why The Straght Dope rules

When the zombies take over, how long till the electricity fails?

"If we were to suffer an apocalypse where most of the living became flesh-eating zombies, how long, assuming I survived, would I continue to receive hydroelectricity from my power company? Is it a mean-time-before-failure situation, or would the system automatically shut itself down after a few days?"

8 Responses:

  1. greatbiggary says:

    The zombies weren't part of it, but wow. Electricity was always the deciding factor that brought me back from my teenage hormonal outbursts of "This world would be so much better if everyone else would just die!" I'd invariably think through all the differences, and then realize the electric company would eventually give out with no staff, and I'd be living without all the fun stuff I wanted to play with in the absence of people. And by 'all the fun stuff,' I mean tv and my computer. Oh, and air conditioning and refrigeration. Aside from those things, however, I couldn't find a single flaw in the plan.

  2. dzm6 says:

    This rather dated book (I think it was originally published in the sixties) deals with a similar question. Its premise is that a fast acting plague (a week or so incubation period, etc) has wiped out ~99% of the population. How does the remaining 1% adapt and survive? Takes place in the Oakland/Berkeley hills.

    Some of the more quaint and dated ideas are:
    - The clocks getting slower and slower as the power grid slowly fails
    - Spraying DDT all over the house to ward off the insects
    - The "yassa massa" black family in the rural South

    I loved this book when I was a teenager.

  3. transgress says:

    i think one key flaw in his 'if the zombification process is gradual' explanation is the thought that the operators of said power plants would think about humanity before themselves and plan ahead and continue power for as long as possible; which is kinda silly when you consider that men as a whole are a sorry lot and would most likely be attempting to saving their own hide rather than making sure the work got done. Maybe perhaps some old timer who whole life revolved around the place, but they are far and few between. And maybe in some utopian communist society where their place at work is there life and emphasis is put more on the state and society over the individual ... maybe. But overall chances are good that the minute everyone knew that this was going on there would be large groups of people trying to run away, many making it to the hills to attempt to barricade themselves off, some trying to fight it off, and many eating brains. Where you wouldn't find people is sitting in their cubical going 'BUT WHAT ABOUT THE ELECTRICITY? WHAT WILL THE PEOPLE DO WITHOUT THEIR TV'S?' ...

    which on a side note is something I thought was funny about (the new) Dawn of the dead. With all the news reporters sitting there reporting to the world that all hell had broken loose and oh here they come, fuck that no one is that dedicated to their job, especially seeing as most peoples motivation for working is payment which is not only more or less worthless at that point- it is also very improbable that your direct deposit or check is going to be delivered seeing as the people who you once thought were bloodsucking zombie vampires aka payroll, now actually are.

    None the less, it is still an interesting perspective because it also partially answers the 'if there were a semi-nuclear holocaust' or huge natural disaster you get an idea of how long things would last. Once again though, i think its generous and idealistic to think anyone would bother getting up and going to work on day 2.

    • jwz says:

      I don't think the power plant operators would "go down with the ship", but it doesn't seem totally unreasonable to think that, once they decided "it's time to pack up the truck and run", they might put things in a safer state before locking up. Who knows if they personally might need power after leaving the plant?

      Whereas the TV people were probably thinking "I'm totally going to get an Emmy for this."

      • transgress says:

        i dunno, i guess it depends on how gradual it was. Even then, i'd think that the people who operate the power plants would realize they have maybe a week of power tops and would attempt to make preperations to live without it. Aside from that, I remember how panicked everyone was on Sept 11th, and I live in arizona which was quite a ways away. With that said I can't imagine how panicked everyone would be if something truly castostrophic (as far as deadly to society itself is), so again i dont see the people doing much more than possibly chaining the gates. Although I think the common feeling for most people would be like 'its the end of the world as we know it, who gives a shit if i lock my door.'
        but i dunno. I suppose a good way to compare would be to find a power plant or similar that was at ground 0 of a riot or war and see how the workers reacted.