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View Full Version : Electricity, Water, and Chicago- How long would it take?



Keyaroscuro
05-18-2011, 11:24 PM
Okay, so, situation in brief: apocalypse caused by a disease that can spread as fast as the flu and pretty much incapacitates the entire city's population in one way or another.

Related question: In this situation, how long would it take for a large city like Chicago to lose electricity? I know it varies depending on the type of electrical supply, so I'm looking for specifically the type Chicago uses, which I believe are nuclear and coal (and if anyone knows about solar powered plants, that would be awesome, too).

What would happen to the plants after people stopped managing them? How many people (minimum) does it take to manage one? How secure are they (if, say, there were zombies out and about and the people in the power plant didn't want to be eaten)? And how about the water supply? How long would it take for it to shut off so buildings can't access it, even ones with generators? (This might sound silly, but I live in the country with a well, so I've never had to experience power outages on a main water supply.)

Which leads me to another question. This might be better saved for another thread, but...generators. What type of buildings (besides homes) would have them? How long would one last if it turned on and was never turned off? If the building it was hooked up to was hooked up to the main water supply, would the building be able to still get water, or would it need a well?

I would really like to know as much about this as I can because I'm crazy like that. :| I've looked up stuff and asked people, and I've gotten some decent responses, but not enough to set me at ease.

Thanks for any help!

BySharonNelson
05-18-2011, 11:34 PM
Okay, so, situation in brief: apocalypse caused by a disease that can spread as fast as the flu and pretty much incapacitates the entire city's population in one way or another.

Related question: In this situation, how long would it take for a large city like Chicago to lose electricity? I know it varies depending on the type of electrical supply, so I'm looking for specifically the type Chicago uses, which I believe are nuclear and coal (and if anyone knows about solar powered plants, that would be awesome, too). So I think this would largely depend on how quickly this disease spread and how horrid it was. If it was causing wide spread panic I would think power would be gone within a few days and water shortly after.

What would happen to the plants after people stopped managing them? How many people (minimum) does it take to manage one? How secure are they (if, say, there were zombies out and about and the people in the power plant didn't want to be eaten)? And how about the water supply? How long would it take for it to shut off so buildings can't access it, even ones with generators? (This might sound silly, but I live in the country with a well, so I've never had to experience power outages on a main water supply.) Most buildings can still access water even when the power is off. I know in my house when the power is out we have water it just isn't heated. In my moms office building which is fairly large they still get water but they are sent home because it makes it so that the sprinkler systems no longer work. If there is no one running the water facilities some of them are automated and may continue to run but not for long and the water may not be safe to drink any longer. There would probably be a lot of rioting and stuff so the water could become contaminated quite quickly.

Which leads me to another question. This might be better saved for another thread, but...generators. What type of buildings (besides homes) would have them? How long would one last if it turned on and was never turned off? If the building it was hooked up to was hooked up to the main water supply, would the building be able to still get water, or would it need a well?I think most if not all hospitals would have generators. My moms office has a generator that keeps the backup power as well as the backup servers running for their computers. I think a good portion of buildings would have some type of generator for emergency power but they would not last long and are meant to only stay on long enough for everyone to evacuate the building. Hospitals are a different story, theirs are meant to last longer and produce more electricity. The buildings would probably still get water but the does not mean that it is safe to use. In emergency situations the first thing they tell you to do is fill your tub and any available containers with water as that is the first thing to go after power.

I would really like to know as much about this as I can because I'm crazy like that. :| I've looked up stuff and asked people, and I've gotten some decent responses, but not enough to set me at ease.

Thanks for any help!

I don't know if any of that will help but good luck :)

pezie
05-18-2011, 11:46 PM
I feel like I should know these answers since I live here, but I don't. Eek. If you want to know the electric companies here, maybe that can give you a place to start research--ComEd (Commonwealth Edison), Nicor and Spark Energy (Spark is new, but energy is deregulated here, so consumers can choose. Most people in the city, to my knowledge, use ComEd. In the 'burb where I live now, it's Nicor).

Water--water is based on a sewer system, not wells, so it works w/o electricity. Though if everyone was plagued by this flu, I wonder about the pumping station? The water comes from Lake Michigan, so in desperation, people could just go to the Lake, which is close by and fresh water (even if it's dirty). Though...watch out for those zombies, eh?

I'm not sure on the generators, sorry.

I hope I was a little bit helpful. If you need help with anything geographically or about living in the city, transportation, feel free to ask.

jaksen
05-18-2011, 11:58 PM
You should really try to watch 'Life After People,' a series that shows what will happen if people just disappeared. It goes into great detail about when power stations will shut down, and what happens to water systems, etc. It doesn't have a zombie element to it; neither does it ever explain where the people went. But it does show what happens to the infrastructure, buildings, bridges etc., without people to run, support and maintain them.

It was a series on the History Channel, but some episodes might be available on youtube, or other locations. I bet you could borrow the DVDS from your local library.

Sarpedon
05-19-2011, 12:15 AM
The typical cycle of water is it comes from its source, either groundwater or surface water, passes through a water treatment process, is pumped up to water towers, and then it is distributed by gravity. It then passes into the sewer when done being used, goes to the wastewater treatment facility, and then is released back into the world at large.

The treatment plants are highly automated, and require little oversight. They would probably keep chugging along until they lost power. The only question is would they run out of chemicals before they lost power? It depends on their delivery schedule. I doubt it. Electricity is the weakest link here. Most water treatment plants would have back up diesel generators, but that wouldn't last for very long.

With no new water being pumped in, the water would last until the supply in the towers is depleted.

The tricky part is to determine how much water is stored, vs how much is used. Presumably, zombies don't take showers or use water at all, so your consumption will go down. However, zombies also don't turn off the water, so every faucet, garden hose and sprinkler that was running when the zombies came would continue to run, gradually reducing the water supply. I have no idea how you would calculate that.

I doubt the water would become contaminated, either, unless a zombie were to actually fall into the tanks at the purification plant.

I expect that nuclear power plants would SCRAM if there were no one monitoring them. I don't know that for a fact, but it would seem sensible.

Solar and wind power would be unaffected, at least in the short term. However, since they are such a small proportion of total power, there would be brown-outs regardless. There would be more systems trying to pull power than the producers could supply, so no appliance would get enough.

pezie
05-19-2011, 12:37 AM
Oh, and I just thought of this re: generators--they are only going to last as long as they have fuel. I don't know what generators for places like hospitals or nuclear plants use, but household generators usually run on gasoline, right?

Maryn
05-19-2011, 01:45 AM
"Amateur" generators run on gasoline, but the generators used for business buildings and hospitals run on natural gas. The generator for a house is about the size of an air conditioning unit and they cost about five thousand bucks, but they can power everything unless and until natural gas delivery fails.

My understanding, from working for an Arizona utility company long ago, is that natural gas requires far less human oversight than electricity, regardless of how the electricity is created, so natural gas back-up generators might run a long while after the electrical grid has failed.

I suspect that water purification will become an issue and there will be looting and daring raids for bottled water.

I still worry about those zombies, though.

Maryn, holing up

PeterL
05-19-2011, 03:11 AM
Okay, so, situation in brief: apocalypse caused by a disease that can spread as fast as the flu and pretty much incapacitates the entire city's population in one way or another.

I would suggest Plague spread as aerosols, thus causing Pneumonic Plaguue, which is about 60% fatal when treated and about 99.999% fatak when untreated.


Related question: In this situation, how long would it take for a large city like Chicago to lose electricity? I know it varies depending on the type of electrical supply, so I'm looking for specifically the type Chicago uses, which I believe are nuclear and coal (and if anyone knows about solar powered plants, that would be awesome, too).

What would happen to the plants after people stopped managing them? How many people (minimum) does it take to manage one? How secure are they (if, say, there were zombies out and about and the people in the power plant didn't want to be eaten)? And how about the water supply? How long would it take for it to shut off so buildings can't access it, even ones with generators? (This might sound silly, but I live in the country with a well, so I've never had to experience power outages on a main water supply.)

The power plants that I have seen required operators to be on site. They wouldn't continue operating for more than a few hours if untended. There probably are plants that would continue for a few days, if they were set up for that in advance.


Which leads me to another question. This might be better saved for another thread, but...generators. What type of buildings (besides homes) would have them? How long would one last if it turned on and was never turned off? If the building it was hooked up to was hooked up to the main water supply, would the building be able to still get water, or would it need a well?

Most building generators are for emergency use, and the fuel is seldom adequate for more than a few days. There are some phone company buildings that have generators that will keep the local switch running for a week or two.


I would really like to know as much about this as I can because I'm crazy like that. :| I've looked up stuff and asked people, and I've gotten some decent responses, but not enough to set me at ease.

Thanks for any help!

Good luck, I also think that the world would be better off with fewer people; but unless you are planning to get rid of 95% of the population, then everything would work well. The systems that utilities use are more than adequate, if someone looks in on them regularly.

Kitti
05-19-2011, 03:33 AM
I don't know how long the average generator in Chicago would last, but here in the hurricane zone I know many homes and businesses (including entire universities) have run off their generators for weeks at a time.

Hospitals would definitely have generators. Military bases would probably have generators, too. After that... whatever works for your story.

Stoneghost
05-19-2011, 03:39 AM
Well if they knew a disaster was impending utilities would shutdown. So the answer is there would be no power as soon as the power plant lost the people to staff it because the remaining staff would kill the generators.

jaksen
05-19-2011, 10:03 PM
Anyone with a windmill providing electricity, or who lived next to an old mill (and some people do use running water for some of their electrical needs) would have a virtually inexhaustible supply of energy. I know people who built their own house-with-mill next to a stream. As long as the stream is running, they have power.

As for smaller, home generators, as long as you have fuel, the generator will run. Once you run out of fuel, or you run out of people to put the fuel into the generator, it stops.