Uh is it me or is El Reg being pedantic about a work of fiction?
Next thing you'll be telling us that the Transformers documentry that was released last year wasn't real.......
Paris as at least she can understand artistic licence......
Characters in the recent BBC remake of Survivors seem curiously ill-informed about how the UK's communications infrastructure would deal with the collapse of civilisation, so in an attempt to ensure Reg readers are better-equipped we present a wireless guide to the apocalypse. For those who too young to remember the original, …
I'm not sure where the 90% fatality rate figure came from, but I think the TV series is significantly higher than that - 90% would suggest out of a hundred people in your street, 10 would survive (approx) but in fact we saw people walking around street after street without seeing anybody. I would suggest the figure to be 99%+.
The other thing about wireless communication is it tends to be a two way thing... so who you gonna call?
(Because I have to work with them!!)
Who exactly are they going to phone up using a fixed landline? Everyone's dead! Well, almost everyone..
Of course, if they'd have been reading El Reg they would have opted for this: http://www.reghardware.co.uk/2008/11/28/review_two_way_radio_motorola_tlkr_t7/
btw, am I the only person who thinks that this is like a zombie movie.. but without the zombies?
You've mentioned systems that can keep running - especially the iridium network. This is all fine and dandy, and yes you should be able to communicate for a while, but what happens at the end of each billing cycle? If their systems don't recieve payment from the customer (eg because all the bankers have either died or gone to Bradford in their Audi's) then the service providers computers will eventually decide that this person's arrears are too great and suspend the service. So, whilst the communication facilities might exist, whether you're able to or not is a different matter.
Was the new Survivors script written by Dan Brown?
It has the same quality of "Oh God this is shit but I just want to find out what happens next."
Definitely way more than 90% fatalities, as Ged points out.
Also, let's not be so credulous about how all this infrastructure will *actually* cope. It may be specced to do something but that doesn't mean it will actually do it.
The bit about phones being powered from the line made me laugh too. It's been 10 years since I had a phone that didn't require a wallwart. And if you think BT's customer service is bad now, wait until they're all dead.
The program makers could have got around all this by just staging the remake in the 1970's, like the original. To make it realistic in a 2008 setting, they would have had to consult engineers and lots of other people usually overlooked by the "man in the street". And even the man in the street has a better grasp of engineering than the media types responsible for Survivors.
Nice article, but the summary is that all comms would stop a few hours after the national grid. Hopefully things will be different in another 30 years, when we will all have personal fusion reactors.
It's hardly worth commenting about the article itself as it is almost as silly as the TV programme.
However, there is a serious subject regarding the robustness of modern civilisations being so reliant on technology and specialists. Medieval Europe suffered a population loss of between 40 and 60% (estimates vary) duing the 14th century due to the Black Death. However, society bounced back as it was inherently resilient - communities were self-sufficient, the population were largely generalists and able to survive. It did have huge social effects - the start of the ending os feudal serfdom in England for a start.
However, we do not live in such a society - we live in one with a huge diversity of narrow specialists. It doesn't greatly matter if the cellphone network keeps running autonomously for a few days or weeks. When the limited number of specialists who understand a key componewnt die then so does your system. Western civilisation is based on a whole series of very finely balanced systems. Modern business and society places an emphasis on efficiency, specialisation and centralisation. It builds in resilience to what might be called minor catastrophes - say the loss of a single oil refinery. However, it is not robust at a systemic level - look at what happened with the petrol price protests when fuel distribution was stopped for just a few days. Look at what happened to those much vaunted financial risk assessments by individual banks once the trickle of defaults turned into a cascade.
The one obvious thing on Survivors (which, in the TV series at least, must have been showing death rates of 99.99% or more is that at least the population was reduced to a level where sustainable approaches using primitive technology could be used (and lots of tinned food). However, the reality if one of the key components on which western civilisation depends would be unpleasant indeed. Maybe not a 99.99% death rate but distinctly nasty.
For those who point to modern technological understanding being too good for such a catastrophe to happen - well there have been plenty of civilisations that have failed before due to environmental or other issues. It would be complacent (to say the least) to think we are immune and we also have this little problem that the World's population is perhaps 15 times greater than at the time of the black death.
New Scientist ran a special on this a few months ago - worth looking up, especially for politicans and business leaders. Many El Reg hacks have this entertaining, almost Victorian complacency about the inevitability of progress. This article is as shot full of holes as the TV series.
Okay, I've not started watching Survivors yet, but based on previous film experience.
Arm yourself. If you're in the US this should be easy. In the UK it's slightly harder, so ideally buy some weapons in advance and hide them in your cellar.
Modify your gas guzzler with dynamite.
Drive to the desert and then drive around hunting for fuel for your gas guzzler.
Fight in the thunderdome (the weapons you cached earlier will be useful here).
Also - learn to camp, learn to hunt (what in the UK I'm not sure, dog maybe), learn to fish, learn to entertain yourself as you will no longer be able to watch reality TV (see the apocalypse has it's upsides as well).
Plan how to avoid and when found how to fight off super strong zombies. Note, locking yourself in the basement with no route of escape and a phosphorous grenade is not a good plan.
Being a good gardener wouldn't hurt either, there'll be plenty of allotments available and thus you'll have all the vegetables you can eat (only when they're in season though).
If the series is based on a 90% death rate why exactly does all the infrastructure fail? Presumably with 10% of the population still alive (that's 6 million people) there would be enough of any given speciality around to keep things running. After all load on the grid is going to be pretty low with only 1/10th of the population drawing on it, so a few power stations operating should probably provide sufficient power. The nuclear ones require minimal maintenance right?
We might suffer shortages of things that we import, so primarily that's petrol, but that said if there were enough oil rig guys left the north sea fields should be plenty for the survivors.
Meh - what's the big deal, 90% of people dead means a hell of a lot of resources freed up for the remaining 10%.
In 28 days, the "hereos" walk past a truck on a bridge in London and ignore it in favour of a taxi. Chances are it had lots of diesel and a CB. I would have driven that to Dover and called across the channel for help. But I'm an Engineer and cannot watch disaster shows: They simply assume those left have no Engineering or medical skills and I would find that hard to believe!
Survivors would be bad enough as an original bit of TV, but now I discover it's a remake... Anyone else remember the good old days when we could bemoan the Beeb funding pseudo-SF-ish junk like this rather than bringing back Doctor Who?
@Conrad Longmore: Yep, definitely need some zombies.
"Unlike ACCOLC the GTPS blocks both incoming and outgoing calls - those cut off don't even get a dial-tone." Not unless they have changed it very recently does it work like this. It is true that those cut off do not get dial tone but incoming calls are not affected. Obvious when you think about is as the powers that be would want to be able to call anyone, not just other members of the favoured few.
AC as I used to work for the largest landline company in the UK
problem is most people now have cordless landline phones which do require a power supply, they even have a warning about having an alernative means of emergency contact if power is lost, so it's not that implausible given the base station is off people would assume the whole lot has given up.
Most of the referred to back up communications would only work for the emergency services who also happen to be the people most exposed to a "plague" type thingy.
The 1-10% remaining would likely be weird hippy types living off grid in the hills. As such they would immediately condemn any technology as "destroying the planet".
What's your point? It seems that in one sentence you are saying that ... the network will continue with battery backup - so you can make calls... then "in an emergency the government will likely invoke ACCOLC".
So in other words, the net effect is the same... When 99% of the population dies - telephony is fucked.
Although this story is far fetched and stupid - it doesn't matter how many batteries you've got for backup - the network will die... What do you suggest they do... start dialling from 0111 111 1111 to see if anyone answers?
And RayNet?? Errr --- remember 99% of RayNet are dead as well FFS.
When the Twin Towers came down, emergency comms went off-line because the antennas and repeaters were on top of the buildings.
Radio Amateurs from many States came in to assist and set up emergency communications, purely voluntarily. Same with the Boxing Day Tsunami - A lot of Radio Amateurs were involved in the relief effort.
When comms goes titsup, we are expected to help and it is our duty.
I really hate the term "Amateur....."
TETRA handsts cannot talk directly to each other, or at least some cannot. Police ones required the unit to register with a talkgroup when they switch on, and the economic use of frequencies is handled by the central computer for that system telling all radios from a group "e.g. F Division or Traffic" to send and received on channeld x, and then a few seconds later on channel Y etc.. This allows there to be more talkgroups than frequencies, saving on spectrum costs as most channels are silent alot of the time. This also invloves agile frequency hopping which also provides reasonable security without encryption. If a set is lost/stolen it can be de-registered centrally and therefore never gets the updates. It might be possible to register with a local vehicle based "server" but I dont know either way. I would guess many other services have a similar provision for security purposes.
St. John Ambulance (its not St. John's Ambulance, he never owned one and he's dead anyway) and many other voluntary aid societies dont use these regularly, sometimes getting them on loan so their control can liaise with the statutory services. The sets are too expensive and for the majority of their work, local talk is all that is required (e.g. every football stadia in London is playing at the same time, you would need too many talkgroups). The standard stuff used is VHF, and comms offices have advised that so long as the batteries/vehicles can keep charged, this is probably the most reliable when it all goes titsup big time.
Certainly on 7/7 i was operating as a St John Member. Airwave failed the LAS in many regards (not all) and mobiles all went down on us so the VHF served us well then. I think you'll find that wise statutory services comms officers never quite let all the old kit go to landfil. Just in case.
AC now they have started arresting non-party members
Suspend disbelief. Stop thinking it is a documentary and realise it is fiction. If fiction had to make sense there would me no HHGTTG, Discworld or Shakespeare and the world would be a poorer place.
btw @Mark Savage, antibiotics don't work with viruses - it is a 'flu virus that kills everyone off in Survivor. If antibiotics worked with viruses we could wipe out the common cold. (and we can't) The writers got that right and you got it wrong.
Taking all the above comments at face value: A 'flu epidemic hits the world, everyone has a shot of antibiotics and gets better; while they are ill all the infrastructure keeps on working; people don't go feral; civilisatition doesn't break down; there is plenty of food, energy and fuel.
WHERE'S THE STORY?
FFS, it is a good SF story well told with good actors. Enjoy it as a piece of fiction. If you don't like it, switch off and go back to finding continuity errors in Quantum of Solace.
Good point about Maplins - No national grid? Fair enough, go to Maplins and take all the Walkie Talkies, plus battery spares, etc, and you also take the Solar panels, wind generators etc to keep the buggers going day in day out.
Jobs a goodun!
Also what with all the electronics kit projects, you could come up with some kind of a PMR446 repeater station technology to increase the range, each base station can also be charged up via wind/solar power. Make your own mobile phone infrastructure!
Plus if you're not getting enough exercise post apoc, you could generate power from a bicycle + dynamo.
Come summer time, and its solar delights, I might even be able to fire up my PS3 and play Fallout 3!
Several times the heroes of the piece popped into town to loot a supermarket. If it were me I'd be straight into Waitrose or M&S, but what did the survivors choose? Lidl.
And you expect a realistic approach to comms?!?
That said, as a bit of mindless entertainment I'm quite enjoying it .
The power stations will be dead, there will be no gas, no pumped fuel, no pumped water, no pumped sewage, the main telephone network will be dead, the mobile networks will be dead. There will be no manufacturing (no change there) and even the internet will be dead.
Kill 90% of the population and everything will be offline for YEARS.
If you're going to do a piece having a pop at current shortcomings in technology awareness, it's probably a good idea to get your historical stuff right.
"The original Survivors was broadcast before the transistor enabled cheap electronics everywhere ..."
The transistor was invented in 1948, the first Integrated Circuit ('IC,'chip') was produced in 1958. By 1975 most consumer electronics in the UK had abandoned valves for transistors and integrated circuits - even larger appliances such as TVs, where they hung on for longer to cope with the larger currents and very high voltages.
I know, I was there - having been 'invented' just after the IC ;-)
First thing I'd do is open a yellow pages and look up gunsmiths most will have a nice selection of shotguns .22 rifles etc, my second trip would be to the nearest Army/Navy/RAF base to do a little browsing in their armoury maybe pick up the odd truck or two possibly a nice low mileage APC and plenty of secure radio gear even if the maplins stuff is better.
When I started working for the largest landline company in the UK. I was shown the "E Switch(s)" in the Exchange.
The first would cut off all O/G from residential subscribers/customers.
The second switch would cut off all O/G to business subscribers/customers.
The third switch would the cut off Pay-phones, I/C & O/G* leaving only the Emergency Services.
They were all locked, so it was not possible to flick it by mistake.
Last time I remember it being used was during the 'Hurricane' of 1987.
The series was billed as “One virus. Millions dead. A few Survivors.” The opening titles contain a few pictorial representations of a virus, but mostly it’s bacteria. If the show’s makers couldn’t tell the difference between the two, I didn’t think there was much hope for the rest of it. About the absence of zombies, they must have all been busy appearing in Channel 4’s Dead Set. That was a good watch. Let’s hope the Beeb doesn’t ruin The Day of The Triffids with their remake of that.
Maplins? I think I'd go to Screwfix. Petrol and gas powered tools, as well as heaps of batteries for cordless tools. Or what about a battery factory? Or a car spares place- all those lovely lead acid batteries.
Oh no. You want big diesel generators. Try a fun fair or a military base. Or a hospital.
I remember the original series. I've got a paperback of it somewhere as well.
Of course, it's implausible entertainment.
...is that this crap is likely to be exported to the US on BBC America. Does this writer know anything about basic silicon based electronics as they exist today?
Nail any silicon based solid state device, diode, transistor, or integrated circuit, with an electromagnetic pulse and it dies.
If someone popped a device capable of creating a nuclear weapon style EMP over your head, not only does your power grid die of overload, so does your entire exposed communications infrastructure (pretty much anything non-military). All of your commercial computing infrastructure (so how well shielded is your DC anyway?) will die, along with all of your home & consumer electronics. And last but not least, your entire transportation infrastructure will freeze up, because very nearly all motor vehicles built during the past 25-30 years use some form of semiconductor based control system, be it an electronic fuel injection or ignition system, and/or a microprocessor based engine management unit.
Pretty much the only things left in working condition will be antique radio sets built with vacuum tubes, and your neighbor's '71 VW Beetle. Old school semiconductors, vacuum tubes, resistors and capacitors, are pretty much immune to EMP. A 40 year old car, will liely have a mechanical fuel pump, a carburetor, and an ignition system that uses points and a condenser, so it will still run. Older diesels from that era, with mechanical pumps and injectors fall into the same category. Newer diesels - forget about them - they're likely to use EFI.
I'm really astonished that such a rosy picture of life after a modern WMD holocaust would be posted in an article on the Reg.
This article was technically inaccurate rubbish. Get it together people.
They said in the show that it was a 90% fatality rate. Which makes some sense - more people would die in cities than in rural areas due to the concentration of people.
Anyway, the first episode was definitely way too long. I was too bored by the end to watch the second episode on iPlayer. Will get round to doing it sometime.
"But these days our infrastructure is much more autonomous and robust, and extensive plans exist to keep things running even as the world falls apart around us."
You have got to be kidding. Once the power grid control systems fail, which "best case" will happen when the nuclear power plants do a week or so after the last humans show up for work at them, everything else will finally fail in a matter of days.
...so there. I enjoyed the original, when it was more believable and I was a lot younger. But I'm enjoying the remake too. I'm worried that they may soften the original ending, but there we are. I liked the use of the mobile phone as one of two threads showing the breakdown of civilised ideas and habits: Abbie kept hers on all the time, even when there was no signal (nor likelihood of one) until finally it ran out of power. We also watched her slowly hardening towards bodies: screaming the first time, gritting herself the second, and slowly speeding up in her search through the bodies in the school.
Suspension of disbelief is easy when the story works and the acting and scripts are good. Survivors has that, unlike (for example) CSI Miami being hit with a tsunami.
And the Reg article is just as entertaining: I'd like to have written it if only I'd known all that stuff. I certainly remember transistor radios on the go before Survivors, and I know of a thriving hobbyist world building things using valves even now, so you haven't got it all right but you did jolly well.
[@Richard not liking 'amateur': amateur means someone who loves what s/he's doing, and that's fine by me]
Dude... the show is about a pandemic virus not EMP - viruses don't fry circuitry.
..Oh and anyway, all that stuff about an EMP pulse from a nuclear weapon is mostly BS anyway.
Firstly if the device is off/unplugged it'll probably be fine. Secondly, nuclear EMP pulses don't spread that far from the point of detonation (10 miles?) unless they are detonated at significant altitude. "Significant" means upto 300Km, and "detonation" means your comms satellites at that orbit are toast anyway.
You'd need a fair number of ground nuclear detonations to cover the UK in EMP, and if that's the case - who gives a monkeys about your fridge and microwave not working - they're the least of your problems.
Every year (around the end of June) amateur radio has "field day" which practices emergency communications. In the USA it is a big deal and being that the setups are "in the field" it is a great party. It has been going on for MANY years (over 50) and most hams would be able to get something going.
Yes, all the broadcasters would be gone from 40Meters!!! The side benefit would be that Microsoft products wouldn't matter any more.
The original needs help as well.
I would be fine, as would my friends... I have a little hobby that at the moment is for drinking, but since I can get up to 93% pure ethanol out of my still, I'd just tweak a diesel generator to run on ethanol (not too difficult). What's left over we'd drink while blasting old AC/DC in order to collect other like-minded survivors and scare away those who don't appreciate good music.
Anonymous because I have to watch out for the revenoors!!!
A US high atmosphere bomb test took out the power 800 miles away. By accident.
You can easily generate 1000V/m at those distances so an uplugged telly lead can still kill the telly.
No-one worried about EMP until a russian pilot flew a foxbat into Japan. The US took it apart and laughed at the valves inside it and then sort of coughed and went quiet, sneaked back to their labs and started yelling fibre optics..
I doubt the power systems would hold up anyway - the US system has failed quite catastrophically when one power station overheats at the wrong time and dont talk about freezing rain. The grid system would give up as soon as two or three power stations went down in the UK. Its like the internet - its only resilient if everyone tries to play together and help each other. You could blow up 10 choice pylons in the UK and cause more damage than Fractional Reserve banking ever could.
Even if RAYNET suffered the same attrition rate as the general population - not a safe assumption if other groups are as well-prepared as our local one - there are a lot of amateurs who aren't RAYNET members who have quite resilient installations and can operate off-grid for a considerable length of time.
Most of our rigs can operate from either mains or 12v supplies, so as long as it's possible to charge a car-battery 'somehow' then we will have communication worldwide available. There is no shortage of small wind-generators on boats and caravans that their dead owners would 'donate', in the event... they're perfectly suitable.
Best-placed would be the various contest groups who will have high-powered installations and their own portable generating capacity, as well as portable masts.
Some of our VHF and UHF repeaters are self-sustaining and off-grid - and they're designed to thrive on neglect - lack of maintainance for a couple of years won't matter one jot.
Even at 99% attrition, there are likely to be enough surviving amateurs nationally and worldwide to ensure 'strategic' communications are able to function at some level.
We know what to do and how to do it.
AIRWAVE keeps being quoted as the answer to everything, all the emergency services will eventually be on it though they are many years behind schedule so fire and ambulance have only moved in a few areas.
The Royal Signals had the National Radio Communications System which were small trailers which could set up a frequency agile radio network which I believe would operate automatically once deployed. All the trailers are in a surplus store awaiting bids, not need because of AIRWAVE.
You report said that some AIRWAVE sites have diesel, in most areas ALL police, fire and ambulance radio sites had diesel backup. With a short range system like AIRWAVE, if only a third of sites are being diesel maintained then there will large rural areas with no coverage.
In Scotland the Scottish Office had a basic VHF network around the country. Closed down because of AIRWAVE. I suspect the emergency communication trucks, that you refer to, might just be the vans that can get temporary AIRWAVE coverage in an area or replace a site that is out of action.
The phrase ALL EGGS IN ONE BASKET repeatedly comes to mind when I think of AIRWAVE.
"Suspend disbelief. Stop thinking it is a documentary and realise it is fiction. If fiction had to make sense there would me no HHGTTG, Discworld or Shakespeare and the world would be a poorer place."
The difference between good fiction and bad fiction is that good fiction remains consistent with its own premises. Bad fiction does not.
Yes, the television show is fiction. Everyone knows that. However, critiquing the flaws in poor fiction is still a worthwhile pasttime; it beats staring vacantly at the tube and passively letting it wash over you. At least writing the critique is an active process.
Frankly, I've never understood the folks who just sit staring at the tube making fun fo the folks who do something; even doing something as trivial as writing about a TV show still beats just watching it.
It comes to mind that if 90% of the population no-longer need their car-batteries, thats a couple of weeks of power right there while some method of charging is cobbled together - built a little generator for A-level physics, know the theory, could scale it up with a little patience and what little wire-stock is still held at the local maplins (assuming I didn't have enough in stock here.)
It is a topic that Raynet does think about.
--... ...-- / -.. . / -- ----- - ..-. ....
P.S. for that matter, you don't need much power to communicate around the globe using morse...
mine's the one with the VX-7r in the pocket.
Personally i think this is a nice article, I was not aware of RayNet or the capabilities of our comms infrastructure. However, bar RayNet, as other people have pointed out, who on earth (literally) are you going to call. I'm not aware that Satellite (Iridium) or other technolgies have a broadcast facility so unless you know the telephone number of any survivors your fecked!!
Prehaps El Reg could publish some useful numbers for us to remember in case of such a disaster, 999 withstanding :)
I loved the original 70's survivors though you are right that it tailed off after the first series. The new one is ok so far but I'm not impressed by their survival skills. I laughed at the Maplins comment as I said to my wife that's the first place I'd go (after securing some weapons of course) followed by a hospital pharmacy before nicking a 7.5 tonner, packing it full of food and heading for the hills.
1. Get a BT Phone and Yellow pages phone book. This will list the places were the TA and DIY shops are.
2. Go to B+Q, get crowbars, torches, etc.
(Now's your excuse to get that 10 million candle powered torch you've always wanted)
3. Go to TA and Police HQ and get guns and bullet proof vests.
4. Go to Maplins and get walkie-talkies and GPS.
5. Get rechargeable batteries and recharge them via Car lighter socket.
6. Get to Chemists, Health Centres and pick up medicines incl. soap (soap is very important).
7. Pick up Clothes, it's going to be cold in Winter...
8. Raid libraries and colleges to get books on farming.
9. Get to the Secret Bunker up here in Scotland and on the way pick up food.
10. Sit out the first Winter as that'll kill off the first batch of idiots that survived.
11. Get yourself a farm and grow food and babies.
12. Then wait until all the Nuclear storage units and power plants finally degrade in 50-100 years time and release all their toxins throughout the UK and kills every last one of you all.
See the Ants will inherit he Earth...
There are International emergency frequencies on most of the HF bands that Amateurs use, so anyone left would likely be monitoring those. These would give both inter-UK and International communications. There are a number of Amateur Satellites which again would offer Intercontinental coverage and dont necessarily require a lot of power to use. You would need a PC to predict passes though.
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