I Survived - Now What?
April 14, 2010 11:27 AM   Subscribe

If an event of apocalyptic proportions were to occur, which services would shut down first?

Let's say it's a virus, and 99% of humanity died. Thus, no one is going to work that day. What would happen first? How long would it take for the electricity to stop working? When would the internet shut off? What would happen to the gas lines?

Would the toilets still flush, or would the water pressure be thrown off?

I suppose my inverse question is: what would still work after a week? After a month?
posted by amicamentis to Law & Government (16 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
There is a whole book (pretty good read, too) on this very subject: The World Without Us.
posted by mds35 at 11:30 AM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also a very cool History Channel show, Life After People.
posted by syntheticfaith at 11:33 AM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

This also happens in The Stand, which is a Stephen King novel but nonetheless was realistic to scare the bejesus out of me in the 80s, and my son last summer.
posted by headnsouth at 12:22 PM on April 14, 2010

You might want to, when it gets released, check out the book Feed, which is all about 'what's life like after the zombiepocalypse', and includes bloggers and the Internet as major media and news sources.
posted by mephron at 12:25 PM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I should have maybe elaborated earlier, Life after People (if I recall correctly) does address an overall time-line when we'd lose power, etc. I think it mentions specifics like when the hoover damn would shut down due to lack of maintenance. I know for sure (because it was my favorite bit) that it addresses what would happen to domesticated animals.
posted by syntheticfaith at 12:25 PM on April 14, 2010

My son [10 at the time] and I loved "Life Without People". It just goes through the what-happens-next timeline if all humans just winked out of existence one day.

It doesn't address the "would the toilets still flush" part, since in the show's world there are no people to flush toilets, but it takes you through stuff like how long the power plants run, how long until the cities grow over, etc. Cool CGI.

Once the NYC power grid goes off, things fall apart in NYC surprisingly fast, IIRC. The last machine still running would be the Hoover Dam, which they postulate would last for a couple hundred years, I believe.

To sort of answer some of your question, your water pressure depends mostly on the weight of the water in your local water tower, assuming you're in a town of some sort. Your toilet would flush so long as there was water in that tower, which would probably be some time provided the surviving 1% didn't include any hoopleheads who'd open a bunch of taps in town to drain it.
posted by chazlarson at 1:11 PM on April 14, 2010

don't know if it was covered in 'life after people' (didn't see it), but the taller skyscrapers will fall down pretty quickly...most of them have piston-controlled moving weights, usually on one of the top few floors, to dampen vibrations caused by the wind...without power, these vibrations grow into heavy swaying, and the building comes down. (these weights can be BIG...IIRC, the ones at the WTC were like the size of shipping containers/18-wheeler trailers)
posted by sexyrobot at 1:54 PM on April 14, 2010

The electricity would go first, taking the internet and many areas' water supplies with it. You could power a well and your computer from your car with an inverter or something but if the servers you connect to are down, no internet. If your servers weren't the first turn off, you'd watch the internet get smaller and smaller fairly rapidly. I guess when DNS died, you'd need to know the exact IP address.

If you wanted to flush your toilet with something other than a bucket of water after city water failed, you'd need some sort of elevated tank to provide pressure. If you lived in an apartment building, the ground floor toilets would last longer than the penthouse ones, obviously :)
posted by codswallop at 2:15 PM on April 14, 2010

In virtually any disaster, what will go first is telephone service, landline and cellular.
posted by neuron at 2:59 PM on April 14, 2010

I believe I heard something about how NYC's water system is actually designed to use gravity to create pressure, and that water would run in buildings up to the fourth floor, even without electricity.
posted by rosswald at 4:11 PM on April 14, 2010

Note that most any toilet potentially has One Final Flush while the tank is still full of water. This is probably good for quite a while.
posted by ovvl at 4:46 PM on April 14, 2010

(some episodes of?) Life After People are also on Hulu, at least it was available as of last week.

I watched part of the first episode and didn't love it -- I found it a bit too, well, History-Channel-ish. Twee, sort of -- overly sensationalist. But don't let me stop you watching some -- you can't beat free.
posted by tivalasvegas at 7:02 PM on April 14, 2010

I hadn't realized there was a series. I've only ever seen the pilot, I guess. I can imagine where making a series out of it might get a little thin. Frankly, after watching the one I'm not sure what else there would be to cover. More CGI of specific landmarks decaying, I suppose.
posted by chazlarson at 11:34 AM on April 15, 2010

Thanks everyone! I love the 'what-if' apocalypse scenarios, and appreciate all of the answeres. I have already put a hold on Life After People at the library and am waiting for it to be transferred to my branch. I'll make my way through the rest of the recommendations after that.
posted by amicamentis at 10:45 AM on April 17, 2010

I have been watching Life After People this last day or two and it seems to be a very thin template: a few talking head interviews with sundry professors and authors about what would happen to, say, zoo animals left untended; a segment somewhere in the middle where they have sent a camera crew off to some urban ruins, and some CGI destruction of monuments every four-and-a-half minutes (usually mostly in two American cities with a scattering of other places here and there). The first episode, for example, destroys USS Constitution, the Old North Church, Bunker Hill Bridge, and the John Hancock Tower (all in Boston); the Astrodome and the JPMorgan Chase Tower (both in Houston); along with the ISS, the Statue of Liberty and the Sistine Chapel.

I find it kind of cartoonish. The melodramatic James Lurie, whom you will recognize from a hundred History Channel and Discovery Channel shows, does the breathless narration. There are a lot of quick cuts and dramatic music hits, and even the weirdly speedy CGI is mostly indifferent. Alas, everyone alive in this decade knows what a falling skycraper looks like.

It is an interesting idea for a series, but I would give it it A for its ambition and a C for its realization.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:58 AM on June 7, 2010

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