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For a post-apocalyptic world I'm writing, I have a bunch of, essentially, demons that have killed a large majority of humanity, destroying almost everything in that stands in their way, whether that be cities, animals, or even tanks. The demons have forced the remaining humans to basically live in walled cities. For clarity, these cities are basically just cramped buildings people live in run by the government that, while they have electricity, water, and other necessities, is still kind of crappy. The government in question is also has enacted a permanent state of martial law, forcing a lot of people to work on weapons and ammunition in barely held together factories or just forcing them to become soldiers to help fight the demons. There are also people, who through means most people don't know how except for a rare few, gained powers that are similar yet also distinct from the demons, and they are “employed” by the government to help them fight off the demons trying to kill the rest of humanity scattered throughout what’s left of civilization. Though, it’s less “employed,” and more them offering a bunch of stuff to these empowered people and hoping they agree, because some of them have the powers that are all but impossible for them to control with there weapons/supplies.

So, I wanted to have the remaining governments basically have a database of these empowered people, for plot reasons that mostly involve hacking, but I’m not sure how feasible that would be given the circumstances of my world. The powers I have in mind for the humans aren’t really made for helping with more technological-based problems, more the “kill that big glowy fire guy” type problems. And as for the current tech level, it's kind of a "use whatever scraps and wires leftover from destroyed cities, powerlines, handheld devices like phones, and whatever else they can get their hands on to try and maintain some semblance of society." Which leads me to my question: What exactly would it take for my world’s government to create and maintain a database of empowered people despite the problems created by the post-apocalyptic scenario?

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  • $\begingroup$ @Tantalus'touch, Oh, crap, sorry! I thought follow-up questions would be okay if they were related to the main question. I'll change that right now. $\endgroup$ – Eye of Magic May 29 '20 at 2:18
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    $\begingroup$ We're happy to help, but just one question per post please. You can write subsequent questions in their own threads, linking them if you wish. For reading (I'm not saying that's the way to go, just an idea), what railroad conductors used to do may be worth investigationg to inform the question. $\endgroup$ – Tantalus' touch. May 29 '20 at 2:19
  • $\begingroup$ I'll check out the reading you suggested, thank you very much $\endgroup$ – Eye of Magic May 29 '20 at 2:23
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    $\begingroup$ Quick heads up: Watch out about that last phrase, it's good to be kind and friendly, but it might cause the question to be seen as opinion-based. Welcome to world building SE. $\endgroup$ – ProjectApex May 29 '20 at 2:42
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    $\begingroup$ Historically, organizations without ready access to speedy computers used "files" made of paper to organize information. These files were usually stored in a "filing cabinet" in an "office", and human clerks would manually add/remove/edit paper records from each file. In addition, the office often maintained a paper "index" to find relevant files without needing to re-read each file. Files before 1880 or so were handwritten. Files between (roughly) 1880 and 1990 were generally typed on typewriters. $\endgroup$ – user535733 May 29 '20 at 3:44
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Given the outline of the scenario, it sounds very feasible.

Society still functions and is already heavily controlled and localized so performing census won't be an issue.

On the technological side, there would need to be computers. If story is takes place in the modern day or after the current era, assuming that technology has developed the same as IRL, making a database of all individuals within a given city would not require access to anything more complicated than a normal computer. I'm guessing the populations are much lower than IRL since most of the population has been wiped out by these demons, so memory shouldn't be an issue.

The only problem will be updating the database from city to city. If there are no data cables connecting cities one possible solution would be to update the data onto hard drives and physically transfer them around. This way you could have a centralized location which contained all the information on everyone, being updated periodically from each city. Of course, there would be delays based on the time to transfer the data back and forth, but if everyone's trapped inside walls except for moving from city to city (presumably in armed caravans) there shouldn't be an issue of any slipping "under the radar" for very long.

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    $\begingroup$ The databases updates can be sent by radio. In the 80's, videogames were broadcast over the radio for the Sinclair Spectrum. The Spectrum used cassette tapes to store its programs, the same ones everyone's tape players used. So someone figured out that you could broadcast any data you wanted, record it on tape via any radio that included a cassette player, and pop it in your Spectrum and it would work. No reason the cities in question couldn't do something similar. $\endgroup$ – Ryan_L May 29 '20 at 5:25
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Scrap paper, some charcoal, a modified typewriter, and someone who remembers how ciphers work

Information on paper can be just as safe as information in a hard drive, assuming that a sufficiently complex cypher has been applied to it. Take the Enigma Cipher, for instance - it's a very simple machine to make - all it takes is a typewrite, some wiring, and a bit of mechanical expertise. True, the Allies cracked it, but there are ways of ensuring that it would be very difficult to brute force by using massive amounts of code wheels.

There are other methods of encrypting which are pretty good - a Vigenere cipher is the less complex little brother of the Enigma, but it's a good option. One-time pads are superb in a pinch, but have long term issues. Book codes are also useful, but the scarcity of books might spell problems. When all else fails, you could just revert the information to bits on paper, and then use a sufficiently semi-random book to encrypt it. For both of latter cases, I'd recommend the doorstopper A Million Random Digits With 100,000 Normal Deviations, if you can get a hold of it..

Once you have the means to encrypt the information, said information would be written down on paper and, in small and discrete offices, would be translated for the analysts to look and the translation subsequently destroyed. Same method that the Allies used when deciphering the German communications. (The Allies were even more paranoid about deciphered German messages than the Germans - they were really desperate that the Axis not find out they cracked the cipher, and the Germans believed it to be absolutely unbreakable.) This method will take a lot of manpower, but it's fairly reliable and should work.

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It seems to me that the people with powers almost have to have a connection to the demonic baddies, they seem too similar for it to be a coincidence. Perhaps a government program was created with a captured demon or demon DNA, where human fetuses were implanted with demon biology strains. Because it is their program, they have a list of who was involved, but because the demon-humans were so powerful, a few got away and had more offspring in the population. Trackers would be employed by the government to keep tabs on the subjects, to monitor where and who has the powers.

With existing technology, a database would not be very hard to set up in this society. If power was an issue, using a stripped-down terminal-based computer system might allow for more efficiency, and if a network was required to share larger batches of information (like a census or production efficiencies or what ever)it could be as primitive as having runners go between the cities with floppy disks.

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Overall, it will take dedication to create such a database as well as a concentrated effort by your world government to ensure that each location has the most up to date copy of their database that they need at all times.

They will also need to know what is available around them after the apocalypse, and what is salvageable in the event of a breakdown in the database, regardless of the medium it is created and/or backed up on.

Overall, this comes in two parts: Creation and Updating

Step One: Creation

To create a database is simple, though to do it right will take some planning on the part of the database creators

  • Decide what information you want to store and what level of detail you want to go in
  • Decide on a standardized way to store that information
  • Decide how you want to keep it

Creating your database as dossiers in book form (Encyclopedia Superhominid) or using a salvaged computer (Superpowered Query Language anyone?) to run it is not going to matter all that much when it comes to the data that you want to store. It will be up to the people that want to create this to decide how they want to create it for the optimized combination of lasting power and ease of use.

Regardless of how it is created, documentation and enforcement of standards will be the key to keeping it easy to update and possibly use. Also as part of the creation process is the decision to use any ciphers, encrypting, or otherwise obfuscation of data to those without inside knowledge.

The trick regarding its creation is that it is a specialized item but the original creators can't be everywhere so it needs to be as easy for others to be trained to update it as possible.

Given the Post-Apocalyptic tag, I would suspect that there will always be a paper backup at the very least, if only to serve as a final redundancy in case there are no more computers or computer parts to salvage.

Pro Tip: If building your database on a post-apocalyptic computer, guard against injection when building it lest you run into little Bobby Tables.

Step Two: Updating

Updating will be a matter of what you have available that is robust enough to last and safe enough to allow for transmission of data. Short-wave radio and transmitting the information over the airwaves is a sound plan, as would picking up the telephone and calling it in. If enough of the internet survived the apocalypse to have a network between cities, then it sending data that way too is fine, as you can still e-mail it to other government centres

The last resort is to send it via couriers, probably the empowered ones that are in those dossiers so that the demons don't kill the messengers.

But like the previous step, ultimately it will depend on what technology has survived the apocalypse and what can be harvested from the ruins of civilization. I would expect simpler and more robust technologies to be the preferred method to transmit updates as the parts will be easier to replace.

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