“What would happen in an apocalyptic blackout?”

That’s the question asked by the BBC in a very interesting analysis of how dependent we are on electricity for our very survival in urban areas.  It looks at Venezuela’s real-life experience of prolonged blackouts, and extrapolates from that to the situation in most major cities.  Here’s an excerpt to show you the scale of the problem.

In our modern world, almost everything, from our financial systems to our communication networks, are utterly reliant upon electricity. Other critical infrastructure like water supplies and our sewer systems rely upon electric powered pumps to keep them running. With no power, fuel pumps at petrol stations stop working, road signs, traffic lights and train systems go dead. Transport networks grind to a halt.

Our complex food supply chains quickly fall apart without computers to coordinate where produce needs to be, or the fuel to transport it or refrigeration to preserve it. Air conditioning, gas boilers and heating systems also rely upon electricity to work.

A little over 100 years ago, our cities ran on human and animal muscle power to ferry goods and waste around. Modern infrastructure is now utterly reliant upon electricity.

. . .

Putting measures in place to counter all of these potential threats is difficult and expensive … But there are some events that cannot be planned for and the complex, interconnected nature of our electricity grids are remarkably vulnerable. Take what happened in September 2003 when a fallen tree brought down a power line in Switzerland’s Lukmanier Pass over the Alps into Italy and 24 minutes later another tree came down onto a line in the nearby Great St Bernard pass. The sudden failure of these two key lines caused other connections to Europe’s electricity network to trip, which triggered power plants across Italy to shut down. The whole of Italy was left without power because of two fallen trees starting a cascade of events.

Modern electricity grids are increasingly interconnected and complicated, making failures like this difficult to predict.

There’s more at the link.  Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.

There’s also the sociopolitical aspect of major blackouts, of course.  We’ve addressed that in these pages before.  Remember the New York City blackout of 1977?

That was in a city where the laws and regulations effectively disarmed its citizens, preventing them from defending themselves and their property against such criminals.  I’m glad I don’t live there!  In my part of the world, any such mob reaction would be solved very quickly by local residents, with the police required only to clean up the mess.

I highly recommend reading that BBC analysis, then planning for what you’re going to do in a similar situation.  You’ll find some helpful hints in the series of articles on emergency preparedness linked in the sidebar;  and for those who are a little more paranoid (or perhaps realistic!), you’ll find lots of advice like this out there.  Even in a city efficiency apartment, you should be able to store enough food and water for a week for everyone living there.  That should – hopefully! – be long enough for assistance to reach you.  Two weeks would be better;  a month, better still.  I’d also want some way of defending myself and my loved ones, and a way to fight fires, because they’re likely to be started by the rabble (see the video clip above).

Remember the old acronym:  PPPPPPP.  Take it to heart, particularly when it comes to planning ahead for disasters.  Plan what to do about such foreseeable emergencies before they happen.  It might save your life.



  1. I am very fortunate to live in Florida, where carrying during a disaster is allowed, by law (I think partially in reaction to what happened to people in New Orleans during Katrina.)

    Good law in Florida, can't wait to see what the Anti-Gun lobby and the Quisling '2A supporters' try to pass this coming year.

  2. In my neck of the woods this weekend we'll either have a small snowstorm, a small ice storm, or an apocalyptic, planet killing freeze.

    I'm set for light, heat, food and booze. Just need to hit the store to fill up my 5gal water jugs and pick up some soda for the booze tonight.

    Wish me luck.

  3. Short term, I don't think that I'd feel it much. If it went on longer than a month, it might pinch. Then again, I'm set up with a generator, propane, several hundred gallons of gasoline, wood to burn, enough ammo to challenge a looter, providing that one could find the place, which is doubtful, and a shovel if they do.

  4. This time of year, being -30F out, even a couple days would suck, a generator is on my purchase list for this next summers overtime budget. Luckily I'm in one of the three states not on the major North American electric grids (that temp kind of gives away what State)so that reduces the risks of cascading failures or CMEs. On the plus side, this time of year I don't have to worry about my freezers thawing. I'm close enough to our local hospital that I'm on the same electrical loop so even when power goes out it is rarely for long. Any longer term even I'd relocate to my Grandma's old cabin, there wasn't power out there when my uncles built the place.

  5. William Fortschen has a damned good book on the subject: "One Second After".
    The thing I hadn't thought of? Insulin requires refrigeration.

  6. Interestingly, I live in northern Maine and we have a large Amish population. They are completely dependent upon gasoline for their generators to pump water. Scary movies!

  7. Even if you have a month's worth of food and water in an efficiency apartment, and enough propane to cook and heat with (remember to ventilate properly), without electricity there won't be pumps to get the water you need to flush the toilets. Just another thought.

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