Episode 683: Modern Conveniences

Zombie Cliche Lookout: Side Effects

When healthy people lose power in non-zombie outbreak conditions, it’s usually an inconvenience. They might lose things in their refrigerator and freezer, and have to call into work, but they’re able to get by without too much trouble. That’s not so true for people with health problems, many of whom require electricity in order to survive. If they don’t have someone who can get them somewhere with power quickly, they’re in a lot of trouble.

People like this will be additional, tragic losses in a long-term emergency situation. Even if they never even see a zombie, they’re in jeopardy every second they don’t have access to electricity and other services.

About this Episode:

Okay, full disclosure here: I have no idea how many modern medicines need to be refrigerated, nor whether those medicines would be applicable to someone like Tara’s dad, who seems to have dementia. I was inspired on this story line by one of my favorite post-apocalyptic novels: Alas Babylon, in which one character dies because her insulin requires refrigeration and there is no power.

It’s nice that Sam has found Cheryl and looks to be reunited with the rest of the group (sans Shannon, of course), but not everyone is so lucky. Such is the life they live.

Discussion Question: Consequences of Power Outages?

Again, we have a pretty diverse group of readers here from a variety of backgrounds. I believe we even have a couple people here who care for family members with health issues, so I’m curious to know what sort of problems a prolonged power outage would cause you. Also, what can you do to mitigate those peoples? I know a lot of people have emergency backup generators, but how much fuel do they keep on hand for them?

32 Comments

Steam powered spam

Well I for one am fairly addicted to my phone and if the power ran out I would suffer and DIE.

Why…are you all looking at me as if I am about to say a punch line?

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Louise

That’s me. I have to use a ventilator at night (not sleep apnoea, it’s for general poor breathing) . I’ve gone for one night without when there was a major powercut, but for a longer period I’d be… up pit creek without shaddle. It would be a gradual decline as my organs failed to funtion.

With electricty, I’m perfectly fine*.

So I’d definitely need a generator in the apocalypse — which are noisy! They also still need a fuel supply (unless they are all solar!)

(* For my particular definition of fine, but you get the idea).

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Dave

Thanks for sharing, Louise! Do you have a backup generator or anything like that in case of a prolonged outage? We had one here in the northeastern part of the states a while back that took out about a quarter of the continental states for a few days.

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Louise

Sorry, just saw this. Nope, no generator backup… nowhere to keep one anyway. We don’t really have those long outages on that sort of scale over here (not since the 1970s “winter of discontent”) — I am on our electricty provider’s “priority list” (what that means in real terms, I hope I never find out).

I don’t imagine any “priority list” would be much use in an apocalyptic wasteland, though.

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Dave

The priority list is taken pretty damn seriously here in the US, I imagine the UK is the same or better (we have lots of infrastructure issues here these days).

rattraveller

Since electricity is the basis of the Western lifestyle the total consequences of having no power are not something that can be easily written up in a couple of books. Going with my primary job here is something I can say. After a week of no electricity yes a lot of food would have gone bad but the real problem in cities will be the lack of water. Water filtration plants are very electricity dependent. Yes there are water towers everywhere but they only hold so much and with break in lines, water faucet drips, a shower left on cause someone was attacked in one and so on means they will drain fast. The pump stations that bring the water to the towers from the plant will be off line so the tanks will not be refilled.
After the first week the water in the tanks will have lost its disinfectant residual and start to become contaminated by algae and bacteria and next corrosion of the tank and pipes will begin. That will take some time but the whole system needs constant maintenance anyway.

Good luck trying to live on bottled water.

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Dave

Oh man, nice comment! That’s something I wouldn’t even really consider. What do you do for a living, RT?

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Dave

That’s really cool. It never ceases to amaze me the different types of people that visit this site.

Greg

Hey Dave, excellent point regarding the Cold Chain management ofMedicine .
I am not a Scientist but I do know a thing or two about this topic from my work (Clinical Trials Management).

To simply things, you can have 2 main categories of drugs.
Some are made from a blend of synthesized chemicals (elements taken from the Mendeleev table). Usually these would be presented in solid tablets and typically the commercial formulations can be stored at room temperature. Of course this is still pretty vague, room temperature is not the same thing in an air conditioned Walgreens in the US and in the house of someone living in rural India. But in general these drugs are very stable.
Then, you have more complex and modern drugs that are from Biological origin. These would be comprised of Proteins, antibodies.. complex molecules that cannot be created but need to be grown. Insulin, being a Protein would fall in this category of Drug. Some of the formulations could be an injectable, or a solution that should be administered via infusion (IV bag). These products are a lot less stable and usually require to be kept between 2 and 8 degree Celsius (35-46 F).
While some of these drugs can still be stored for a few days at room temperature (I looked up insulin and it is said to be still usable at room temp for 28 days), most would however no longer be usable very quickly. At best they would just lose their efficacy, at worse they could become toxic but it is hard to tell because the testing capacity is limited. You could analyze the product in a lab to determine if the protein is still active… but as to determine the effect on the organism is probably anyone’s guess.

To get back to the comic, I’m afraid treating Dementia would most likely require drug from chemical origin so I think you may have lucked out on this one as this type of drug would probably still be usable… but I suppose you could always give him Cancer too?

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Ballinabricky

Or diabetes (pretty common for old [and not so old] folks).

Rattraveler is right as well. Anything that gets piped into your house from a central plant (water, natural gas, electricity) or shipped in from another region (food, gasoline) would stop and run out after only a few days. Even most people with well water from their own property would lose their water when the lost their power.

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Dave

I grew up with well water, which we would lose with every power outage. Made things that much worse.

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Greg

So there was no manual pump on the well?
In my former house we had a buried rain water tank hooked up to a manual pump. I used it to water the plants and wash my car.
One thing worth noting is that the pump did require to pour a few liters of water in it to get it started… without that you could pump all you want it did not do any good. I am not sure this is normal however as I installed the thing myself and I may have not done it properly.

Dave

Nope, no manual pump. We had an in-well pump, so no external well house or anything like that. My parents now have a backup generator for power outages, but at the time the water situation was a real pain.

Greg

To tie this to the the discussion around electricity and how we rely on it for everything, I think having a manual override on most systems could help resolve a lot of problems… but it is not surprising that most systems just don’t have one. (I mean, why would you plan for the worse, you paranoid nut job?)
In my new house I still have a buried rain water tank but this time it is hooked up via an electric pump to the washing machine and toilets (this is a fairly standard setup on recent constructions in my neck of the woods). A few weeks ago, the pump stopped working… while we did have a bypass to use network water on the machines we did not have that option for the toilets… which was.. unfortunate.
Since the pump was under warranty, someone showed up the next day to replace it – no questions asked and they did not even attempt to fix it.
I guess this experience tells us 2 things about standard setups :
– they rely solely on electricity to function – without juice, you’re screwed.
– they use cheap and unreliable equipment anyway so even with electricity you have no guarantees.

Dave

Excellent point. I know in my parents’ case, a manual pump wouldn’t be realistic. The pump was sunk so deep that it would take tremendous effort to pull water out. A backup cistern would be a lot more doable, though we didn’t have that either.

My wife and my first house (a farmhouse build in the 1920s) had one buried in the yard. We had to remove it when we dug out the footings for a small addition we built.

Dave

I’ve been purposely vague about what’s wrong with Tara’s dad (a lot) for exactly this plot reason. It still works if I’m not specific, right?

Also, also response, Greg. Really cool information.

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Rattraveller

Since many older and quite a few younger people take multiple medications for one or more illnesses vague is fine. I’d not how about Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes and long-term HIV positive and some pain meds for his hip replacement

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Ballinabricky

Have we ever gotten a specific location on the events of BotD? Nearest major city ever mentioned? I’ve always imagined it to be in the eastern Midwest some reason.

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Dave

I’ve always been pretty vague about that too, but it’s set in small town Michigan (a fictionalized version of where I grew up). It sounds like my little hints are hewing close to what I was shooting for.

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Ballinabricky

I’d say so, although I have to confess that I’d be hard pressed to identify a single hint or clue that gave me that impression.

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Dave

To be honest, I couldn’t tell you what they were either. I remember throwing a few in here and there, but it’s been a while.

Mad..

Bricks of the Dead is back! Woohoo!

Welcome back Dave, nice to see things ticking along again. I know I’m a bit late to the welcome back party but haven’t been checking as often during the hiatus 🙂

Have been doing a bit of catch up, and there is some awesome information coming out of the comments section… nice to see you all again BOTD readers.

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Darg

Not to come off as too callous or cold, but in all honesty, a lot of people who depend on technology to survive today shouldn’t be alive, from an evolutionary point of view. I’m not saying life saving technologies are bad or that I think we should just let people die, far from it; I’m just saying that evolution would have bred out the congenital and genetic defects generations ago had we not intervened with technology and circumvented them. A prolonged global apocalypse would be nature’s way of enforcing the rules of evolution back on our species.

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Greg

I would think that Natural selection is still very much present, it is just following different methods. Think of all the idiots that kill themselves taking selfies…

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Dave

Excellent (and humorous, in Greg’s case) points here. This is something I think about quite a bit. I’ll be everyone here knows at least one person who wouldn’t be around if it weren’t for various technologies. I know a few.

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Pi3rK

Fuel or oil doesn’t sound like viable options on the long run, I mean, we already know that…
I still think we’ll be able to create power from existing technology we’ll probably have to adapt to our new way of life. Stocking this power won’t be easy though. We’ll have to run the most essential things and I think that refregerating medics is an awesome idea Dave. We may have to learn to “devolve” in order to not be dependant of the gone power.

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