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  • Overhead power lines

    What to Do in a Power Outage

July 2019

Power outages occur from time to time. If you have an emergency kit ready and a clear plan in place, then you won’t be stuck in the dark.

There’s nothing like a power outage of a few hours or more to appreciate just how much we rely on electricity in our daily lives. From cooking to entertainment, heating to lighting, our homes need energy to thrive.

Fortunately, power outages in Australia are few and far between. Yet it still pays to be prepared – you never know when one might occur in your area. Here, we look at what causes power outages and what you should do when the lights go off at your house.

Safety first

Your safety comes first in a power outage.

If the power outage is caused by broken power lines near your home, it is very important to keep clear of them (at least 8 to 10 metres away) and tell others not to go near them either. They can be fatal.

Take care in and around your home during an outage. You shouldn’t hook up temporary generators to your household wiring; nor should you use barbecues inside. If you are using candles as a light source, keep them away from flammable materials.

You can do your bit to help prevent a power outage by keeping an eye on the trees growing near power lines around your home. If you think the branches are getting too close to the power lines, contact a qualified tree removalist (if the tree is on your property) or your local council or electricity distributor (if the tree is in the street).

Why is there a power outage?

If the power suddenly goes out at your house, check to see if your safety switch has been tripped. It could be something to do with your own home’s electricity circuit (in which case, you may need to call in a licensed electrician). No tripped switch? Then a wider power outage has likely occurred.

Power outages can be caused by severe weather – like lightning, floods, heatwaves, bushfires and high winds. These major weather events can damage the power lines which carry electricity around a distribution grid. Other causes can include car accidents, digging near underground power lines, overgrown trees and even animals.

It’s the responsibility of the local electricity distribution company to fix any broken or damaged power lines. You can contact them (it’s the ‘Faults and Emergencies’ phone number on your electricity bill) to find out what’s going on.

How to prepare for a power outage

Every home should have a plan and kit for those unexpected times that the power suddenly goes off. This should include:

  • Torches or other lighting
  • Battery-powered radio (or, you could listen to your car radio for updates)
  • Fresh water (if you use electricity to run a water pump)
  • Alternative cooking source (some gas stoves still need electricity to operate)
  • A charged mobile phone (if possible!)

If you rely on a continuous supply of electricity for medical equipment or other special needs, you should let your electricity retailer know now (before a power outage occurs).

What to do during an outage

Most power outages don’t last long. No matter how long it lasts, the most important thing to do is stay safe.

If the power goes out at your house, you should switch off and unplug all appliances at the wall – this will prevent any damage to the appliance if there is a surge when the power comes back on. (Tip: leave one light on somewhere, so you know when power has been restored.)

If it’s dark, grab a torch so you can move around safely.

If the power doesn’t look like it’s coming back on any time soon, you could call the Faults & Emergencies phone number at the top of your bill or check on your electricity distributor’s website for updates. They should be able to provide an ETA of when the lights will come back on.

For longer power outages, you should:

  • Get out your emergency kit (torches, water, etc)
  • Follow the guidelines for food safety (see below)
  • Never modify extension leads or use a generator to connect to household wiring
  • Never try to fix electrical wiring yourself (in fact, it’s illegal to DIY electrical repairs – call a licensed electrician instead)

Food safety during a power outage

There is the potential that food in your fridge and freezer could spoil during a power outage. To avoid this, you could:

  • Move food from the fridge to the freezer
  • Place bags of ice in the fridge and freezer
  • Put an insulating blanket over frozen food
  • Only open the fridge and freezer when absolutely necessary

And remember, if food is no longer cold to touch (i.e. it is warmer than 5 degrees) it should be eaten within 4 hours (raw meat should be cooked before eating).

Important contacts

As part of your outage plan, it’s a good idea to have an emergency contact list – all the phone numbers you might need during a power outage or related emergency.

Contact When to call Telephone number
Your local electricity network To report a power outage (This is the ‘Faults & Emergencies’ number on your electricity bill)
SES For help with storm damage 132 500
Emergency services For life-threatening emergencies 000
Your local council For information on emergency services in your area (Look this up online)
Department of Health and Human Services For guidance on food safety 1300 364 352
Your electricity retailer In case you need to let them know about special needs (e.g. medical equipment) (This number will be on your electricity bill)

The final word

Power outages can take you by surprise, which is why it’s important to know what to do when one strikes. Remember, stay safe and never attempt to do any electrical work yourself.

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