To illustrate the time factors, consider the water situation in Pittsburgh:
The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority is responsible for providing the city of Pittsburgh with clean water for household and business use. Most of the electricity required at the Aspinwall Water Treatment Plant (WTP) is consumed pumping water from the river. From the treatment plant, water is pumped to the three primary reservoirs. About half of the water from the primary reservoirs is delivered directly to homes and businesses. The other half is pumped to a series of smaller reservoirs, tanks, towers, and standpipes around the city. In this report the main reservoirs are referred to as ‘primary storage’ and the smaller storage facilities as ‘secondary storage’.So a short outage is no big deal, but between the first few days and two weeks, things start to go really bad, until the point where everyone is dependent on emergency measures:
Pumping into storage facilities is usually activated when water levels in the facility drop below a certain level. Storage facilities are normally kept full, but may drop to 80% in the evenings. Electricity is only needed to pump water into storage facilities. Once water is stored at a high point in a reservoir or a tower it can flow by gravity to any customer located below it.
During the course of this study, we found that immediately following a blackout, water supplies will be unaffected. In the absence of any backup generation, after one day of power outage, as many as 15% of customers could expect to lose water as secondary storage is depleted. All secondary storage is likely to be depleted after three days, leaving 50% of the population without water, increasing the load on primary storage and depleting the first of the primary storage reservoirs within about nine days. The last water storage will be depleted after two weeks.
Current emergency plans include distribution of water by tanker trucks (called water buffalos). Emergency response plans at the city and county level include steps to acquire these trucks from local governments and agencies. With a typical capacity of 2,500 gallons, these trucks would only be practical or providing minimal supplies of water. To provide all 370,000 people in Pittsburgh with an emergency one gallon ration of water per day of water would require 15 trucks working 18 hour days. To provide even 10% of normal drinking water supply would require 240 trucksThe water system itself at the time of the study (2004) lacked emergency power backup, but note that the water buffalo trucks require diesel. The fuel supply in an extended outage would be very uncertain (as we saw during the damage from Sandy also):
Gas stations become more critical to the citizens of Pittsburgh as a blackout endures. Initially, most people can rely on the gas already in the tank. But over time, the demand for gas will grow, as people will want to leave their homes to procure needed items, or to just “get out.”Pittsburgh is a distribution hub for the fuel system, so there is a lot of fuel there, but it cannot be accessed without electric power:
There is little incentive, however, for gas station operators to install generators. The probability of a long outage is sufficiently low that the owner will likely not recover the cost of a back-up generator over its lifetime. Thus, if gas stations were to be made more survivable, the government would likely have to step in. For example, is it feasible to designate a few fueling stations around Pittsburgh as “emergency” gas stations and provide incentive to install backup generators?
The second component is the distribution within the city to points of need. We are confident that there are enough trucks to supply fuel to all the critical services outlined in this report. However, the pumps that pump fuel from the large storage tanks are vulnerable to electricity outages. We recommend that this issue be studied further to determine if this dependency is acceptable.So it sounds like a lot of diesel backup generators would be likely rendered useless for lack of fuel before too long.
The theme of critical infrastructure is in private hands with differing incentives also shows up in the context of grocery stores:
Giant Eagle is the dominant player in the Pittsburgh grocery market, with twelve stores within the city limits. Most have generators to power critical equipment such as emergency lights, but they do not have backup capacity for refrigeration equipment. Pittsburgh has relatively reliable power, and Giant Eagle has decided that large backup is not economically attractive or necessary. On the other hand, Giant Eagle stores in the Cleveland area typically have complete backup capacity, since power there is less reliable.Thus the picture is that for a power outage of days or less, people have gas in their tanks, food in their cupboards, etc. But for outages beyond that duration, the means to supply the populace with food, fuel, and water is not survivable and will rapidly degrade, and people will quickly be reduced to "refugee" status - needing either to leave to somewhere better equipped, or to rely on emergency measures like water buffalo trucks and food handouts at central distribution points.