What to do in a power outage

Blackouts – they are a fact of Aussie life. No, we’re not talking about what 18-year-olds do on a Friday night. We’re talking about when the electricity goes out. In many parts of Australia, summer means the wet season. And the wet season means torrential rain, followed usually by flash flooding and loss of power to the home.

While blackouts may be novel for about 10 minutes – where you light those candles and play a heady game of Monopoly with your kids – the reality is that blackouts can be annoying and potentially dangerous for you, your family and your pets. Though, there are a number of things you can do to ensure minimal disruption during blackouts. To those living towards the north of Australia, these following guidelines are sure to be common sense and routine, but it can’t hurt to have a refresher crash course on what to do in a blackout. These tips on what to do before, during and after a power outage should help you to stay well-prepared this coming storm season.

How to prepare for a blackout

It can be impossible to predict exactly when a blackout will occur, but coming into the storm season – i.e. November through February in most parts of Australia – it pays to be prepared. Below we’ve listed some of the things you can do now to prepare for a sudden blackout or power outage:

Emergency supply kit

  • Ensure your emergency kit is up to date. This kit should include, non-perishable food items, bottled water, candles, matches, batteries, a portable radio (crank-powered if possible), first aid kit and torch (crank-powered if possible).
  • Keep up to date with any backyard maintenance and landscaping. Try to keep trees pruned as much as possible to avoid any branches falling on powerlines.
  • If you require life-sustaining, electrical, medical equipment be sure to have a back-up plan in the event that this equipment becomes compromised during an outage. Your provider should also be made aware of the situation prior to a blackout so be sure to update them on your circumstances if you haven’t done so in a while.
  • Ensure all your electrical outlets are safe for use (this may mean organising an inspection with an electrician) and implement surge protected power boards in the home where you can.
  • Collate a list of emergency numbers that you may need during an outage. These could include your local SES, your energy distributor and power provider.
  • Purchase a thermometer – you may need this in future when checking to see if your food has spoiled in the fridge during a blackout.

If you receive a severe weather warning it may also pay to ensure your phone is fully charged, make sure all outdoor furniture or equipment is securely strapped down and to move your car undercover if possible.

You might also consider leaving one light switched on during a blackout, whether it be from a storm or a scheduled outage, just to make it easier to determine when the power has come back.

What should I do when there is a blackout?

The first thing you should do if you find yourself in a sudden blackout is safely determine the cause of it. Is it related to the weather or has your homes safety switch simply been tripped? Perhaps you missed a communication from your provider about a planned outage?

Once you know the cause of your blackout, you can then take the appropriate steps to ensure everyone in the house remains safe. If it’s a planned outage, there probably isn’t much else to do but sit and wait for it to be over. If it’s been triggered by the weather however, you might find it useful to do the following:

  • Call your provider or check its website for updates on the blackout. You can also use a portable radio to listen to updates.
  • Check your surroundings and ensure there are no fallen powerlines. If there is a damaged powerline, alert your energy distributor and avoid the area. In the case of a life-threatening emergency, be sure to call 000.
  • Avoid opening the fridge door where possible. If too much cold air escapes the fridge during a blackout, you may find your food will spoil much faster.
  • If you have a pre-existing medical condition, be sure that you have access to adequate supplies. More importantly, if you rely on life-sustaining, electrical, medical equipment and you suspect that this has been compromised during the outage, call emergency services immediately.
  • Unplug any electrical equipment which could be damaged or pose a safety risk in the event of a power surge or lightning strike. This could be things like your TV or computer.
  • Turn off your smartphone’s WiFi mode to avoid losing battery.
  • Check in on your neighbours or anyone you may know close by to see if they need any help.

It may be some time before the power gets switched back on, especially if a large area has been hit. You might find it enjoyable then to use this time to read a book (by a candlelight of course), play a board or card game with your family or housemates or even just have a snooze.

Compare Energy Plans

Here are some of the cheapest published deals from the retailers on our database that include a link to the retailer’s website for further details. These are products from referral partners†. These costs are based on the Ausgrid network in Sydney but prices may vary depending on your circumstances. This comparison assumes general energy usage of 3900kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Please use our comparison tool for a specific comparison in your area. Our database may not cover all deals in your area. As always, check all details of any plan directly with the retailer before making a purchase decision.

Here are some of the cheapest published deals from the retailers on our database that include a link to the retailer’s website for further details. These are products from referral partners†. These costs are based on the Citipower network in Melbourne but prices may vary depending on your circumstances. This comparison assumes general energy usage of 4000kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Please use our comparison tool for a specific comparison in your area. Our database may not cover all deals in your area. As always, check all details of any plan directly with the retailer before making a purchase decision.

Here are some of the cheapest published deals from the retailers on our database that include a link to the retailer’s website for further details. These are products from referral partners†. These costs are based on the Energex network in Brisbane but prices may vary depending on your circumstances. This comparison assumes general energy usage of 4600kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Please use our comparison tool for a specific comparison in your area. Our database may not cover all deals in your area. As always, check all details of any plan directly with the retailer before making a purchase decision.

Here are some of the cheapest published deals from the retailers on our database that include a link to the retailer’s website for further details. These are products from referral partners†. These costs are based on the SA Power network in Adelaide but prices may vary depending on your circumstances. This comparison assumes general energy usage of 4000kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Please use our comparison tool for a specific comparison in your area. Our database may not cover all deals in your area. As always, check all details of any plan directly with the retailer before making a purchase decision.

What to do after a power outage

Once the storm has cleared and power has been returned to your premise, it’s time to assess the damage. Some things that may be worth checking on include:

  • The cold food in your fridge – use a thermometer to assess whether your food spoiled. Food requiring refrigeration will generally go off after two hours at a temperature of 4°C or more. If in doubt, throw it out.
  • Any medication that requires refrigeration – consider contacting a pharmacist either in person or on the phone about the efficacy of these medicines post-blackout.
  • Your appliances and electrical equipment – once the power is safely back on, be sure to plug all your equipment back in.
  • Your digital clocks – you might find that after a blackout the digital clocks on your oven or microwave will be set back to the default setting. Be sure to change these back before you miss anything important.
  • Replenish your emergency kit – if you’ve suffered through a particularly nasty blackout, be sure to re-stock any of the emergency items you may have used during the outage in preparation for the next one.

If the blackout was sparked by a severe weather event in your area, also be sure to take extra precautions when travelling to and from your home. You may find there is still debris and damage to the roads in the days following as emergency crews begin the clean-up process.

Is there anything I can do to avoid a power outage?

While there isn’t a sure-fire way to avoid a power outage, the above tips are one way in which you can ensure you are prepared for your next unexpected (or expected) power outage. The most important thing to remember though, if you suddenly find yourself without electricity is health and safety. Messing with damaged electrical equipment without the proper training or equipment can be fatal, so always ensure you contact an emergency service provider or energy distributor in the case of a fallen powerline or compromised fuse box.

Losing access to your electricity can certainly be disjointing. It may even get you thinking about how much you rely on power usage throughout your day-to-day life. If you haven’t compared energy plans in a while, now might be the time to do so. Our free comparison tool allows you to compare a range of retailers against a variety of criteria. Just hit the link below, type in your postcode and you’re good to go.

Image credit: Pixsooz/Shutterstock.com.

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