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So the climax of my urban fantasy story, long story short, involves a supernatural event taking place in the modern time sometime around March on a Saturday, 12:00 PM EST, that renders guns and anything running on electricity (except living things) totally useless — the electricity for a week, the guns forever. I’m trying to wrap my head around what just a week of this would do to the world, with a special focus on the story’s setting of America, and the main question I have would be how many people would likely die by the week’s end?

I don’t want to complicate the question by introducing and explaining the myriad supernatural elements of my story (and I suspect hearing an explanation of what something like this would do to the real world would probably be more than enlightening enough for my purposes), but there are a handful of important things I want to point out about this scenario:

  • Nobody was on the roads or in the air, at least not in America and most of the rest of the western world. Supernatural events are something of a weekly occurrence that have happened at the same time every week like clockwork for the past half a year, though every one before this has granted humans some new ability. As such, to make sure that none of these events cause any major accidents, travel by road or air is banned for the hour before and after 12:00 EST. So the initial catastrophic traffic accidents this would normally cause are not a concern. To clarify, however, while they knew something would happen at that time, they didn’t have an idea it would be something this huge or negative, so most did not prepare.

  • Since these are a weekly thing the world is now familiar with, everyone knows that electricity will start working again in a week.

  • For supernatural reasons that I’ll spare you the details on, mass worldwide prison breakouts start happening at the exact same time.

I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to visualize what the aftermath of this would look like, but I don’t think I can even begin to grasp how many people just a week of this would kill, and the answer to that question is crucial for working out how the book will end and the next book will begin.

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – James Jun 1 '18 at 13:27
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manassehkatz provides an excellent answer that covers much of the problems people will face. Some other areas to consider:

The internet is gone. While manassehkatz jokes that teens will die from boredom, the impact is actually far more severe. Much of today's media and knowledge is stored there and is now erased or at best inaccessible. What happens when someone needs to look up a thing, and now that ability is removed? Libraries don't spend near as much money on keeping up-to-date research materials on hand, so vast sums of knowledge are now gone as far as most people are concerned.

Your cars are now useless chunks of metal, plastic, and glass. Without electric spark plugs, no gasoline engine can run. Period. Diesel engines might run, but I guess it depends on how reliant they are on computers nowadays? And of course, even they will require some means to crank, since the battery-powered starter motors are dead.

That last paragraph above just killed entire swaths of your people. Anyone who lives in a city is dead. Period. There are no means to transport goods on a massive scale anymore. This means your city has no food. No food means starvation. You'll have riots before the week ends. And it will be months before order is restored.

Ships at sea will suffer the same fate. Sure, maybe they were at anchor when the surge happened. But now they're dead at sea. All the food being shipped across the oceans is going to rot on board a stranded vessel. I suppose those shipping food can crack open their containers and feed the crew. Otherwise the crew may run out of food before they can reach shore.

Your friendly neighborhood water treatment plant is dead. That's a bad thing. Your water now isn't being pumped from the wells or rivers up to the water towers and out to your citizens. So your citizens are forced to scavenge for whatever water they can find, regardless of how dirty it is.

Your friendly neighborhood sewage treatment plant is dead. That's a bad thing. Now you have raw sewage backing up in pipes, not getting pumped out to the treatment systems or between treatment stages. So the bacteria in them will no longer maintain the balance necessary to survive and treat sewage. This will have long-term impacts for your environment.

Your nuclear power plants are now in melt-down. Sure, they have all kinds of safety measures. But they all rely on various forms of command-and-control systems to maintain them. Those systems are dead, so your reactors are all going to go Fukoshima on you. All of them that weren't already shut down, at least. And there's no way to begin cleanup operations, so the impact will be worse for any such leaks than Fukoshima was/is. (Note, though, that if the world knows these events happen, then it is possible the plants go into a planned shutdown each week during the window. If so, then they're probably okay. Maybe. But it may be impossible to restart the reactors now...)

No one can talk to anyone they aren't nearby. There are no long-range communications methods alive today that aren't electricity-dependent. So we're all in the dark as far as how bad things are at a distance.

No one can manufacture anything. Either because they no lack the means (machines are all dead) or the knowledge (hey, go google how to make a pencil. Oh. Wait. Google is dead...).

Entire industries are dead. Information Technology. Electricians. Electronics / robotics. Publishing. Shipping. Retail. Communications. Entertainment. News. They're all done.

Other power generation facilities may be destroyed as well, or damaged beyond the means to repair without power... Catch-22.

Nations with nuclear arsenals have just lost their control systems. And their electronic defenses. And the electric fences are off for a week. Or more. You've got a high probability that terrorists just walked out with at least some nuclear material from somewhere in the world. If explosions still work, dirty bombs are a high risk and rogue nuclear weapons are a credible risk, too.

Your nuclear subs just sank. If they are in deep seas, then they imploded and probably released radioactive debris, so now your oceans have contamination which is going to cause ecological troubles. I don't know how much nuclear material will be released or how devastating the impact will be, but there's going to be some kind of impact.

Your satellites are space debris. If power restores before they drift off course, control might be regained before they drift too far and eventually are lost. This means no communication, no weather, no spy satellite coverage. It might be a long time before GPS navigation is an option; how good are you at dead reckoning? Of no consequence to the world as a while, but the ISS is full of dead people now and, depending on how stable the orbits are, may be falling or may be at risk of collision with satellites? Either way, there were no survivors on board.

You don't have any factories that are in production, basically. And some of them, if their production lines were running, probably destroyed or damaged their production machines when the power failed without a proper shut down. Food factories now have rotting food stuck in various stages of the line; once power is restored, they'll spend weeks sterilizing and cleaning everything. That means longer delays before food can get to market. Same for medicine factories. Systems that don't have automatic shut off systems (that don't require electricity to operate) may fail. This might impact production lines that involve gas furnaces.

Your dairy farms are in trouble, since they use automated milking systems. A dairy cow that doesn't get milked twice a day, every day, has problems. So you may have collapsed the world's industrial-scale dairy market.

Any farm crops that rely on automated sprinkler systems may have been ruined.

Hopefully, chemical plants, oil refineries, oil well pumps and offshore drilling platforms, etc. all had the foresight to shut down in preparation for the magic day. Otherwise, they may all go boom.

Again, hopefully, no miners were below ground in the mines when it happened. Because they're trapped, have no fresh air coming in, and won't get rescued.

Fire departments, ambulances, and police cannot respond to problems. And, without phones, they don't know where the problems are. So the risk of catastrophic fire has gone up. WAY up.

Ditto if any forest fires break out that threaten towns.

You've lost all your tsunami warning systems throughout the Pacific Ocean's ring of fire. If an earthquake happens, there will be no notice to warn citizens that a tsunami is coming.

Banks and stock markets are down for a week. There's no way to access the funds in those banks. There is no way to verify the funds exist or how much money is held. The entire stock market is zeroed out until power is back. That's a week where the entire global economy just... STOPPED. We see stock markets ripple over things like tweets or speeches. I cannot imagine what kind of insanity would ensue when power is finally restored and trading is allowed to resume.

People would not be able to buy goods since there's no way for them to validate their bank accounts / credit card accounts to withdraw cash. Any attempt to do "old school paper" credit card slips will be horribly inefficient and ripe for abuse. What happens to people with bills that are due during or immediately after the outage? Auto-draft bills wouldn't pay. Electronic payment methods are down. This is global in scale. The economy would take months to correct from this kind of outage. Would there be a run on banks when power was restored? Would the stock market crash as people liquidated their stocks in favor of more tangible assets that can be traded during disasters?

These last two paragraphs alone could trigger the kind of panics that were seen last seen in the US in 1929 when the Great Depression really got started.

You've triggered a Dark Age that will end modern, advanced, civilization.

The Amish are your best hope for survival.

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    $\begingroup$ Honestly, without power delivery, all of your power plants are probably destroyed beyond repair. Just nuclear has the most dire consequences. $\endgroup$ – CaM May 29 '18 at 22:25
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    $\begingroup$ Oooh. And flood control systems. That'll be bad if there are any high-water dams or river control systems. $\endgroup$ – CaM May 29 '18 at 22:25
  • $\begingroup$ Added a few other issues. $\endgroup$ – CaM May 29 '18 at 22:31
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    $\begingroup$ @CaM The one bit I would question is about the nuclear-related problems once the event happens (see my edit re pre-event options). The main safeguard in nuclear reactors is that the damper rods are prevented from falling all the way into the fissionable material by electromagnets. If electricity stops then the plants are scrammed - no meltdown. Re land-based nuclear weapons - without power or explosives you won't be able to open the doors to get to them in 99% of cases. Nuclear ships (especially, as you noted submarines) are the main risk, but a more limited one. $\endgroup$ – KerrAvon2055 May 31 '18 at 10:22
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    $\begingroup$ @KerrAvon2055 - Unfortunately, as Fukushima showed, the residual heat from the decay of fission products is as big a problem. That can generate 10% of the power output of the reactor even after fission has stopped, and if there is no electricity to power the pumps, the cooland can boil and the reactor melt down. $\endgroup$ – Andrew Dodds Jun 1 '18 at 13:49
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This will cause disruption equivalent to a worldwide EMP event. Some likely results:

  • Plenty of car crashes. Despite the warnings, there will be people on the roads. Not very many plane crashes though because the government has much more control over flight.

  • A LOT of looting by people who know that there will be no burglar alarms, no calling the cops (unless your store is within a block of a police station) and no bullets to stop you.

  • Significant deaths of:

    • Hospital patients, especially anyone in the ICU dependent on medical oxygen, monitoring for serious problems, etc.
    • Depending on how extensive "no electricity" goes, anyone relying on a pacemaker, automatic defibrillator, etc. will die if they have a heart attack during the week.
    • Dialysis patients. The least severe cases will last a week. The ones dependent on dialysis every day or every other day might not.
    • Elderly or other frail people in extremely hot environments that depend on air conditioning for safe temperatures. I know people used to live without air conditioning - but they didn't live in some places they live now, or they would go to the mountains during the worst of the summer. (Cold is not a problem - you can build a fire in your fireplace when the furnace isn't working.)
  • Some younger people may die of boredom - no internet, no TV, no movies, no Facebook, no online chatting - oh my goodness! They might have to read a book or actually talk to someone. The horror!

  • Food will not be much of a problem. Peanut butter, crackers, BBQ "whatever is defrosting from the freezer" will work for most people.

  • But water could be a big problem in many areas. Most places are dependent on electrically pumped water. The water towers (in the areas that have them) will empty quickly and most people don't have enough bottled water on hand to get through the week. Some will have stockpiled water when they got the "no electricity warning", but many people will not. Some of those people will, inevitably, drink contaminated water without proper boiling or bleaching and get sick, though with this only lasting a week not many will die from that.

  • Fires will be a moderate problem. Many people will be cooking with fire (or heating with fire if the weather is cold) and some of them will not do so in a safe way. Unfortunately, even if they can notify the fire department (no phones), the fire department won't be able to do much because they can't drive the fire trucks and the hydrants in most areas won't have much, if any, water pressure. So there will be some deaths and a moderate amount of property damage due to fires.

I actually don't think the long-term effects will be that bad. Many of the long-term effects theorized for an EMP - e.g., breakdown of society, harvesting and transport of food, medications, etc. simply won't apply with only a one-week lapse.

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  • $\begingroup$ A note on the water: something like a fifth of generated power goes to pumping water. $\endgroup$ – Draco18s May 29 '18 at 2:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Draco18s That sounds rather high to me. But even if it is 1/10 of 1%, it doesn't matter - if the municipal water system depends on any electrical power at all - including generator or battery backup - it won't work in this scenario and once the local storage (water towers, if they exist in your area) runs out, everyone is on bottled water (safe but limited) or boiled/bleached water (safe if done right, though inconvenient for anyone who doesn't live next to a river). $\endgroup$ – manassehkatz May 29 '18 at 2:48
  • $\begingroup$ That was the number California arrived at a couple of years ago. I couldn't find the global number. It should also be noted that three Niagara Falls worth of water is used in electricity generation in the US. $\endgroup$ – Draco18s May 29 '18 at 3:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Draco18s Fascinating. Of course California is a state that on the one hand tries to be very efficient in energy usage in general and on the other hand has (effectively, even if not billed that way) some of the most expensive water around because of the distance it travels from source to user. Interesting, but not that relevant here - most water supply in industrialized countries will simply be "off" when this event happens. $\endgroup$ – manassehkatz May 29 '18 at 3:29
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, definitely. Its just interesting how much water is used in power (and how much power in water). :) $\endgroup$ – Draco18s May 29 '18 at 3:38
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It's the end of civilisation as we know it

Assuming that everyone knew that this event was coming and exactly what the effects would be and exactly how long it would last, civilisation might be able to pick itself up afterwards. I really doubt it though. The planet simply cannot afford to basically have all of its infrastructure go on strike for a week. Lots of factories, foundries etc could not be restarted if they were completely shut down for 24 hours, let alone a week. Most large powerplants could not be restarted for a prolonged period even if the shutdown was known to be coming, so it would be much more than a week without electricity for the large majority of the population. In mild weather the critical effect is loss of water supply - over 70% of the US population live in urban areas, with only a small number having access to "natural", potable fresh water close to their residence. In hot weather the water supply issue is even more critical and compounds with the lack of air conditioning. In cold weather the lack of heating will kill people - people living in apartment blocks cannot just "start a fire", even assuming anyone can start a fire (see below).

While you have not explained what the previous weekly occurrences have been, they do not seem conducive to a stable economy. I would suggest that the current 13% of the US population who live in poverty would have increased over the six months of unexplained events. These people have a hard time feeding themselves when everything is working "normally". In uncertain times when everyone who can afford to is stocking up on canned food and shotgun shells (even if the latter turn out to be useless) the poor will be struggling even more, they certainly will not have a reserve. Within 48 hours they will be fighting the "haves" to get food to feed themselves and their children, and given that the loss of tech means that almost everyone is down to using knives and clubs (or their mysterious superpowers) they are on an even footing.

A quick note on the psychology here - people do not deal well with uncertainty. If the government has all of the facts and was able to tell people in advance what was happening, how long it would last and how they would be looked after once it is over - most people still will not be making rational decisions after a few days without food. Neither will the people who feel threatened by them.

In short, lack of water, climate effects, and fighting for remaining food will probably kill 30%-70 of the urban population after the week (or two plus) before electricity can be restored to some areas, depending on time of year and associated weather. Disease will probably kill another 10-30% of the urban population over the next few weeks. However, the situation is actually worse than this...

No combustion or chemical reactions

Your responses to comments regarding the "no guns" limit appear to read as "no combustion". If my understanding of this is correct - that is, fires, fuel-driven power plants and fuel-driven vehicles are permanently inoperable - then there is no more modern transport or industry. Ever. It also means that except for the few solar BBQs around, there is no more cooking until/if the electricity is restored - this renders lots of food staples inedible. At this point the nationwide casualty rate within 3-4 weeks is going to be well over 90% and the technological basis of our civilisation is gone. The small stocks of electric cars etc will be utilised by the survivors, but without energetic processes available for manufacture they will not be replaceable.

I have deliberately omitted examining the neutralisation of firearms because their absence has no effect on the long term picture. For the short term, loss of communications is a far more critical problem for law enforcement. The loss of firearms may be psychologically traumatic to Americans on both sides of the law, but there are both historic and current examples of police forces, such as the British, not issuing firearms to most officers.

Edit

One additional point - if a major nuclear power knows exactly what is coming, they have a never-to-be-repeated chance for a pre-emptive strike. Let's say country X knows its missiles will take 15 minutes to reach their targets in country Y and vice versa. If country X launches at 11:44:30 then their missiles will have time to reach their targets and detonate, but unless country Y can detect the missiles, assess and confirm the threat, make a decision to launch and get their birds in the air within 30 seconds, their missiles will still be inbound when the magic takes out all electricity, including the detonation circuitry. Without a detonating mechanism, country Y's missiles will just slam into the ground, contaminating a tiny area with waste, whereas country X's missiles all detonated.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is the sort of thing I was suspicious would happen. It didn’t seem likely at all to me that the infrastructure would be in a state to just be “rebooted” when the week was up, even if the other more permanent supernatural stuff didn’t still complicate the hell out of it. Thanks a lot. That stuff about factories was particularly helpful. And thankfully the story works better with a larger death toll, so I’m glad at least I didn’t grossly overestimate the damage. $\endgroup$ – Jason Clyde May 29 '18 at 15:27
  • $\begingroup$ If factories can't be restarted, how are they started in the first place? $\endgroup$ – Arcanist Lupus May 29 '18 at 19:34
  • $\begingroup$ @ArcanistLupus They can be restarted, it's just energy/supply intensive and requires a supply chain. But if all infrastructure is disabled for a week the supply chain is broken (i.e. you need the supply chain/energy grid to be working in order to restart the supply chain/energy grid). So you'd essentially you'd have to build all new infrastructure in order to restart the old infrastructure. But by that time, there wouldn't be much left of the old to restart at all. $\endgroup$ – AngelPray May 29 '18 at 21:54
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The result will honestly depend on how well prepared the country is to face any kind of disaster. @manassehkatz did a nice summary of everything that would happen if you weren't prepared, if electricity was to just disappear and I honestly don't have much to add onto that, but you mentioned that this was something of a weekly occurrence and that means there should be some preparations in place to help soften the blow.

Firstly, assuming that these disasters have been happening every week and they have a wide range of different effects, people would have likely already stockpiled a week or more supply of food and water. If the disaster lasts a week then you only need to survive the week. You would likely have specialized services to help distribute necessities like food and water depending on the type of disaster. I don't live in America, but I just image a giant Costco that gives things out for free...

The next thing would be the immediate result of all the electricity going away. Plenty of car crashes, dead people in the hospital, people stuck in elevators and people walking into glass doors that no longer magically open for them.

Now it seems the main focus would be related to security and safety. With no guns for protection your police, army and any special services would be in a tough spot. Now based on your comments, I'll assume that explosions no longer work, as if they have been turned off, so things that rely on a combustion engine don't work even if they don't use electricity. This combined with some general areas tendencies towards crime and a prison break wouldn't actually be bad for your police/army.

Firstly, they should have received hand to hand combat lessons as well as have access to a variety of powers (your people do have powers right?) that would be more balanced towards maintaining the peace than pure destruction. Secondly you would have higher co-ordination and teamwork with fellow officers, another important aspect.

Thirdly and finally you've mentioned that there are powers which are able to disable chemical reactions and electricity. Due to this, your police force would have a large supply of weapons and vehicles that run off compressed air or other gases. While they wouldn't be as deadly, they would still pack quite a punch and be very effective at maintaining order. So now you've got a police force with guns and vehicles that work in the face of powers and supernatural disasters putting them at a clear advantage.

You might have some disruption to normal activities in the first 2-3 days, but it stabilizes after that. People don't go crazy and start rioting and looting because events of these magnitudes occur each week and they should be prepared for it. Your police force will always react quickly over the weekend because they know something supernatural will occur, and with the presence of powers that make electricity and chemical reactions fail, they will have back up procedures in place to handle this.

Also don't try to make air in-compressible... it wouldn't work well

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Just a week with warning?

In the time leading up to the world-wide power outage you would have a run on stores that make the 1977 New York blackout look like kids in a playground. There wouldn't be a thing on the shelf anywhere.

Then the blackout hits.

  • Food distribution comes to a complete stop. There aren't enough horses in the world (even if you had the time to do this) to step in and take the place of trains and semi-trailers. But as inconvenient as this is, humans can survive up to three weeks without food. So, no significant deaths due to starvation.

  • Water, on the other hand, is a problem. Most people can't survive without water for more than about 100 hours. All the pumps just shut off, but there's water still in the tanks and many secondary resevoirs are gravity-fed. So, if the power outage hit on Sunday, people are start dying of dehydration on Thursday — especially people living south of the Mason-Dixon line were it extended alone its latitude coast-to-coast — but only those in the desert southwest are dying like flies.

  • Medical is affected, but most people (even in hospitals) would survive a week without electricity. It would reek (in almost every sense of the word), but they'd survive.

And this is from a first-world perspective. Your second- and third-world countries would hardly be affected at all.

But, to give basis to my number, bear in mind that the estimated annual death rate is just under 1%. Let's call it 1%. 0.01/365 = 0.0027% daily death rate.

Estimated losses world-wide in a week due to the outage: 1%

In most of the world almost nothing would happen. In your first-world countries, most deaths would occur due to panic and crime, with a more-than-their-fair-share occuring to the Mormons since we're known to horde store food. But, to be honest, most people would simply lock themselves at home and wait it out.

The real devestation would be economic because banks won't stop counting interest during those days but most companies would grind to a halt. No money in + money due out = bankruptcy.

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I'm going to go the other way and say that, given everyone knows the electricity will be back on in a week, 90% of people are going to come together and help others - call this the optimistic side of the coin. We are social creatures. If there was uncertainty then yes, personal and tribal tendencies will become prevalent. But for a week it should be fine - we can go 3 days without water - if we conserve and share there's no reason for mass hysteria and a complete breakdown of society. During most natural disasters, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc., neighbors pull together and help each other.

As others have said though, those who are on life support or other medical assistance where electricity is required are likely going to die.

Of course there will be small pockets of people causing trouble, looting, hoarding, etc., so there will be some violence (especially since in the comments you said prisons will be emptied.)

So it is up to you to decide how your story will unfold. Do you want to highlight the compassionate (which I believe is more probable) side of humanity with a little violence thrown in, or do you want to say everyone simply freaks out, goes into survival mode, and there are a lot of people dying due to murderers?

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Well for one thing, the Preppers are gonna be laughing their asses off.

Indeed, if the occurrences are a regular thing, as you say, there may be a great deal MORE Preppers, and the various goods sold to them (MREs, water supplies, etc) might be a much more reasonable product.

The fact that the timeframe of the event is well known MIGHT help keep society from going completely haywire - knowing something will end soon can make getting through it much easier.

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The bit about shutting down cars killing people in cities is exaggerated. A healthy human can survive a week without food...I could wait out a week holed up in my apartment. And FYI, older diesel would work, and I believe some other older cars could be modified to work. (I know this from a similar thread on Usenet).

As far as possibilities really cataclysmic disasters, water is one. Water is usually gravity fed from a high water tower (to avoid problems when electricity goes out) but usually pump get it to the top of that tower. And do the sewage systems use sump pumps? If yes, you could have water born disease epidemics.

The other way this could go horribly wrong is if people panic.

A lot depends on what time of year this happens. Spring and Fall wouldn't be so bad, but most heating systems rely on electricity for the thermostat and "spark plugs". Again, I think a smart tinkerer could improvise a way around that for oil and gas heat...but I know I couldn't.

Naturally anyone on oxygen is toast...

If things go well, it's in the Spring, and people don't panic, a week would leave you with a few hundred thousand dead in North America and a few billion in property damage.

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