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What to do in a power outage

7 min read
11 Jan 2019

With storm season well and truly here, many Aussie communities are feeling the full force of Mother Nature, including more than an occasional blackout.

Recently, 14,000 homes lost power in Perth due to heavy rain, while Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane endured their own dose of wild weather that affected many electricity grids across the country. What’s more, September 2016 saw 1.7 million residents in South Australia plunging into darkness.

Not only do power outages occur during extreme weather events, but they can also be caused by animals hitting powerlines, an excavator digging and interfering with underground lines, motor vehicle accidents, planned maintenance or unexpected disruptions to the energy grid. In short, no matter where you live in Australia, chances are you’ve had the lights go out at some point.

As such, we’ve compiled a list of things you can do before, during and after a power outage. With tips ranging from having a torch handy to keeping clear of fallen powerlines, you’ll be able to identify what course of action you and your family can take in the event of a blackout – which can often feel like an eternity.

How to prepare for a power outage

Large storm clouds rolling in over Bondi Beach

  • Keep the essentials nearby

This is pretty stock standard, but keep a reliable torch and spare batteries in an easily accessible place. Store some matches or a lighter, along with some candles, in a drawer that’s easy to reach, so you aren’t scrambling around in the darkness.

  • If a severe storm is approaching, switch appliances off at the wall

Large household appliances and gadgets like televisions, washing machines and computers should be switched off at the wall when not in use, that way each appliance won’t be damaged or destroyed if an electrical circuit suddenly loses power. Alternatively, you can connect a surge protector to appliances.

  • Have a first aid kit on standby

Keep a first aid kit nearby that’s easy to reach in case of an emergency. You don’t want to be stumbling around in the dark looking for bandages when in need.

  • Stay tuned to local weather events and alerts

Whether it’s via radio, television or an app, keep updated of regular weather warnings and alerts when there’s a storm forecasted to hit. It’s also not a bad idea to have a small battery-powered radio in your arsenal.

  • Ensure your home and contents insurance is up-to-date

Read the fine print on your home and contents insurance policy to ensure your property is covered for damages caused by a claimable event, like a fire, storm, lightning, wind, cyclone and rainwater.

  • Store bottled water and packaged food in your pantry

Depending on how long the blackout lasts, you’ll still need to eat and drink. Store a small box of bottled water and canned or packaged foods like muesli bars to get you through.

  • Keep a list of important contacts written down

Power outages may last several hours to several days, so keep a record of loved ones’ contact numbers in case your mobile phone runs out of battery. You may have to contact them on a local payphone or at a neighbours’ home.

  • Keep a portable or external phone charger handy

A power outage means your power points will also be without juice, so charging your phone at the wall won’t be possible. Keep a portable or external phone charger close-by so you can stay connected and call your energy supplier for updates or to report downed powerlines – just be sure to charge your charger between storms regularly.

What should you do during a power outage?

Young woman in power outage at home with candles in living room

Remember, electricity was only discovered in the late 1800s. Blackouts can often remind us of how to enjoy the little things in life, without always relying on modern technology. Although there are certain precautions to take during a blackout, there’s no reason you can’t have a bit of fun in the process.

  • Confirm it’s a power outage and not an issue with your mains switch

Depending on where you live, your energy distributor should have dedicated live updates for tracking power outages. For example, if you reside in southeast Queensland, your electricity distributor would be Energex (not to be confused with your energy retailer who provides you with a bill for your energy consumption).

  • Reduce mobile phone, laptop or tablet usage

Given that you won’t be able to charge your device at a wall socket, it’s best only to use technology when you’re checking for updates from your energy distributor. If you really can’t go without surfing the web, you may be able to charge your device in your car, provided you have the necessary cables and connections.

  • Check in with neighbours

Make sure you check with your neighbours to not only see if they’re okay but to also find out if they’re aware of any extra electricity and weather updates.

  • Keep the fridge door closed

Only open your fridge and freezer when you need otherwise you’ll risk spoiling your food. Consuming spoiled food can cause serious illness, so if you’re unsure, it’s best to discard. Store bottled water and packaged food instead, that way if your perishables turn bad, you’ll have a backup. Alternatively, you can buy a bag of ice from the service station to put in your fridge and keep food cool until the power is back on. Claiming food spoilage benefits through your home and contents insurance are generally only covered as a result of a claimable event listed on your policy, and it would depend on what caused the power outage.

  • Turn off electrical appliances and main gas supply

Double check that all appliances, like stoves, dishwashers and heaters are turned off. You never know when power will be restored and you don’t want to leave these items on unattended.

  • Leave one light switched on

By doing so, you’ll know once your power has been fully restored.

  • Take extra care on the road

If you’re heading out and about, remember that street and traffic lights will be affected. Flooding could be prevalent, as well as potholes and other changed road and traffic conditions, so take plenty of care on the roads, particularly at night.

  • Read a book, play a board game or share stories

One of the best ways to pass time is to read your favourite novel, dust off an old classic like Monopoly or simply talk to one another.

  • Comfort your pet(s)

At times, it’s often our furry friends who get a shock during thunderstorms and wild weather events. Take care of your pets and distract them with games, treats and attention.

What should you do once the electricity comes back on?

Powerline towers in the Australian countryside

Once your power is restored, don’t assume everything is back to normal straight away. Your property may be exposed to downed powerlines, especially in the wake of severe winds, thunderstorms and cyclones. There are various hazards to look out for after your electricity and gas come back on.

If downed powerlines are in your street, you should contact applicable emergency services and your energy distributor immediately. Never, under any circumstances, attempt to move or touch a powerline, even if you believe it isn’t live.

When it comes to food, if in doubt, throw it out. If you’ve been without electricity for a while, do not consume any food or medication that requires refrigeration. If the blackout only lasted for a few hours, most perishables should be fit for consumption, so long as you kept the fridge or freezer door closed and the goods haven’t been exposed to greater temperatures.

This power outage checklist is based on advice provided by the Environment, Land and Water (Victorian State Government), Ausgrid and Better Health Channel (Victorian State Government).

Sources:
News.com.au, ‘Western Power Outage: Rains Leave 14,000 Perth Homes without Electricity’, 2019.
Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), ‘SA Power Outage: How did it Happen?’, 2016.
Victoria State Government, Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Safety and Emergencies, Power Outages, 2018.
Ausgrid, ‘What to do in a Power Outage’, 2018.
Victoria State Government, Better Health Channel, Electric Shock, Downed Powerlines, 2014.
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Written by Jared Mullane

Jared is a journalism graduate who has a knack for writing quality content that's easy to digest. When he isn't simplifying the intricacies of financial jargon and fine print, he'll more than likely be booking his next overseas adventure. Additionally, Jared is a meticulous listener who thrives on helping others.

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