— CNN (@CNN) September 26, 2017
Over the summer, I read a moderately terrifying article in the Economist on what would happen if America lost electricity for a long period of time. If, say, hackers managed to infiltrate the system, or North Korea detonated a nuke 40 miles above Nebraska and caused an electromagnetic pulse, or if a solar flare acted up.
I’ll get to the article’s chief worries in a moment. My only experience in an electricity-free realm is trifling and limited to the 2003 blackout of northeastern America. Here’s what I quickly learned at that time:
People Get Stuck
I thanked my lucky stars that I was working from home on the day of the blackout. Thousands of other New Yorkers were not so lucky, as they were riding in elevators and subway cars at 4:11pm. The Fire Department had a hell of a job to do, with roughly 800 skyscrapers, both office and apartment buildings, filled with people stuck in elevators. Transit conductors eventually led stranded commuters onto the tracks and to the nearest exit. Dirty people were literally climbing out of manhole covers like C.H.U.D. And with no train service, folks stranded far from home had no way to get there.
Communications Go Out
Obviously there was no cell phone service nor internet. The only way I knew what the hell was going on was because I’d started keeping a small transistor radio near me ever since 9/11, and I found the one working ratio station operating off of a backup generator.
Food Goes Bad
The first thing my neighbors and I did was to start eating all of our ice cream, as it was a hot August day and all of it would melt within hours.
People Can’t Buy Things
People using plastic were S.O.L. Those with cash could only buy stuff if the store’s cash register was mechanical.
Traffic Laws Break Down
When all the stoplights stopped working, downtown Manhattan turned into a snarled free-for-all, with intersections jammed with tangled cars pointed in all four directions.
The radio had urged us to start rationing water, as they didn’t know how long the blackout would last. With no electricity, there’s no way to pump water nor purify sewage.
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