Brad Wardell's views about technology, politics, religion, world affairs, and all sorts of politically incorrect topics.

There’s a show on National Geographic called “Doomsday Preppers”. I’ve never watched it. But I have read a number of blogs from people on the subject and I’ve become convinced that most people, even those into “prepping”, haven’t thought through what would be the likely, and even predictable, steps our society would take as it self-destructed.

The doomsday scenarios I have seen discussed revolve around one of the topics below:

  • Economic collapse
  • Nuclear attack
  • Stellar impact (comet/asteroid)
  • EMP attack
  • Solar EMP event (Carrington Event)

I don’t feel qualified to discuss the likelihood of any of those things. I do, however, feel sufficiently qualified to say that there is one general scenario that I think is likely enough that it bears discussing: The collapse of our electrical grid and the consequences of that collapse.

A few years ago, I started doing research for a project on was premised on the fall of our civilization.  What could cause it? Was it plausible? What would it look like?

What I discovered was that our own civilization was far more fragile than I ever imagined. What’s worse, unlike the dramatic scenarios I read about, the most likely series of events would instead of a horrifying, gradual descent in which people didn't even realize that civilization was collapsing even as it was occurring.

In essence, our civilization dies as if it were a frog in water that was slowly brought to a boil.

Why guessing the scenario is irrelevant

There are a lot of different scenarios that could cause the power grid to be taken out.  I remember the blackout of 2003. It affected 55 million people and the power was out for 2 days. This all happened because some power lines in Ohio came in contact with some overgrown trees. Seriously.

55 million people lost power for 2 days because of a cascading failure that boiled down to some power lines getting tangled up with trees.  Hence, the specific trigger for a power grid collapse is less important than knowing the consequences of it.

General parameters

For our purposes, let’s just assume that the power grid has been damaged by something that will take 90 days to repair. Cars still work. Anything that wasn’t connected to the grid still works (like gas generators). Let’s assume this whole thing happens in August -- that tends to be when the electrical grid is under the most stress anyway.

Week 1: No big deal

The first few days are a party. The food in the refrigerator is going to go bad anyway so there’s a lot of BBQ’s. People talk about how this event is helping restore a sense of community. It’s like an extended camping trip in some ways. If only they knew.

The only friction that comes up at this point is that everything has to be bought in cash. People running to the store to buy their own generators (which sell out on the first day) are having to buy them in cash because credit card processing is down. Inconvenient.

By the end of the first week, the stores have sold out of their inventory of food along with other items one would expect to need “just in case”. Every army surplus store gets cleared out. No looting. Cash and carry.

Week 2: Some people have run out of water

It’s in week 2 that things start to become widely unpleasant.  Personally, I think a lot of people would start to be seriously concerned after day 2 but for the sake of argument, let’s assume most people tough out that first week.

Every real television station is still broadcasting. They have backup generators that are hooked up via natural gas and the natural gas pipelines are working just fine, for now. The gas stations are still working too. They have backup generators that run off gasoline. So people who need gasoline or diesel for their generators are doing fine as long as people have cash to pay for it. That also means cars can still get gas.

So the good news is that people are still being informed on the status of the blackout. The bad news is that they don’t know how long it’s going to take to restore power because it turns out that most of the transformers on the grid were damaged.

If you live in a major city, things aren’t so good. There’s no running water for most people.  If you live in the suburbs, there’s no running water either but those with houses can tap into their hot water heaters or have some local pond or something that, if they’re smart, they’ll boil first.

The federal, state, and local governments are bringing in water but it’s slow going, chaotic, and tense. The government is setting up relief centers in urban areas to supply food and water. The problem, however, is that there are a finite number of generators and, for the time being, no new ones are being made. The ability to fix anything that breaks down is compromised.

In summary, the urban areas are a bit scary because no power means reduced security and no independence but at least there are relief areas to walk to.  Suburbs don’t have the relief centers but still, generally have access to water and “community” food stocks are still holding up. People can drive their cars to the relief centers to pick up dry food goods and water bottles.

The death toll is far less than it could be. People who need assisted living or are vulnerable to heat related stress are the worst off. It’s easy to forget that large swaths of the United States are only comfortable thanks to air conditioning.

Week 3: Fraying

If you live out in the country, none of this is that big of a deal yet. You have generators. You have water sources. Some people, mostly suburbanites that decided to move into the country, have run out of food but they’re probably being supported by their neighbors. At least, I like to think so.

The suburbs, however, are fraying. Most people are out of food and are now flooding into the cities to those relief centers. While water is not a problem there, food is.  That’s because our distribution system in 2012 is based on just in time delivery. It’s very power hungry and the lack of a power grid is creating a lot of holes that are not easily patched.

Put yourself in this itself in the situation for moment.  It’s been 15 days without electricity. You have no more cash on hand. You’re out of food. You have some gallon containers of boiled water. Your car still has gas but you no longer have a way to get any more. You’re only 5 miles from the nearest relief center but you hear from neighbors that they’re now handing out MREs instead of “normal” food.

What do you do? Well, a lot of people have just moved their families to camping out near one of these relief camps. Should you do that?

Week 4: The Unraveling begins

So 22 days into the black out the scale of the problem is well known. Thank goodness communication still works. In the various EMP scenarios, there’s no communication.

On the other hand, communication still works.

A lot of the electrical transformers are out. This in turn damaged a lot of the grid infrastructure. It’s all repairable except that some of the parts can’t easily be replaced and that the supply of spare parts is very finite. As a result, certain parts of the grid have been restored.


image

The US power grid

Since communications still works, assume that the government has directed that the limited spare parts be used to restore the power grid in the most populated areas. This means the major urban areas, the east coast and the west coast.

This creates some sub-scenarios.  Do people migrate to those zones? Do those zones act as logistical bases to send out supplies?

I think we can surmise a few things here:

First, a lot of the equipment, having been running 24/7 for the past month, is going to start to break down. Those relief centers are going to start running out of food to supply. Water deliveries will start to become a problem as the number of vehicles available start to dwindle. Absenteeism is going to start to become a serious problem throughout this logistical network. To make a long story short, the patch work of relief centers is going to start to break down. This also means the delivery of fuel to gas stations and other consumables that rely on our vast, electrically powered, logistical infrastructure will start to come to a halt.

Second, a lot of people are going to start dying. The ability to supply medication in a timely manner is gone. If 15,000 people in France can die from a heat wave, one can imagine what would be happening in the American south in late August with no air conditioning.

Third, security will have started to seriously break down. Those that recall the problems in the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina can probably imagine what will be happening in those vast camp grounds surrounding every relief center – especially as supplies begin to dwindle.

And we’re only 22 days into this…

And mind you, we’re only 22 days in.  If an event occurred that physically damaged the power grid, particularly some of the very expensive, hard to replace, hard to manufacture elements of it, we’d be looking at large swaths of the population being without power for months.

There are a lot of variables that come into play and the further we go out, the more speculative we have to become. Here are some of the questions that would have a lot to do with the outcome:

  1. Is this a worldwide issue? Just North America? Just the Eastern and Western Interconnect?
  2. How effective would the local/state/federal government be in delivering vital supplies to population centers and how long could it maintain those supplies?
  3. If transportation is still available, what would be the migration patterns? What percent would stay put versus move to where power is versus would camp out at a relief center?
  4. How quickly would violence arise on a scale to disrupt or event overwhelm local authority?
  5. How long would secondary elements of our infrastructure function without the grid (utility companies that rely on regular deliveries of supplies and components to function, communication grids that rely on power)
  6. What is the MTBF of various types of backup generators?
  7. To what level would people be able to obtain more cash and/or use credit cards if the grid went down?

 

Week 5: It Falls apart

Depending on the answers from above, it’s about week 5 that things start to go to hell. 

For our purposes we’re going to assume the following going forward:

  • It’s a worldwide issue
  • The government aid goes as well as it possibly can (i.e. benefit of the doubt)
  • Non-Cash payment is a significant issue where the grid remains down (not that it’ll matter much longer)
  • Best-case scenario regarding the rise of mobs, looting, and gangs (i.e. benefit of the doubt).

 

The second month

  • Think you can hold off the hordes of starving because you have guns and a fortified house?
  • Should you migrate to where they’ve restored the grid or should you stay put or should you “go to that cottage your grandma has”?
  • How serious and how fast will things get violent?

Join the discussion

I’d love to hear from you in the comments area.  Corrections to my data. Supplemental information. Things I haven’t thought of. Link others to this article to get others who are knowledgeable on this topic to have access to it.

 

//


Comments (Page 2)
on May 29, 2012

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!! Please won't someone think of the BEER !?!

 

on May 29, 2012

After the 1989 Point Loma earthquake, nuclear subs from Alameda crossed the bay and provided power to San Francisco.

Live in Connecticut, Georgia, Washington state, Hawaii,  California or Virginia.

on May 30, 2012

 

 

General parameters

 

For our purposes, let’s just assume that the power grid has been damaged by something that will take 90 days to repair. Cars still work. Anything that wasn’t connected to the grid still works (like gas generators). Let’s assume this whole thing happens in August -- that tends to be when the electrical grid is under the most stress anyway.

 

 

This listed theoretical event has some issues with it.

 

First, Power Grid. You need to define it, in particular what actually goes out that requires 90 days to repair. And why anything not connected to the gird still works.

 

Second, you do realize that there is not just a single ‘power grid’. There are many, many different grid of electrical power that are found in the United States, individual states and sometimes even at a local level. If generators still work, then there are cities that have generators enough to run the entire city as long as the fuel lasts.

 

Third, Is this situation just in the United States, North America, the entire world. It does make a difference.

 

With out more information on the how/why the grid went down, and that cars and communication still work, the rest of what you listed as issues, is remotely incorrect. Sure the efficiency and timeliness of orders to delivery is not what people are use to but if transportation is still alive then nothing dramatically changes except people’s negative reaction to loss of convenience.

 

 

If an event occurred that physically damaged the power grid, particularly some of the very expensive, hard to replace, hard to manufacture elements of it, we’d be looking at large swaths of the population being without power for months.

There are a lot of variables that come into play and the further we go out, the more speculative we have to become. Here are some of the questions that would have a lot to do with the outcome:

Is this a worldwide issue? Just North America? Just the Eastern and Western Interconnect?

How effective would the local/state/federal government be in delivering vital supplies to population centers and how long could it maintain those supplies?

If transportation is still available, what would be the migration patterns? What percent would stay put versus move to where power is versus would camp out at a relief center?

How quickly would violence arise on a scale to disrupt or event overwhelm local authority?

How long would secondary elements of our infrastructure function without the grid (utility companies that rely on regular deliveries of supplies and components to function, communication grids that rely on power)

What is the MTBF of various types of backup generators?

To what level would people be able to obtain more cash and/or use credit cards if the grid went down?



Week 5: It Falls apart

Depending on the answers from above, it’s about week 5 that things start to go to hell.

For our purposes we’re going to assume the following going forward:

It’s a worldwide issue

The government aid goes as well as it possibly can (i.e. benefit of the doubt)

Non-Cash payment is a significant issue where the grid remains down (not that it’ll matter much longer)

Best-case scenario regarding the rise of mobs, looting, and gangs (i.e. benefit of the doubt).

 

 

 

At least here you start to redefine in detail some of the concerns that I listed in the beginning.

 

What I would like to know in your scenario is what would cause worldwide (or country wide) complete electrical grid failure yet keep communications and vehicles running.

 

I have no issue if the general population does not know until week 4 or 5 or later that the issue is major (worldwide) but if communications exist, then I believe it would be learn much sooner like week 2.

 

on May 30, 2012

DaveChase
First, Power Grid. You need to define it, in particular what actually goes out that requires 90 days to repair. And why anything not connected to the gird still works.

Looting and vandalism were widespread, hitting 31 neighborhoods, including most poor neighborhoods in the city. Possibly the hardest hit were Crown Heights, where 75 stores on a five-block stretch were looted, and Bushwick where arson was rampant with some 25 fires still burning the next morning. At one point two blocks of Broadway, which separates Bushwick from Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, were on fire. Thirty-five blocks of Broadway were destroyed: 134 stores looted, 45 of them set ablaze. Thieves stole 50 new Pontiacs from a Bronx car dealership.[1] In Brooklyn, youths were seen backing up cars to targeted stores, tying ropes around the stores' grates, and using their cars to pull the grates away before looting the store.[1] While 550 police officers were injured in the mayhem, 4,500 looters were arrested.[1]

That was JUST ONE DAY in '77

Look 'em up ....there's several instances of some twee little mishap turning to grid failure followed by 'dramas'.

on May 30, 2012

Frogboy
Could you handle several hundred trespassers a day? Most of whom are armed and desperate?

 

That's what the traps are for....

 

I love free bait for hunting...

on May 30, 2012

In the event of a catastrophic melt down of the power grid...within 3 days the food stores will be literally emptied out. The 2 reasons for this are 1) there has been so many documentaries done and played on TV on these scenarios claiming just that...that people will be scrabbling to food stores trying to be the first ones there...and they will not be polite. 2) the people who usually drive the trucks making the deliveries will very likely being taking care of their own families and/or traffic may very will be congested and deliveries will be late if at all. The trucks may very well be looted while still in route.

At this point money will be useless and food will be the new currency...guard it well. The government will be unreliable and normally decent people will be reverting back to basic survival hoarding instincts and some will be forming gangs.

If your planing on being one of the people heading to the food store in the first 2 days make sure you are carrying a "concealed" weapon...better to not need one than to need one and not have it...and trust me...you won't be the only one carrying a weapon.

Basically, if a scenario like this happens you should rely on no one but yourself for survival of yourself and your family. And anything you do to prepare for survival mode should be kept to yourself. Trust on one or do so at your own peril.

One important thing you should have are weapons to protect yourself and your family. You don't need a huge arsenal...just a few sturdy rifles and hand guns for each member of your family...but as much ammo as you can afford. Your rifles and hand guns should have laser sighting and good long range scopes for your rifles...night vision would also be a good thing to have. Once you have your weapons you and your family should get familiar with them by going to a shooting range and practice handling them...at least every 2 weeks at a range. They are not toys or video controllers and if you are not familiar with them you can hurt yourself easily...and there are no do overs if that happens. If you are not comfortable handling weapons...I suggest practicing using harsh language or grovelling in the event you are confronted with people wanting to take what you have...and they will more than likely have weapons.

It would be smart to have a place you can take your family that will be safe and secure...and also to store you survival supplies. And one of those thing can be shipping containers. They are sturdy and 2 or 3 can be welded together to make a comfortable living area...1 can be used to store your supplies and 2 to live in. This is something that should be done well in advance and with as much secrecy as possible. Rent a flatbed truck and pick them up and deliver them to your spot and then bury them. This can be easily done by one person using a backhoe if need be. Under no circumstances tell anyone where they are.

Shipping Containers

http://www.bslcontainers.com/shippingcontainers.php
http://www.ebay.com/sch/Shipping-Containers-/92079/i.html

The next thing is stocking up on food supplies. Here are some examples of online stores you can buy from.

Survival Food
http://www.mypatriotsupply.com/Articles.asp?ID=245
http://www.mypatriotsupply.com/Survival_Seed_Vault_p/gengard.htm
http://www.seedsnow.com/products/mega-survival-kit
http://www.freelegacyfood.com/

The next thing is a power source (Hydrogen power) you can use for your new home and your car since gasoline and other fuel sources will quickly become scarce.

Hydrogen power is safe and easy to produce. Our government has successfully scared people away from using hydrogen power by claiming it is dangerous and isn't doable...but this is a myth. Of course it can be dangerous under compression...just as any other fuel source but the way you will power your car it is produced on a as needed basis. Basically flip a switch to produce the hydrogen and turn it off to stop. No harmful emission and better power...plus water is free. The videos and sites below will educate you on how it all works...plus sites where you can buy kits for your car or other uses.

Alternative Power Source
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8TAmiUnBTyI&feature=related (Stanley Meyer (The Inventor) - It Runs on Water 1995) A must view!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXctY1K4wko&feature=related (The inventor and his brother)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&feature=endscreen&v=zng3TJFNgS8 (Truck runs 100% on water)
http://www.the-mad-hydrogen-guy.com (An abundance of free info)
http://hhosuperpack.com/ (Kits and lots of info)
http://hydrogengarage.com/ (Kits)

on May 30, 2012

@Jafo reply 19...

     In 1977 I drove for a private ambulance company. My baby sister and her boyfriend were stuck at a subway station after the power went out. I jumped in my 'bus', the ambulance I drove, and with lights flashing made a fast run to the station, which like all the others are underground, I used the PA system to get her attention and got the hell out of there really quick. Brooklyn on a good day was no joke back then. During the power outage it became like a war zone. And this less than an hour into it. Scary as all hell it was.

on May 30, 2012

And this less than an hour into it. Scary as all hell it was.

Yes....modern civilization is but just one placating drug removed from total anarchy.

on May 30, 2012

Really looking forward to SD's new game based on the OP.  Anyway, good read and scary stuff.

on May 30, 2012

My mother has a farm in the middle of Indiana.  Getting there will be an issue . . but once there we're good.  Water, food, guns, ammo, and booze (for drinking AND trading).

I'd expect things to go to hell much faster than Brad does in his scenario.

on May 30, 2012

Lantec
Depending on where & when you're at is how well you'd fare. Winter in NYC you might as well head for a relief center. Winter in rural Florida means time to hunker down...go hunting...harvest the citrus, purify water with pool chlorine or clorox. Keep in mind we've gone without power for weeks after hurricanes so we have an idea what to expect and most of us have stashed away supplies.The midwest (corn belt) likely has sufficient supplies to last at least 3 months.

Small towns would likely band together for the common good including defense/protection but big cities would become uninhabitable....no sanitation, no food, no water, Obama kind of hope (none).

I fully believe most rural folks would be fine after a period of adjustment (long as the ammo holds out cause we believe in the 2nd amendment). Urban & suburbanites would likely feed off of each other for a while and few would survive to the 90 day mark. Might be paradise when the lights come back on......

on May 30, 2012

The power grid going down is certainly a plausible event, but I would bet the economy crashing completely will be first - and soon.

 

on May 30, 2012

WebGizmos
Basically, if a scenario like this happens you should rely on no one but yourself for survival of yourself and your family.

I totally agree.

WebGizmos
It would be smart to have a place you can take your family that will be safe and secure...and also to store you survival supplies

There is a major problem with this even though it could be the answer for one or a family to continue for a long time if done correctly.

The major population is contained in Cities and towns. In more rural areas where severe storms are common some people already have shelters and supplies. These same people also have quite a bit of land to make such shelters.  For the largest total population areas at least in the United States look around. Do you have the land to fabricate a suitable shelter?  The answer to this is no.

Another problem this world faces is the economic situation. How many actually have the means to make or purchase storage containers and then put the correct supplies in them if they had the land.

There is very little doubt that having a supplied bunker could keep one going for a while in hopes the cause of the problem that started the situation could be solved. Again this is a “what if situation” So how many people are really going to act on a “what if” There have been “what if” situations for over a 100 years. Now if we were all the President of the US we would be covered for such an event or any event. So the most likely way to save you would be to figure out how to become President or a very high ranking official. Now you could live in your air conditioned bunker and have steak for dinner.

on May 30, 2012

DaveBax
It would be smart to have a place you can take your family that will be safe and secure...and also to store you survival supplies
Getting your family to such a spot will be problematic too.

A single person on a motorbike can go anywhere they need to pretty quickly (and worry less about gas).  Moving a family any distance when things go to hell is problematic. 

on May 30, 2012

Here's my favorite two sites for supplies:

http://www.uscav.com/

http://www.cheaperthandirt.com/

 

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