Nothing proves how reliant we are on electricity faster than losing it!
But it’s bound to happen at some point, and preparation for it is the best defense. For strata residents, a blackout can be a short-term nuisance or a major headache in terms of risk management, safety and equipment damage that can provide an unwelcome shock to your budget.
With the energy market operator warning that millions of households are at risk of losing power this summer, we’ve put together a list of tips and tricks so next time you’re in a blackout, you and your committee are prepared.
WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT …
High-rise living can become unbearable if elevators aren’t working and this could become an issue if blackouts become more frequent.
Those premium top-floor apartments suddenly seem less attractive if you have to climb 20 flights of stairs to reach your unit, only to find the air-conditioning is also offline.
Property valuers have already warned the threat of more frequent blackouts could lead to a drop in apartment values as many high rises doesn’t have back-up generators and only cater for emergency and exit lighting using small batteries.
Installing a back-up would likely be very expensive, so it’s important for owners to know and understand what procedures are in place in their buildings.
Before the blackout
Instead of running around your apartment in the dark trying to figure out what to do, have a plan set in place.
These are the some of the things you can do right now to get yourself ready:
• Put together an emergency kit — ABC Emergency has a full list of what it should contain, but as a start, you should have a radio (battery-powered, wind-up or solar-powered), a waterproof torch and a first aid kit
• Get a supply of non-perishable food and water — Queensland Urban Utilities says even city residents need three days’ worth of water stored, which is probably more than you think (it equates to 10 litres of water per person)
• Buy a thermometer for your fridge — touch alone isn’t going to be the best guide to whether your food is still safe during or after a blackout
Body Corporate “Blackout Plan”
What happens in our buildings when power is lost for more than 3 hours?
Suddenly people will realise that, without electricity, there is no internet, no mobile phones, no contactless payment, no lifts and no petrol pumps.
Are you prepared both personally and as a committee to lead?
For bodies corporate some things you need to consider are:
• Building security – all doors are open, is there key access? Should we appoint a security guard?
• Garage Door – is there a manual override or battery backup? How does it work, who is trained in this procedure?
• Lift is not working, are people possibly stuck in the lift?
• No hot water, maybe no cold water either?
• How will you communicate, what you will say and who will do it?
• Ventilation fans/ air-conditioning not operating?
• Back up batteries – how long do they run for?
• Back up diesel generator – capacity, fuel?
• Turning power on, what is the start up process, especially for pumps, how will this be managed?
Every body corporate community is different and will have different needs and priorities for disaster management.
When you see storm clouds on the horizon
• Charge your mobile so it’s full (but if you’ve got a charged power bank, you’ll be sorted should your phone run out of juice mid-storm)
• Make sure anything you’ve got outside is properly secured
• If you can, park your car under cover
How to find the cause of the outage
• When things go dark, the first thing to do is rule out a tripped circuit.
• Unplug the appliances and other devices and head to your electric supply panel, which is usually behind a metal door mounted on the wall, often in a closet, bedroom or laundry closet.
• Flip the switch, and if power is restored, you’re good to go. If you’re not sure and want help, call your landlord, property manager or the building manager if you have one.
During the blackout
If your power suddenly goes out, tick these items off your checklist:
• Note the time that the power went off
• Find out if your home safety switch has been tripped or if it’s a wider power outage
• Turn off electrical devices and appliances, especially anything involving heating (for instance, you don’t want your oven or iron coming back on if you’re not home when the power returns)
• Unplug your computer and TV, or any other electrical equipment, to avoid damage if there’s a power surge
• Be aware of the danger of fallen power lines if you go outside
• Keep across the news and emergency updates (on the radio or your mobile)
• Check on your neighbours or anyone else you know who might need help
• Keep a single light turned on (so you know when the power has returned)
If the outage happens during the day, the last thing you want to do is stay in your apartment with no A/C.
Take this opportunity to go to the movies, treat yourself to a coffee, or hang out anywhere with air conditioning.
If you have homework or other work to do, you can usually find free WiFi at a local library or coffee shop. If you can, stay the night at a friend’s house if the outage lasts through the night.
If you have to stay put during an outage, keep cool by closing the curtains on your windows and open your front door as little as possible to keep extra heat from coming in while you wait.
What to do with your fridge?
Avoid getting food poisoning by following these tips from the Food Safety Information Council.
• Minimise opening and closing your fridge and freezer.
• Be especially cautious of foods with “use by” dates (things like deli meats and dairy products like soft cheeses) — they might be more susceptible to the growth of food-poisoning bacteria
• Keep in mind that jams and sauces (they’ll usually have a “best before” rather than “use by” date) survive warmer temperatures for longer, as will many fruits and vegetables.
After the blackout
When the power returns, it’s time to take stock of your fridge and freezer.
It is recommended to follow the two-hour/four-hour rule for any potentially hazardous food that has been at temperatures between 5 degrees Celsius and 60C:
• If it was at that temperature for less than two hours — refrigerate or use immediately
• Longer than two hours but less than four hours — use immediately.
• Four hours or longer — must be thrown out (and that also applies if you can’t be sure)
• As for frozen food it can stay frozen in the freezer for even up to a couple of days.
• You may be surprised to learn that if food has thawed but is still cold (less than 5C), it is safe to refreeze — although there may be a loss of quality due to the moisture lost through thawing.
No one likes power outages. But if you’re prepared, you and your community can get through the ordeal safely and comfortably.
Author: Sam Aubrey