Why Blackouts Happen and How to Protect Yourself

In the short span of two centuries, electricity has become an indispensable part of our life. Our work, leisure, health care, economy, and livelihood depend on a constant supply of electrical power. Even a temporary power outage can lead to chaos, monetary setbacks, and potential loss of life. Our cities survive on electricity and without a reliable supply from the power grid, pandemonium would break loose. Power outages can be especially disastrous when it comes to life-support system in places like hospitals and nursing homes or in transportation facilities such as airports, train station, and traffic lights.

blackouts disasters

Fortunately, most life support services have a source of backup power that is ready to automatically take over should the main power grid fail. Backup power is also increasingly being used in corporate facilities, manufacturing, mining, business, and even residential house as depending on electricity and computers increasing. While a power outage in a small business may not be fatal, it can result in lost data, missed deadlines, a decrease in productivity, or a significant loss of revenue.


A brownout is a drop in the electrical power supply. It got its name because it leads to a decrease in voltage which causes lights to become dim (brown). Even though brownouts are not total power failures, they can adversely affect electrical equipment. Induction and three=phase electrical motors (such as those used in industrial diesel generators) are especially at risk during a brownout because they can overheat and their insulation can become damaged. If your main power supply is erratic and you experience frequent brownouts, you consider investing in a backup power system that will automatically take over and provide your equipment with extra power for when the voltage drops.


Blackouts refer to a complete loss of power to a geographic area and are the most serve form of a power outage. Depending on the cause of the blackout, restoring power is often a complex task that utility providers and power stations must undertake. Repair time-frames vary widely depending on the configuration of the affected electrical network and the nature of the blackout. The following article touches on just how essential diesel generators are for hurricanes and other natural disasters.

What Causes Blackouts

It is important to know about possible power failure causes to better protect yourself and your business from their devastating effects. Upon identifying everything that can go wrong, it is easier to ensure that adequate safeguards have been put into place. Here are a few of the obvious –and some not so obvious– causes of power failure:

Weather Events

The Edison Electric Institute states that 70% of power outages in the U.S. are weather-related. Plenty of power failures are caused by natural weather phenomena.

We have had a lot of major storms lately. Tornados, hurricanes, and torrential rains have been wreaking havoc through the United States so it is important to be as prepared as possible if a storm is coming your way. This means different things depending on where you live because storm damage varies from location to location. Weather extremes make storm damage nearly impossible to predict. Lightning, wind, ice, snow, floods, rain. Earthquakes and tsunamis can cause all types of blackouts to your business or home.


Flooding offers when a river bursts its banks and water spills out onto the floodplain. This is far more likely to happen when there is a lot of torrential rain. For this reason, during very wet periods flood warnings are often put into place. Other risk factors for flooding include steep-sided channels that cause fast surface run-off, While a lack of vegetation or woodland to break the flow and absorb the water that there is little to show the floodwater down. The drainage basis of impermeable rock or cement also causes water to flow more quickly over the surface.


Earthquakes are a common cause of blackout that can also cause fatalities. They are caused by movements in the earth’s crust which can get stuck and results in a build-up of pressure. An earthquake occurs when this pressure is related. Additionally, underwater earthquakes can cause a tsunami, which are high waves caused by large volumes of water being pushed to the surface.


Underwater volcanic eruptions and earthquakes can result in tsunamis. Volcanic eruption is a natural disaster caused by magma escaping from inside the earth. An explosion takes place which releases magma in a confined space and often results invest quantities of gas and dust being released. Magma travels up the inside of the volcano and pours out over the surrounding area as lava.

Snow and ice

When snow and ice thaw it often caused floods. Rivers burst their banks, roads, and bridges get washed away, and the communication system is often destroyed. This can result in widespread destruction to homes and property and frequently cause blackouts. In serve cases, survives will have to flee to higher ground wait to be rescued.

While it is hard to safeguard from major power failure caused by natural disasters such as floods and serve storms, it does not take much effort to protect your electrical system from the effects of water and dust. Water is a common cause of short circuits which result in a power failure. The damages caused by water in electrical circuits can be very expensive so it makes sense to ensure that you are well protected. Electrical switchboards, wires, and circuits need to be properly waterproofed. The damp or moist condition can also lead to severe damage. If you live in a high humidity area, you should consider investing in specially sealed circuit protection devices.


Dust can also wreak havoc with electrical systems and lead to short circuits and power failures. If you live in an area that is exposed to dust or sandstorms, you should pay particular attention to the location of your electrical circuits and ensure that they are adequately protected from dust exposure. Sealed circuits boxes are useful in protecting your critical electrical equipment which can prevent unplanned power failures.

Natural disasters have historically been the cause of the world’s most severs power outages. Hurricanes, floods, wind storms, earthquakes, tsunamis, and other severe weather can completely destroyed critical power infrastructure and result in outrages that leave broad geographical regions without electricity for days, weeks, and even months.

Other Power outage Causes

The Edison Electric Institute study also indicated that animals coming into contact with power lines –such as large birds– accounted for 11% of power outages in the United States. Additional power outage causes are primarily man-made such as vehicle and construction accidents with power poles and power lines, utility maintenance, and human error.

Power grid failure can also be the result of malicious or criminal behavior such as cyber terrorist or infrastructure attacks or a nuclear electromagnetic pulse (NEMP) which is designed to disable electronic equipment. In the wake of 9/11, many feared the 2003 Northeast Blackout was in fact a terrorist attack (it turned out it wasn’t).

More information on specific things that contribute to outages, common terminology used to describe various situation, and ideas on what you can do to prevent failure is outlined in more detail below.

Short Circuits

A short circuit is the most commonly used term to describe the cause of a power failure. Unfortunately, it is also a term that is thrown around by people who don’t have much knowledge about what is actually means. So, what is short circuit, and how can you protect your equipment from it?

A short circuit occurs when an electrical current travels along a path that is different from its intended path in an electrical circuit. When this happens, there is an excessive electric current which can lead to circuit damage, fire, or explosion. In fact, short circuits are one of the primary causes of electrical fires throughout the world.

Why do short circuits occur?

Short circuits occur when wiring insulation breaks down. They can also occur due to the presence of an external conducting material (such as water) that is accidentally introduced into the circuits. Electrical batteries can explore if they are subjected to a large current. Short circuits can also occur when electricity motors are forced to operate when moving parts are jammed. This results in an abnormal buildup of current which ultimately leads to short circuit.

Preventing Blackouts and Safety

Now that we are aware of possible short circuit causes, let’s look at some of ways in which we can safeguard our electrical systems from the hazards they pose. First and foremost, ensure that all equipment used in your electrical installation is composed of high-quality materials and compiles with the correct specification for its application. The initial installation costs may be higher than a system made with cheaper materials, but the saving you could make in avoiding potential losses caused by short circuits and maintenance are substantial, not to mention the additional benefits of safety and peace of mind.

Wires should always be of the highest possible quality and the correct gauge for their application. Also keep in mind that wires and other electrical circuits must not be overload. Electrical overloads lead to overheating which cause the insulation to break down and can lead to a short circuit. Pumps, pistons, rotors and other moving parts of electric motor should be regularly serviced and checked to avoid the possibility of jamming.

High-quality fuses, circuit breakers, and other overload protection device should be installed so that power can be immediately disconnected in the event of a short circuit, thereby preventing damage to sensitive equipment. When utilizing circuit breakers, it is also important to ensure they are suitably rated. Water is another frequent cause of short circuits. All exposed circuits must be kept’ adequately covered and protected from moisture.

Power surges

Power surges are the bane of any electrical system. A power surge can lead to rapid overheating and loss of critical and expensive equipment. Fortunately, protection is available in the form of surge protectors and circuit breakers. Surge protection should ideally be integrated into your main power switchboard. Small operations, which have a limited amount of critical equipment, can choose to utilize portable surge protection devices that plug into the power grid.

Electrical trees

Electrical treeing is a phenomenon that affects high power installation such as high voltages power cable, and transformers, etc. Any impurities or mechanical defects in the equipment used in high voltages installation can lead to partial discharge in equipment. This damaging process manifests itself in a tree-like pattern, hence its name. If undetected over a period of time, this phenomenon can lead to continuous degradation of equipment and eventually results in a total system breakdown.

To combat electrical treeing, it is important to use high-quality materials that are designed to handle the required electrical load. Regular maintenance performed by trained engineers can also help to identify and rectify electrical treeing before it causes major damage.


Electrical power is critical to society and business. Weather is responsible for the majority of primary power outages, but as shown above there’s a lot more than just weather that must be taken into account when designing an electrical systems. For any critical electrical system, be it emergency or business, you should always contract help from a certified electrician. Further more, for the best possible protection, always installs a backup power generator as an essential failsafe measure.

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