9 June 2022

What Is A Brownout, and How Do I Prepare For One?

Most people are aware of the disruptive and dangerous nature of blackouts, but many are unaware of its lesser known counterpart. So, what is a brownout?

What Is A Brownout?

While slightly similar, a brownout can often be the lead up to a full blackout. They can occur for a variety of reasons including bad weather or overloaded power grids.

A brownout is an intentional or unintentional drop in voltage in an electrical power supply system. The term comes from the appearance of dimming lights when a brownout occurs.

Brownouts are more often deliberate attempts by energy providers to avoid a full blown blackout. Power is reduced, usually by around 10-15%, for a short period of time.

What To Do During A Brownout

If you ever find yourself in a brownout, there are a couple of things you can do to make sure you’re safe and prepared.

Reduce Power Usage

The good news is that, unlike blackouts, you don’t need to sit in the dark, lighting candles during a brownout. The power isn’t completely out. However, the less power that gets used, the faster the brownout will end.

This means you can still use things that consume electricity. However, it is recommended that you turn off major appliances like washing machines or air conditioners. In addition, when it comes to protecting those appliances, most companies now manufacture products with voltage fluctuations in mind, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Prepare For A Blackout

If power isn’t reduced enough, a brownout is often a precursor to a full loss of power. If that is the case, there are a few things you can do before, during, and after to stay safe.

Before A Blackout

Have A Plan Here

Never wait until a blackout occurs to figure out what you should do. Along with having an emergency kit readily available, a power outage emergency plan will help keep your employees and customers safe.

This also includes making sure all your safety systems (smoke alarms, sprinklers, exit signs, etc.) have a backup system in case of a power failure.

Invest In Surge Protection

While there is certainly a cost when investing in surge protection, it is far cheaper than replacing damaged equipment or computer systems.

If you store your business’ data in a paperless system, you should also consider moving that information to the cloud. This will ensure you don’t lose anything in the event of a major power outage.

Get a Generator

Having a generator means you can still run crucial aspects of your business during a blackout. However, it is also important to operate that generator safely:

  • Ensure adequate ventilation
  • Never plug directly into a power outlet
  • Always let the generator cool before refuelling
  • Never use a generator under wet conditions

During A Blackout

With an emergency management plan in place, you are now prepared in the event of a blackout. However, there are some steps to take while it occurs.

Report The Outage

The first thing you need to do when an outage occurs is to make sure your utility provider knows where and when it occurred. This is especially important if you spot downed power lines or other hazards.

If anyone is in immediate danger, call 911.

Save The Food

If your business deals with food, it is important to ensure your refrigerators stay below 4.5 degrees Celsius. Anything above that and you risk losing it. 

For short term outages, simply making sure the doors remain closed is enough to keep the cold air inside. If the power is out for longer, loading fridges with dry ice will help maintain a safe temperature.

Turn Everything Off

Surge protectors are the first line of defence when it comes to protecting your equipment. However, they are not designed to withstand massive spikes. It is always best to disconnect any major systems until the blackout is over.

After A Blackout

With power restored, it’s time to take a look at the final few steps.

Confirm Power Restoration

Before turning anything back on, test the power by turning on a few lights first. If the power has been restored, it is also best to wait at least 10 minutes before restoring power to any major equipment.

Turn Off Generator

Generators have a specific process for shut down, such as ensuring the generator is powered down before unplugging any equipment attached to it.

Anyone who will be powering the generator down, including you or your employees, should know the exact procedure before continuing.

Take Stock

With power safely restored, it’s time to check for damages and possibly tally your losses. Take a walkthrough of your facility and check all your equipment, looking for things like exposed wires and damage to sockets and electrical inputs.

It’s always better to be prepared the first time, but this step is important to understand areas of weakness to better protect your business in the future.

Every Business Is Different

When it comes to having an effective emergency management plan, no two businesses are exactly the same. Yes, there are general safety guidelines that will be useful in certain situations, but having a customized emergency plan should be the standard.

Work alongside Emergency Management Group’s expert team as they create a custom emergency plan designed specifically for your business.

Across the globe and spanning countless industries, our Emergency Management Training will make sure your organization performs best, when preparing for the worst.