It may not be everyone’s idea of a fun Saturday night, but my wife disappearing to the theatre with her friends offered a rare opportunity to catch up with the backlog of recorded TV programs that have been slowly building up. The most interesting of these
programs (although not the most cheerful) was something called “Life after Armageddon”. The central premise of the program was a what-if analysis of what would happen in the wake of a major apocalyptic event.
The apocalypse in question was the outbreak of a deadly strain of influenza, something that has threatened a number of times in the past (SARs, Avian flu, Swine flu). As the virus takes hold, in this day and age of widespread international travel, it spreads
like wildfire causing massive fatalities across the globe. Predictably, panic ensues. Just as people try to flee the major cities, major arteries become gridlocked. Right when you need them most, the emergency services are hammered by the double whammy of
a decimated workforce combined with exponential demand.
Less dramatic, but perhaps more relevant – it is the speed at which society and the systems that we take for granted break down. Without the visible presence of men on the ground, law and order ceases to exist. An exodus of staff means the failure of fundamental
services such as central power distribution. Without people to operate refineries or oil terminals, fuel supplies soon dry up. Shops can no longer take card payments. ATM machines cease to work. Whatever your net worth might have amounted to stored away in
some computer system, if you can’t get access to it, it becomes completely meaningless. The cash in your pocket becomes pretty much dead weight.
The program exposed just how fragile our high-tech world really is. We are totally and utterly reliant on technology. If that technology were to be rendered useless in some way (solar flare, EMP pulse, computer virus), we would be very quickly be looking
around for things to barter with. There wouldn’t be a huge demand for the services of a computer programmer, a network engineer or an investment banker, that’s for sure. Sounds far-fetched ? The more progress we make, the more our reliance grows.
One of the chilling anchor phrases of the program was that we are only nine meals away from anarchy. It certainly helps to put your Business Continuity Planning into perspective. Will it keep me awake at night ? Well, no. But I am going to order some water
purification tablets just in case…