I’ve already gone into detail on the wisest course of action if you are in a major population center when the apocalypse breaks out: to hunker down and play defense, as it were. Eventually either the zombies or the humans will win out. If it’s the humans, awesome. If it’s the zombies, at least now you’re only facing one major threat without adding panicky people on top of it.
The problem with this is that we are more reliant on electricity than we notice. When was the last time most of you even saw a radio that operated on batteries? Without power, how would you deploy the security doors when locking down a major building? What if you need a hospital? Consider trying to go a single day without using anything that plugs into a wall as well as no air conditioning, no hot water, etc. You’ll come to grips very quickly with how unprepared most people are for living in a powerless world.
So how long can you hunker down before the power goes out? 24 hours at most:
Without human beings around to perform certain routine tasks, the electricity system will quickly cease to function. In regions dependent on fossil fuels for electricity generation (i.e., the entire U.S.), power plants will shut down, or “trip,” within 24 hours (or less) without continuous fuel supply. As soon as one plant trips offline, voltage at various points along the transmission system will drop below preset thresholds, spurring a domino effect as automated protection devices kick in and disconnect additional sections of the network. This cascade of trips would bring the system to a standstill, and a blackout would ensue.
Max Brooks’ The Zombie Survival Guide has all kinds of helpful tips for how you should spend this very important 24 hours: fill every receptacle available with water, secure your area (in ways that don’t require power, so destroy the staircase, find somewhere that relies on bars rather than alarms for security, etc.), take inventory of what non-perishables are available and how long they will last, if the internet is up you can email people in an uninfected area (you should not only communicate where you are, but also details of what you see so information gets to the outside), etc.
You should also be ready for additional threats that a failed power structure could bring:
Many critical facilities (e.g., hospitals, military bases) have on-site diesel generators to provide emergency backup power. However, these generators have a 40 percent failure rate, are usually designed to run for 24 hours or less, and require an operator around to babysit them. With no one there to refill the fuel tanks, check the oil, and perform other basic maintenance, most of these generators will not last more than one or two days. Without backup generation, basic services like water and sewage treatment cannot function. During the Southern California Blackout, San Diego’s sewage pumps backed up after less than 12 hours without power, bringing the city dangerously close to a real health crisis.
Or you could hope you live in an area whose power is drawn from a microgrid (or distributed generation). From the article:
A well-designed microgrid—combining distributed, renewable resources such as solar PV and wind with smart auto-controls and energy storage—would continue to provide reliable power with little human control, keeping the lights on, even under chaotic circumstances.
Microgrids do have their drawbacks. When we’re not in a situation that threatens the power structure (hurricane, terrorist attack, zombies) they are far more costly per watt to operate and, at their current level of development, they are inconsistent. They can either have exceptionally low maintenance costs or astronomically (and unacceptably) high ones.
But the pro is that if the macrogrid goes offline, the microgrid can be operated as an independent unit, often free of human interaction for long periods. That is why they are gaining in popularity. The government will tell you that it’s because of environmental threats that could tank our power structure, but we all know what they’re really preparing for.
If your area runs on a microgrid, you are extremely lucky. For everybody else, let’s hope they become the norm before it’s too late.