Blackouts and power outages are a main topic at the moment and causing many people to worry, especially now that winter is just around the corner – a frightening scenario. In this blog post, we would like to inform you about how to prepare for a possible power outage or blackout and how to take action in an emergency. If worse comes to the worst, authorities and emergency organisations such as National Crisis and Disaster Management (SKKM) are there to help. However, personal responsibility and the right course of action can ease the burden on emergency services and benefit those affected.
Blackout – a longer-term power outage
Almost everyone has experienced an isolated power outage. If the outage is just of limited duration, it generally doesn’t impact the populace in a major way.
If the power supply fails in large parts of the country, i.e. the supra-regional transmission grid, this is called a blackout. This means that not only the last few metres from the transformer to one’s own home are affected, but also high-voltage lines and other grid infrastructure. The effects can be drastic but are difficult to assess beforehand. Several regions or even countries could be affected.
Such a scenario can occur without warning and have far-reaching consequences. This makes it all the more important to prepare for a possible blackout.
How do I know it’s a blackout?
- There’s no electricity in my entire area/neighbourhood
- The mobile phone/fixed line networks are out
- A blackout is reported on the radio
Be aware that in the event of a long-term blackout, it may no longer be possible to buy food and beverages (cash register systems don’t work, transport logistics collapse, electronic payment transactions aren’t possible).
The following aspects of daily needs are impacted in the event of a blackout:
- Food & retail
- Medical care
- Water and sewage systems
- Financial systems
To be able to counteract impairments in these areas, good preparation is everything. You can develop your very own personal emergency plan based on the following tips:
- Tip for preparation
Think of a “14-day camping holiday within your own four walls” – so also plan for every specific thing you need.
- Arrangements in the family Who are the people who can help each other or who need help in a blackout? Talk with family members about what to do in a blackout situation (e.g. where to meet if the phones stop working, who will pick up whom, who will take care of family members in need of help (children or persons in need of care, etc.). Which people outside the family, such as neighbours, friends, etc. can join together to help, or who in the neighbourhood might also need help?
- Food and beverage supplies It makes sense to have a supply of beverages (mineral water, fruit juices) and food for all family members for at least 14 days. Experts recommend keeping 35 litres per person in stock. What special foods do you and your family (diabetics, babies, pets, etc.) need? Either the food stored is consumed and purchased again regularly, or a stockpile is built up. This should be stored in a cool, dry place, protected from pests and, ideally, monitored on an annual basis (e.g. check the expiry date). The contents of the freezer should not be used primarily as a stockpile, as perishable food can no longer be cooled in the event of a power failure.
- Backup lighting
Candles, matches, lighters, torches with spare batteries or a paraffin lamp can be used to provide light in an emergency. Please note that the unaccustomed handling of open flame can lead to fires and should be handled with care.
- Backup cooking facility
Camping cookers (in combination with dry alcohol or methylated spirits) or a fondue set are conceivable as backup cooking facilities. Here as well, open fire must be handled with utmost care.
A crank radio or battery-powered radio with spare batteries are certainly important and will serve as the most significant source of information in the event of a blackout. A car radio can be equally helpful here.
- Household first aid kit
A standard household first aid kit, dressing supplies as well as important personally prescribed medications should be kept in stock.
The Austrian National Bank recommends keeping cash worth twice a week’s daily shopping (or up to € 100.00 per household member) in low denominations well secured at home. This will secure payment transactions even in the event of a prolonged failure of electronic payment options.
- Hygiene articles
Storage of hygiene articles such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, toilet paper, sanitary napkins or tampons, laundry detergent, bin liners and cleaning products is also recommended.
- Emergency electricity supply
Emergency power generators are available with an output of less than one kilowatt up to several hundred kilowatts. A power station with a solar panel can also contribute to the emergency power supply.
- Alternative heating option
Alternative energy generation: heating appliances that run on paraffin or bottled gas, tiled stoves, fireplaces, etc. Please note that the unaccustomed handling of open flame can lead to fires and should be handled with care.
What should I do during a blackout?
In emergency situations of any kind, the family is the centre of every course of action. The following points are a summary of measures that can help you make decisions in an emergency.
- Keep calm.
- Check if only your home/neighbourhood is affected. If you see any lighting, it is probably not a blackout.
- Do not call emergency numbers unless it is a life-threatening emergency.
- Turn on your battery, crank or car radio and wait for messages.
- Inform your family members (if still possible, preferably by text message).
What should be done in the household or in the community in the event of a blackout?
In the household
- Switch off or unplug all devices that were in operation when the blackout occurred. This makes it easier to restore the network. Leave only one lamp switched on to be able to recognise the end of the situation. Alternatively, deactivate the main switch in your home’s fuse box.
- Check your water supply and replenish it if necessary.
- Have torches and other sources of light as well as an emergency cooking station ready.
- Eliminate possible tripping hazards in your home.
- Check your supply of medicines. Check how long necessary remedies will last and how they need to be stored.
- Stay at home unless you are needed (infrastructure, emergency organisations).
- Keep an eye on your freezers and watch out for any leaking liquids. Open any refrigerators as little as possible.
- Consume perishable food first.
- Avoid waste. Collect accumulated waste in bags.
- Set up a back-up toilet in case the water or sewage supply becomes unavailable. For example, use emergency toilet bags. Check the backwater valves in case of an existing private wastewater pump station.
- Animals may need special care. For example, check the heat and oxygen supply to your aquarium.
In the community
- Avoid unnecessary trips by car and use fuel carefully.
- If there is one, check your building’s lift for people who are stuck.
- Remain in contact with your neighbours and think about common, next steps based on the authorities’ recommendations.
- Check whether there are people in your neighbourhood who need your help (e.g. people in need of care or sick people to whom no care service or meals-on-wheels can come anymore).
A blackout can last several days or may be over after a couple of hours.
What do you do after a blackout?
- Check whether appliances that were last switched on are still switched off (cooker, iron, etc.).
- Only switch on appliances that you absolutely need.
- Check the functionality of important devices.
- Continue to avoid making non-essential calls.
- Remain at home unless otherwise necessary.
- Continue to be careful with your resources.
- Help out in your neighbourhood if needed.
Additional information can be found under the links provided:
https://www.oesterreich.gv.at/themen/gesundheit_und_notfaelle/katastrophenfaelle/1/Seite.29500329.html (not yet available in English)
https://www.zivilschutz.at/thema/blackout/ (German only)