Being without electricity for almost 12 hours, and without Internet service for 4 days (both are back now) encourages contemplation of the multiple networks on which we are dependent for our well-being and even our survival, and of the interdependencies that exist across these networks…

–the electrical power grid

–natural gas transmission and distribution (in addition to its direct use in heating/cooking, natural gas is an important fuel for electrical generation)

–the various telecommunications infrastructures–wireline telephone, cellular, cable and broadcast TV, and Internet (my sense is that wireline phone is still considerably more reliable than cellular and cable)

–the water system (very dependent on the electrical system for pumping, although gravity-fed tanks provide some short-term independence)

–the street and highway network

–oil pipelines

–the freight-rail network…not very visible to most people–indeed, many still seem to think that the railroad industry is in eclipse–but if it disappeared for a month, you’d know it.

–the airline and air-freight systems and the air traffic control system that supports them

–the ocean transportation and inland barge industries

What did I leave out?

16 thoughts on “Networks”

  1. I would lay in there the national interstate system – without it the hard goods can’t make it to their final destinations.

    Also, from the reading I have done, I have come to the conclusion that if I could choose only one of the above networks if all of them went down, I would choose the water (which may or may not be dependent upon electricity). No substitute for being able to keep yourself relatively clean and keeping your domicile free of human waste until things can get repaired.

  2. I used to live at the beach where our power lines were on poles instead of underground and we had so many outages that I was on the verge of buying a generator. That was in the Jimmy Carter 70s so I had installed a 550 gallon diesel tank in my side yard (No, I didn’t have permission) and sold my gasoline cars for diesels. The local school bus terminal was at the bottom of the hill we lived on and they would come by once a month or so and fill my tank. The neighbors never seemed to notice a giant fuel truck in my driveway once a month. If I lived in a cold climate, I would certainly think about doing the same. There are nice Chinese made diesel generators.

  3. Water…my understanding is that almost all water pumping in the U.S. is done by electricity, and I don’t think backup generators are very common. If there’s an widespread and prolonged outage, then once the water in the water towers is used up, then that’s it.

  4. David – unless you have a well like we do at my farm property – I would imagine almost all rural homes have wells. In this case all you need is a backup generator to run your well pump and you are good to go.

  5. I had DSL during hurricane IKE and as soon as I powered up the modem I was online. The phone company has banks of batteries in the central office and standby generators ready to keep you online for months. I didn’t have a generator, but I had a 750watt inverter in my truck, that was all it took for me to power up my laptop and dsl modem. Just for grins we powered up the TV but the cable was out. Some people say that copper based dial tone is dead, but I will be the old guy in the news who refuses to give up 50 years after everybody else has stopped fighting.

  6. “standby generators ready to keep you online for months”…when they don’t forget to keep fuel in the tanks (which happened at a telco facility in NYC, I think it was AT&T)

  7. A good “network” resource is the Home Power web site and the back issues of Home Power Magazine on DVD. The newer issues are mainly cover grid tie PV, wind, & solar hot water. The older issues have lots of practical advice and examples of off grid solar, micro hydro, & wind from people who are actually walking the walk.

    One practical example for rural use is a continuous direct solar water pumping. A small, efficient, pump directly connected to a solar panel pumps well or spring water continuously (~2 gal/min) into a large tank or pond that gravity feeds the rest of the system. When the tank is full, the overflow goes into irrigation. People realized that the traditional well water pump ( 2 to 3 HP 220V ) and pressure tank was the largest load on the off grid electrical system and by using the direct solar pump, the rest of the off grid system could be less expensive and/or have more reserve capacity.

    “Hope for the best, plan for the worst”.


  8. Stan – interesting you bring that up. On my tiny farm property it makes a lot of sense to try alternate power sources. We are starting with solar powered electrical fences for livestock and horses with grid backup – I can’t trust it without the backup until I actually see it in action. But if it works, that system will save energy/$ in the long run.

    Eventually I want a windmill out there as primary source for the well pump and barn power and traditional grid as secondary. It is such a small scale deal that it will be easy and relatively cheap to try these things to see if they actually work.

  9. When in Italy, our guide laughed and said that they used to be so far behind us but had now caught up and moved ahead. How barbaric he noted to have power lines strung upon poles instead of buried for protection

  10. For some reason, the phiosophers here decided to invite William Fortschen, author of One Second After, to give a talk – the faculty will have a brown bag discussion, Fortschen will come and be feted in some way and then give a talk for the students, etc. Perhaps they thought an apocalyptic vision could open the students up to our lectures. What the hell – it seemed to work for Wigglesworth and Edwards.

    Anyway, I just finished the novel, which is full of wooden characters but is awfully close to scary. That’s its whole point – how interconnected our systems are, how it can go down in a second, and stay down. The community he describes is rural, much more survivalist in character than most places would be; it bands together, beats off marauding road warriors, and still only about 20% get through the next year. When I look at our daily lives, I can’t imagine what it would be like. I can however imagine that it would be horrible. It is a world without communication – and without communication, fear can build. But there is plenty to fear – no food brought in, no medicine brought in.

    Modern industrialization, modern technology was part of why those 80% were alive; it takes a while for starvation to set in. Before that, the kids with diabetes, the people on respirators at the nursing home, the schizophrenics who would have been driven out of town in the time before medication would have died. The people on here often speak of these with gratitude and we should. All of us, no matter how healthy, are leading more pleasant, less labor-intensive, lives because of technology and power.

  11. I read “One Second After” (which is about the impact on a rural community of an EMP attack which shut down all electronic devices) and thought it was fairly good–as you say, characterization was rather wooden, and some of the events in the second half of the book seemed rather overdrawn.

    We should really have a discussion of the EMP-attack risk here one of these days.

  12. Thanks, David, I hadn’t realized I hadn’t said it was an EMP attack. I would enjoy hearing people here discuss the risk. One of the guys was talking about what they’d learned in the service about hardening for such a catastrophe – and it didn’t sound like much was – or could be – hardened. He did convince me to keep a landline that wasn’t mobile. And not to throw out that protein powder drink that is really awful tasting.

  13. I would recommned a stop by for anyone interested in this type of discussion, there are many good resources and links documented there.

    Prolonged (say two weeks) interruption of the electrical, water or freight distribution will result in the tax eaters changing their diet to tax payers.

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