you bring your pet with you.

If you need emergency assistance in a flood or storm, call the State Emergency Service (SES) on 132 500. For a medical, police or fire emergency call triple zero (000).

What to do with refrigerated and frozen food

For refrigerated foods, keep the door shut as much as possible and make note of the time the power failed so that you can keep track of how long the food has been stored at lower temperatures. If you have some ice bricks, place some in the freezer and move items from the fridge there.

The Food Safety Information Council suggests using the four-hour/two-hour rule for any potentially hazardous food that has been at temperatures between 5°C and 60°C for a total of:

  • Less than 2 hours – refrigerate or use immediately
  • Longer than 2 hours but less than 4 hours – use immediately
  • 4 hours or longer – must be thrown out

For frozen foods, if power is restored and there are foods that have partly defrosted or defrosted but remain very cold (5 °C or less), they can be refrozen. Although there is no safety issue, the quality may deteriorate, and the texture will be damaged.

If in doubt, throw it out. If you’re not sure how much time has passed or the temperature your food has been stored at, then it’s best to throw out the food to be safe.

Tracey Cheung
Written by
Tracey Cheung

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