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Context:

I’m writing a true crime fiction (I think that’s the genre) story about a serial killer known as “The Electric Eel.” Their M.O. is targeting victims while they’re in water and electrocuting them. Prior to becoming a murderer, they were an electrician working on power lines. A storm was brewing one day, but their employer assured them there was nothing to worry about. This negligence led to EE getting struck by lightning, and in turn, hospitalized for several months. After being discharged from recovery, they tried returning to work, but found they had developed a tremor from the shock, hindering their job performance. EE’s employer lets them go because of this, to which EE threatens to sue the company for compensation. However, the workers’ union betrays EE and sides with the company instead, saying that the employer had warned EE not to go onto the power lines due to the weather, but EE didn’t listen and went anyway. In retaliation, EE plans to show up at one of the union’s warehouse meetings, flood the building, and electrocute the workers while they’re in water.

Details:

Okay, so for the warehouse, I’m thinking the floor would be 35x45 feet, with the distance from the floor to the ceiling being 25 feet. I don’t know if there’s a name for this style of building, but I was thinking the bottom of the building would be underground, with the front door leading to an open staircase that goes down to the floor, all within a single room. From inside, the windows will be high up on the walls, far out of human reach, but from the outside, a person can peer into them and look down below. I know there a greenhouses that are designed like this, although I’m not sure if there’s a specific name.

Near the back open staircase, which goes up to the exit door on the back of the building, there’s a hydrant manifold which provides the building’s pipes with a flowing supply of water. This is where EE will get the water to flood the building. They will take a sharp metal hook and jab it into the manifold, puncturing the pipes, and then drag it across the adjacent pipes on the manifold, causing water to come violently spurting out. EE runs up the back stairs, goes out the exit, and locks the doors so no one inside can escape. Eventually, every one is submerged roughly waist-deep in water when the water finally runs out. The people inside are relieved, thinking EE’s plan was to drown them in water. But then long black eel-like wires come dropping down from the high up windows, electrocuting everyone when they finally come in contact with the water.

Questions:

How much water would be needed to flow through a 35x45x25’ building? Would it be enough to submerge the people waist-deep? I’ve tried making most of the characters around the 5’5”-5’10” range just to make sure.

At what rate would water come pouring out of the manifolds? I’m thinking of the way a fire hydrant will flood an entire street once it’s cracked open. Just want an estimate to see how long it would take for the water to empty out of the pipes on the wall.

What material would a pipe need to be made out of to be punctured by a metal hook? I know if the manifold is also made of steel, it’s probably not gonna work well, so are there any materials strong enough to hold flowing water, but weak enough to be broken by a sharp hook?

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    $\begingroup$ I am not aware of a genre "true crime fiction". It's either "true crime" or "fiction". Maybe you are trying to write fiction mimicking "true crime" style? $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Jul 27, 2021 at 17:05
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    $\begingroup$ It's not really world building. It's more "calculate volume for me." Also, there are a bunch of different questions here. Some important questions you forgot, such as will the building sustain the water? (Probably not.) Also, "science based" would require doing some gnarly calculations on the relative conductance of water and humans to find out if electrocution would work. $\endgroup$
    – puppetsock
    Jul 27, 2021 at 20:26
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    $\begingroup$ 35x45 feet is not really "warehouse" territory, more like a small storage building. $\endgroup$
    – BMF
    Jul 29, 2021 at 18:52

1 Answer 1

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There's a few things you'll have to deal with. The first is that water pipes are typically designed to not be punctured. In fact, given that water damage can cost millions, there's an interest in it never ever ever ever ever breaking, so they make them quite strong. You might be able to work around this if you found a pipe which ran a long distance along the ceiling supported by hooks. You might be able to undo a large number of them and get the leverage you need. Or, if you're willing to accept a more prosaic solution, simply unbolt one of the connections.

It takes a lot of water to fill a building. Waist deep is about 3 feet, so you need 3 * 45 * 35 = 4725 cubic feet of water, or about 35,000 gallons. A fully open fire hydrant can output 2000 gallons per minute, so it will take roughly 15 minutes to fill the room.

That's barring any leaks. I recommend a concrete floor and cinderblock walls to minimize leakage.

Also, make sure they use high enough voltage lines. While I would never ever ever ever suggest that being in water with live electrical lines is safe (it isn't!), when you really want to make sure 100% of the people die, you have to deal with all sorts other paths the electricity can take, such as through the floor. Thoroughness would encourage use of a high voltage line. They not only have the high voltage, but they also have the high current capability which will let them continue functioning for a long time while short circuiting in the water (never get near a downed high voltage power line. You do not know if they are live, and electricity is an unpredictable beast, even for the experts)

And, while I again would never consider being in water near an electrical source safe in any way, consider the resourcefulness of the linemen. If there is anybody who is going to understand the reality of electric shock well enough to find a solution, its someone who deals with hundreds of thousands of volts on a regular basis. I'm no lineman, but my first instinct would be to stand on a table or chair to get and extra foot or two, and then stand on one leg. This would decrease the current going through the heart, which is what kills. (of course, no guarantees your leg wont spasm and leave you falling, but again, do not underestimate the resourcefulness of the linemen)

Sorry for the obsessive PSA announcements, but I felt it desirable. Electricity is not something to trifle with. If anyone just wishes to see someone play with electricity and get hurt by it, check out Electroboom, a professional who has made a Youtube career out of carefully creating safe but painful electrical shock scenarios. Sometimes he even lays out the little details he had to consider when creating a safe comedic scene. I'd say his electrical engineering background comes in handy... but even with him, I'm not convinced it has lead to the healthiest of vocations!

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    $\begingroup$ To improve on the conductivity of water and reducing the intensity of electricity needed, you can put some bags of salt opened and lying around. There might be better elements to mix with water on the go, but salt is easily within one's reach, so... $\endgroup$ Jul 27, 2021 at 17:06

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