Powerlines in a rural area at sunset

In the middle of an Australian summer, it’s not uncommon to hear the word ‘blackout’ a lot.

Power outages can happen at any time, and there are many different reasons why you might suddenly lose power. According to the Eaton Blackout Tracker, there were 94 significant power outages reported across Australia and New Zealand in 2017.

What causes a blackout?

Simply stated, in times of high power usage (think air conditioners in the summer or electric heaters in the winter), there is a greater demand for power than equates with the supply that's available. This can result in power failures, or people having their power switched off for a short time so energy providers can cope. This is called load shedding.

Blackouts in Australia may also be caused by natural disasters of varying kinds. While bushfires are unfortunately extremely common, summer can also mean the wet seasons for some Australian states and territories. Fires, lightning or flash flooding can all result in power outages and if you live in an area where this kind of disaster or whether is typical – it’s crucial to be prepared. Even if your town hasn’t experienced disasters, it’s always important to know what you might be up against if the power goes out, as there’s no guarantee it will instantly return. Power interruptions can also be caused by construction work or traffic incidents in areas close to underground powerlines.

What to remember during a black out

Check your surroundings

First of all, check if the fault is within your own home, as there are a number of reasons the electricity can go out. Check if the issue lies with a blown light bulb or a defective appliance. If your houses in your immediate area have not experienced an interruption to power, this may mean that your safety switch has been tripped.

If neighbouring houses have power off as well, look to see if the cause of the power outage is visible and within your immediate vicinity. If there is a fallen tree or powerline nearby, report it to your local council or electricity provider but stay away from the general area.

Powerlines during a blackout

Food safety

Many food items can spoil quickly when not kept under proper conditions, so do your best ensure that refrigerated or frozen food is kept as cold as possible. As a general rule, if food is still cold to touch, it is safe to use. We suggest shifting important food items from the fridge to the freezer, as well as keeping the fridge door closed as much as possibleso the cold air doesn't escape. The Australian Institute of Food Safety recommends the following 2-4 Hour Rule:

  • If the power was out for less than 2 hours, it's okay to refrigerate or consume the food
  • If the power was out between 2 and 4 hours, the food is okay to consume but don't put it back in the refrigerator
  • If the power was out for more than 4 hours, discard the food

However, if you’re in any doubt about keeping particular food items when the power comes back on, it’s always better to throw it out rather than risk illness. Double check your refrigerator is correctly set to low temperatures in order to ensure that the food in it stays as fresh as possible should a power outage occur.

Lighting

Use a battery powered torch or candles to see your way around if it’s night time. Try not to use your phone torch, as it can siphon a large amount of battery life, and you never know how long you may need your phone to last. Make sure to be especially cautious if you choose use candles - take care to avoid placing open flames in the vicinity of flammable material. 

Two hands hold a small candle with an orange flame

Save your phone

Use your smartphone’s data connection to check for updates from your provider on their website or your local news source but after that, try and conserve your phone battery. Make you sure your phone is on low battery mode (meaning it’s not constantly updating apps), turn the brightness down and turn off Bluetooth and WIFI. Buying a portable charger and keeping it charged can be a great way to prepare in case of a blackout scenario. They’re also just super handy!

Appliances

Make sure all your appliances are turned off at the wall, as the power may come back on unexpectedly. This is particularly important for televisions, computers, phones and laptops – as an unanticipated power surge can severely fry the hardware.

Help others

Why not check in and see if your neighbours are home? If they are elderly, have some children or residents with special needs, it can be a kind gesture to offer your support. For anyone taking medications that require refrigeration, check with your local pharmacist or doctor as to whether these medications will still be ok after being un-refrigerated for the period of the black out.

If you’re with anyone or know any neighbours that rely on life support that must be connected to power, make sure you have a thorough plan for power outages and that your energy provider has been previously notified of this. If any kind of life support equipment is compromised, call emergency services immediately.

How to pass the time

Just chat

Live with other people? It sounds stupidly simple, but a blackout can provide an often much needed excuse to catch up with people on a better level in this busy, ever-connected world of ours. Plus, if a normal conversation gets a little dull, you can always turn to games like Truth or Dare!

Star gazing

If it’s night time and if you’re based in the city or a dense suburb area, head outside because this might be one of the whole only times you see a clear sky – free of light pollution! See who can spot the most constellations or shooting stars!

A lone figure stands staring up at the starry night sky

Music

If you own a battery powered radio, fire it up and crank some beats. Your living room is now a dancefloor! Plus, you’ll be ready to receive any local announcements regarding updates on the power outage.

Board games

Got some board or card games lying around? Dust off that Scrabble board, gather your family or housemates and challenge them to a match!

Read a book

Still haven’t read that book you were given as a Christmas gift? Half way through multiple books? Now’s the time to take a moment for yourself, grab a page turner and sit down on the couch.

Thinking more about your energy?

We don’t normally spend too much time mulling over electricity, but blackouts can often make us realise that we take it for granted. If you’re wishing for a better way to manage your energy, and even avoid blackouts entirely, carbonTRACK can help.

The carbonTRACK solution

carbonTRACK’s intelligent ‘smart meter’ hub is for electricity utilities, retailers, and consumers. It can be used to control homes, renewable energy, electrical appliances, and helps manage grid infrastructure. The technology could be the key to preventing future blackouts in the grid, as well as distributing the energy in an optimal manner. It also allows you to see your energy usage in real time – with data insights 24/7.


Interested in carbonTRACK? Here’s how it works…

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