Forget The End Of The World… What Happens If Just One Major City “Vanishes”?

I’ve been devoting some brain cells into this end-of-the-world thing (yeah… nothing better to do at the moment) and I’ve realized more than a few scenarios that likely might occur that don’t really require the planet to go up in a puff of cosmic smoke, turn into a raging fireball, or succumb to zombies.  Common sense would suggest that while these  armageddon stories depicting the end of humanity remain popular entertainment, equally as possible and considerably more plausible is the idea that things could just turn out a national mess where most of us survive some catastrophy but there’s a complete breakdown in society and government.

The reality is that humanity, for all its advancements in technology and social progress and general enlightenment to everything around us, it’s just those things that have made us extrodinarily vulnerable.  Let’s try the obvious as an example.  Some foreign power or renegade hacker manages to kill the internet for 24-36 hours… for any length of time for that matter.  I believe that pretty much sums up everything.  Power sytems go down, phone systems go down, delivery and distribution systems go down, pretty much that’s a doomsday scenario as it relates to the continuing of our society as it once was.  It would take days, weeks, for people to re-route controls of utilities (assuming those folks are even going to work anymore) to get things going again on the scale we need to recover.  After day three of this breakdown we are running out of food in our pantries… the stores have all been looted… and anarchy is about to be unleashed.  No end of the world… no end of humanity… just an end to our society.

Downtown from the lakefront, Chicago, IL, USA

My vulnerable kinda town.

Ok.. let’s try another “small” scenario.  Remember those electric blackouts and brown outs of the past on the east and west coasts?  Let’s assume for a moment that the unthinkable happens.  One random Monday morning a squirrel traveling a powerline behind a home in a suburb of Chicago makes a jump and manages to complete a curcuit to ground and trips the transformer on top of the pole a block away.  That in turn trips another transformer at a local switching station causing a fire.. which in turn overloads some central office monitoring station who’s computers, instead of shutting down, thinks this is all simply a power fluctuation as a result of people all turning on their air conditioners at once, re-routes electrical power from another grid into the damaged system and causing an explosion at some main terminal, finally automatically shutting down the electric grid for the entire metropolitan Chicago area, from Indiana to the Wisconsin border.  In other words… a mess brought about by a previously unknown vulnerability in the system.

A map of the city of Chicago showing the conne...

A possible affected area for our scenario.

Now, I am no power company electrician so my scenario likely has a lot of imagination to it but let’s extend that a little to presume that all the damage done, both to infrastructure and to computer automation, along the line is so extensive that it’s going to take… heck, we don’t know at this point how long it might take to restore power because damage is so extensive and widespread along the grid that replacement equipment is either not readily available or easily replaced.  What do you think might happen to social order?


Electric Grid

Electric Grid (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, for starters since no one has any electricity except for buildings with generators few people will get any news from the TV.  For most people the only news would be from the car radio (not a lot of people have battery am/fm radios anymore).  Any news that’s coming through is saying that it’s going to take days to even determine the extent of the damage, much less begin any repairs.  By this time people might be wondering about how to save all that food in the freezer.  But so far it’s a novelty event as people meander about in their cars, having been released from work, and talking to neighbors on the street.  People are calling around on their cellphones (landline phones work too because they are on separate direct current generators not part of the electric grid network), checking on Aunt Edna and just trying to entertain themselves to pass time.  Food from the freezer is likely being cooked up (natural gas still flows.. although many ranges may not pilot properly without electricity).. maybe some impromptu cookouts and quasi-parties to use up refridgerated products.

This thing only works for a few hours without power. Likely the first to go with any disaster.

Evening rolls around and it’s getting dark.. I mean, really, really dark.  For the first time in nearly a hundred years the stars can be seen over the metro area.  Flashlights, candles, and camping lanterns are flickering in homes and along the streets as people walk about.  A couple hours ago cellphone connections started to break down as backup battery power on the cell towers were drained.  Only landline phones work now.  People without landline phones (and there are many) are asking neighbors with them if they can check up on loved ones.  The evening might be getting a little chilly and natural gas might be flowing but home heating systems will not work because the blowers and pumps need electricity to distribute the heat.

The morning of day 2 people are getting more than concerned.  The news over the car radio is saying that it will be another few days before CommEd has a grasp on the extent of the problem.  It seems personnel needed to report to work are not showing up because their own homes and families need attention.  People are starting to think ahead a little, especially when it comes to gassing up the car.  Local pumps will not work.. so those that have enough gas are driving to the distant burbs to find available gas stations outside the metro grid.   Traffic problems everywhere because traffic lights do not work.  Long lines at the gas stations that might have generators going.  Gas stations outside the grid are running out of gas.

Going into day 3 the governor has called up the National Guard to guard strategic government and public buildings and locations inside the affected area… but even they are having problems recalling members and transporting them on the congested streets.  Pretty much nothing can be done by either the fed or the state because the affected area is so large… and FEMA just doesn’t have the resources to bail out an entire metropolitan city.  People inside the affected area are thinking about leaving the area to stay with friends and family until all this blows over… but if you had only a half a tank of gas or less when this started you are likely not going anywhere.  Nonetheless, people are hitching rides and there’s gridlock to leave the city.  The two major airports, Midway and O’Hare, are jammed with people trying to buy tickets and get flights out of town… and the military trying to get around.

As this mass of humanity leaves the city it becomes increasingly difficult to find gas stations with gas the father west and south and north you go.  Those left in the city are thinking about food, especially when the presence of law enforcement becomes more scarce.  Many food stores are already bare of food from those who purchased it (using cash because scanners are down).  The inner city is already being looted in some areas.  And this is just day 3.. with no outlook for any electric being restored any time soon to keep people in hope and maintain some order.

But let’s assume the news reports that power should be restored inside the next 7 days.  Obviously the looting will continue as well as gangs roaming the streets looking for food.  Fires will burn wild and unattended.  What little federal help there is can’t get into the city much less distribute any aid in any orderly fashion.  The airports will fill with people either hoping to get out or hoping the government sends in relief through there.  It will be a mess.  Even when power is restored nothing can be fixed overnight.  Food will take days if not weeks to again flow back into the city with any regularity to replenish the losses.

Now, the question remains… this isn’t the end of the world (although to the residents of our little scenario they might think so) and it didn’t bring down the country.  Even if we swap out the electric power failure and substitute a weather calamity, earthquake, terrorist small nuke attack, all real threats… the results would be the same or worse.  In our scenario here people would die.. and die violently.  Guns would decide futures and hunger, or fear of it, would be the motivation to pull the trigger.

There are no real answers on how to prepare for any of this as much as it is just a matter of chance… wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time kinda thing.  But if you can think a few steps ahead following any devestating calamity you stand a better chance of survival.  An understanding of human reactions and needs to survive is a big help.  Staying focused… and understand that you may need to make hard and harsh decisions in order for you and your loved ones to survive.  Knowing when to take the next step before anyone else does will give you and edge.

You can always build an urban assault vehicle with a large gas tank; keep it in the garage until the time comes to get outta Dodge before anyone else does.  🙂


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