My antagonist is going to cause a widespread blackout to flex on the protagonist, but the unexpected consequence is that some folks are going to die as a result. This will cause the protagonist to escalate far beyond what the antagonist thought was more of a prank.

What members of society are most vulnerable in a power outage and would die as a direct consequence of the loss of power? I'm specifically not looking for secondary mechanisms such as lawlessness or slipping and falling in the dark. How do they die and how long does it take?

For example, hospitals have people who are kept alive only through ventilators, or dialysis machines, but they have backup generators to keep that running. People don't really do that at home, do they?

I can think of some possibilities with the elderly- people who might be using an oxygen machine at home, or people whose electric heaters stop working in the dead of winter.

The only thing I can think of for younger people are things such as not being able to call 911 in an emergency, but in that case the real cause of death is the emergency and the loss of power just exacerbates the problem.

A few different ideas would be great, because I don't want to write that 12 elderly folks all died in the same way.

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    $\begingroup$ Questions asking for (potentially endless) lists are not our cup of tea. You are not giving a metric for evaluating a best answer. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 5:20
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    $\begingroup$ This depends strongly on how big the affected area is and for how long the outage lasts. A day without power in lower Manhattan will not do much, a week without power in greater New York will already kill quite a few people. A month of no electricity in the US North East will make civilization collapse there. $\endgroup$
    – quarague
    Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 10:00
  • $\begingroup$ I would say that traffic lights going out would definitely cause quite a few fatal accidents. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 10:37
  • $\begingroup$ Blackout or switch if off an on again? If the first for how long? How do you want to avoid your story to by actually a backsory to Purge that happened buy you just mentioned it? $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 13:43
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    $\begingroup$ @SZCZERZOKŁY: That depends on the country. Here in Europe, the general rule is that if traffic lights malfunction then the traffic signs (or the general rules) take over. In the U.S.A., not so much; AFAIK, in the U.S.A. the rule is that If traffic lights are out of order, drivers should stop and treat it as if there were stop signs in all directions; that is, they should behave as if there was an octagonal stop sign on all roads entering the intersection. Needless to say, such a rule is not conducive to a smooth flow if traffic. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 15:20

3 Answers 3


Power outages are a real thing and happen, so all places where people are routinely located that would suffer serious consequences from it are protected for such events. Elevators won't fall and hospitals have UPS systems and diesel generators.

Even some parts of the telephone network, especially the POTS parts, should continue to function until the UPS in the switch location runs out. Which often also have diesel backups.

There will be some accidents in people's basements when lights go out, but since power tools switch off at the same time, fatalities will be rare.

A quick Google brings up 100 fatalities during the 2003 blackout, there are some realistic-because-real examples for you:


  • $\begingroup$ Every time I've had a power outage in my current residence, I have reported and/or monitored it on my cell phone. Those, including the data connections (internet), continue to work also during outages. What probably won't work is VoIP phones. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 16:10

Timing is everything.

You are going to want to time your big power outage just right. I would suggest the middle of a blizzard for the best impact. Lack of power means lack of heat. That should account for a few that rely on electricity for heat.

OK, I lied, timing is not everything but it plays an important role as a starting point.

Next, we need to look at how you are going to kill the power. Are you going to blow up the power plant? Get in there and temporarily turn the phase 180 degrees to flatline the current and maybe take out multiple sections of the grid at once. You need to do something really widespread and hard to correct. There is a reason for this. You need to make the power outage outlast the backup generators at the hospital or otherwise kill them to put the infirm at risk. On that note, you need to do something to the fuel supply. If someone can get fuel to a generator, they can save lives.

In addition you need to find a way to disrupt the flow of water and natural gas. That puts even more at risk. You also need to keep the road trucks with salt and snowplows stuck.

So yeah, Even though you might have the juice to knock out the power, you aren't going to get a ton of casualties unless you take out a bunch of other chunks of infrastructure.

So here is an alternative. Pick an area that is heavily dependent on electricity for it's MONEY. Lets look at Google's campus. Kill the back up power and the generators. Then kill the main power to the server farm and then to the whole of Silicon Valley. Find and target the power on the off site backups. Prior to all of this, place a substantial short on Alphabet's stock so as they clean up from the damage, you make money.

You make a boatload of cash, Flex for the local hero, and even if you get caught, it's unlikely to be a manslaughter charge.

  • $\begingroup$ WRT heat, a lot depends on where you are, and what your source(s) of heat are. I might have to wear an extra sweater, or even a down jacket, but I could certainly survive on just the wood stove for heat. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Feb 28, 2020 at 8:34
  • $\begingroup$ In my old house I had a wood stove that could get the whole house up to 85 degrees F when it was minus 17 F outside with a foot of snow. I was wearing shorts. I miss that wood stove. $\endgroup$
    – Paul TIKI
    Commented Feb 28, 2020 at 15:24
  • Home ventilators are real and many breathing compromised patients live at home. It is likely that such home health patients have backup generators but the fuel supplies for such systems would probably only last a few days.

  • Internet crimes are usually physically harmless, but crimes committed by internet addicts one the power goes out can get bloody. Give the cyberless-bullies 36 hours of disconnect to simmer, then watch out.

  • If your antagonists method of killing the power involves EMP, then people with pacemakers and non-grid-connected electrical systems (like electric cars, high speed trains and wireless power tools) might behave strangely. These problems would either be trivial or fatal, but they would also be pretty much instantaneous.

There is also the "Hey the power is out! Let's do something stupid" effect. From stealing cars to pillaging stores, there are a thousand brands of stupid which can lead to fatal ends. Most recipes for this kind of stupid take a couple hours to perform.


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