How many BTUs in a utility pole? : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

I'm finding that many folks don't want to waste time preparing for possibilities that they are certain they will be able to overcome with 'sheer brilliance' applied at the time a crisis occurs.

Here's a real world example of the elevator not going to the top floor. And, to me at least, it's a very scary one.

I was talking to a fellow the other day about Y2K. He's a blue collar 'self-sufficient' (as he puts it) kind of guy and lives in a typical middle class neighborhood (not a particularly rough area of the this city).

The subject came around to getting heat if power should go off for an extended period. He stated that he wasn't worried, why, if things got real bad, he 'learned in the service' that there's plenty of things that will 'burn good in a pinch'. As an example, he first pointed to a dead tree and then to an abandoned shop made out of wood across the street. Then he said, if we used that up and there's still no heat, "then there's plenty of BTUs in those telephone poles".

I pointed out that his plan for confiscating public utility poles was not only highly illegal but self-defeating in the extreme as well. His response: "Nah, they can't guard 'em all and if they ain't gonna fix 'em, we might as well put 'em to good use. My chain saw there is all I'd need."

The lights are on but there's nobody home. He's not particularly concerned about Y2K. No need to think about it now, he says. 'They'll' either fix things or 'they' won't. He'll cross that bridge if and when he comes to it. He's got more important things to do today. He suggested that I shouldn't be overly concerned. There's always ways to get through such things.

Yes, I suppose there are.

So my question is this: how long of a power outage can we endure in a city in the middle of winter before our utility pole infrastructure becomes a 'natural heat source'? My best guess: if no other heat sources are available, not very long.

His plan may be stupid in the extreme, but he's right about one thing: they can't protect them all.


By the way, aren't utility poles soaked with kreosote (sp?) as a preservative? Does this give off toxic fumes when burned? Even if it doesn't, saying that it does might be one way to discourage such insane and utterly self-defeating action. Hell, claim it causes sterility, baldness and herpes if it keeps people from cutting them down.

-- Gary Wills (, October 12, 1998


Your friend is an idiot! If and when the power does come back on, there won't be any juice going to his house or anyone elses for that matter. Furthermore, he'll get caught, eventually. He'll become someone's "girlfriend" in prison....yep, cutting down poles could cause herepes and who knows what else.

-- Bardou (, October 12, 1998.

Bardou: Uh, definitely not 'my friend', and not even a neighbor thank God - just an aquaintance who feels fully confident he can handle whatever comes his way and sees no need to prepare.

For the record, I would also characterize him as an 'idiot' and should he ever commit such a crime and go to jail and get herpes, I promise not to grieve too much or make silly excuses for him...

But my larger concern is for what the average 'Joe on the street' will do if unprepared for such contingencies. Obviously, this fellow intends to 'play it by ear' and 'rely on his smarts'. I suspect such behavior would not be a big problem in smaller communities (unless it was life or death circumstances) but in larger cities it is obviously not out of the question.

If things do not get this bad then we are worrying for nothing. On the other hand, if utility poles are converted to BTUs, then our libraries are surely in trouble as well.

I'm reminded of a Twilight Zone espisode called (I think) "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street". It involved some alien invaders simply fiddling with a few of our basic machines (turning lights and automibiles on and off) and then sitting back and watching as our own fear and resultant stupid behavior 'conquered' the planet for them. Rod Serling had quite a way with mirrors (I'm not certain he wrote that particular episode).

I just don't see evidence that everyone will pull together in large cities. I'd sure like to believe that this was true but the recent riots in LA had a lot of people doing very stupid things and this sequence of events has the potential to be much worse.

We don't know that electricity will go off. We also don't know that it will stay on. But if we all have several months to prepare for the worst case, then the results do not have to be catastrophic. If the unprepared have a place to go for food and heat, most will will not riot. Frankly, it's pretty difficult to riot at -10F with a 30 mph wind. At least in the colder cities, most unprepared people would much prefer to seek food and warmth rather than convert vital infrastructure (utility poles, libraries, etc. ) into short-term profits (BTUs). But only if they have a choice. Only if an alternative for these people has been prepared. I sure don't see that happening today, at least in my city. How about yours?

-- Gary Wills (, October 12, 1998.

Has anybody done any studies on how much of the infrastructure (not just power poles) will be lost in the initial blackouts? this *is* going to happen in January...any thoughts on what happens if any major northern tier city loses power? never mind burning utility poles - what sort of collateral damage will occur from all those water pipes which wont get drained and will then proceed to freeze and crack? or has anyone considered what will happen if a major fire is started by someone's kerosene heater during a power failure?...then of course we also have the fact that without electricity the lift pumps at the sewer pumping stations wont work, and will it freeze faster than it overflows, or vice versa?

anybody seen any projections on any of this? just wondering...

-- Arlin Adams (, October 12, 1998.

I hate to say this, but I can envision this happening. My hubby and I were just discussing this a couple of days ago. We were trying to think of all the worst-case things we could, adding to our list of "what we should be aware of may possibly happen"; so as to be as prepared for all contingencies as possible. We had joked about how some people might cut down the utility poles for fuel. We didn't think it the right thing to do, but not too far- fetched as actually happening, especially in major population areas without lots of woods like we have here. We were discussing that if this happens, then it will be that much harder for the power/telephone companies to restore power if it's out for an extended length of time. During the ice storm here last January they had to have new poles shipped in and some people were without power two to four weeks awaiting this and for other reasons. This wouldn't be good at all but it is definitely a likely scenario. People behave in strange ways when they are desperate; and those who haven't prepared at all will be just that - desperate. Just my two cents.

-- Bobbi (, October 12, 1998.

I realize that this utility pole thing is extreme, but honestly this typifies a lot of the happy-go-lucky "can-do" attitudes that people have that prevents them from realizing the truth about Y2K. I mean, when I tried to convince my sister's boyfriend about how the banks will fail, his response was something like, "I don't really have that much money in the bank." Like, the collapse of our banking system would only mean that his piddly account was vaporized, and that there would be no other effects to his life. The day will come, and these people will act, and their acts will be summarized by one word: desperation.

-- Jack (, October 12, 1998.

"Collateral damage to water pipes freezing & cracking..."

Uh, seems like we have a precedent there. Did anyone out there go through the big Canadian storm last winter? What happened to the water pipes?

I figured that the gov't buildings least likely to be looted or otherwise damaged would be libraries & post offices. Maybe not so the libraries....

-- Larry Kollar (, October 12, 1998.

A Nothern Tier urban area without power for a week in typical January weather? I'd give the local telephone poles a four-day lifespan, then the chainsaws start roaring. The ice storm last winter is relevant only in individual cases, IMHO, because outside help in the form of National Guard generators, other utility companies (we had crews from as far away as the Deep South working in Maine), and aid workers kept the essential infrastructure going. Plus, even those people who went without power for two weeks or more at least knew help was coming and could get help coping. If 1/1/2000 is as bad as many people on this forum think, that outside help won't be there. And when the pipes in a 15-story Manhattan co-op freeze, the building will uninhabitable for weeks, if not months, even after the power comes back on.

-- J.D. Clark (, October 12, 1998.

But you didn't take into effect that the water flushing from the broken pipes will wash the raw sewage being dumped into the elevators and stairwells out into the street.

That would be bound to save a little bit of the cleanup time it would otherwise take to restore the building for civilized inhabitants.

-- Robert A. Cook, P.E. (Kennesaw, GA) (, October 12, 1998.

Pretty funny Robert. Actually, I expect most of the areas without power across the north will evacuate people to shelters powered by Nat'l Guard generators. And there they will stay until the power comes back on. The Guard is very much prone to evacuate in any emergency, just to prevent idiots from doing stupid things to make the emergency worse. Besides, it makes it less likely you will shoot some home owner thinking he is a looter. As for pipe damage and so on - depends on how long power is out and what the temp is and how old the pipes are and what they are made of. Personally, I hope for a rather warm winter just because of this ancillary damage, while I don't expect the total blackout many think possible I do expect some problems - and the less extra damage we have the quicker we will completely recover.

-- Paul Davis (, October 14, 1998.

Speaking of the "guard evacuating people to shelters," I did not realize until this last major hurricane, that once inside the shelter, the people can't leave until the guard says they can. I will never go into a shelter without the freedom to leave when I choose. I'm sorry, but that makes you a "prisoner" of the guard's discretion.

-- Gayla Dunbar (, October 14, 1998.

Well said, Gayla. Especially when the "temporary emergency" turns out to be very un-temporary, which is certainly a possible Y2K scenario.

-- Jack (, October 14, 1998.

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