The Blackout was an artificially caused apocalyptic event occurring in September 2012. The event disabled all forms of electricity. The night of the Blackout, it was originally a combat test on a Taliban-controlled compound in Pakistan, but a malfunction in the command execution of the Nanites caused an unprecedented worldwide loss of power.
At some point 15 years after the incident occurred, power was briefly restored through the efforts of Rachel Matheson and Aaron Pittman. Unfortunately, the command would be reversed by Aaron as he and Rachel unsuccessfully tried to stop the ICBM’s that Randall Flynn had launched towards Atlanta and Philadelphia.
In 2009 Ben Matheson and his pregnant wife Rachel Matheson are operating a start-up company trying to find a way to design a low-cost energy generator. They failed miserably, but the result was "interesting". When activated, their Device would "inhibit" electricity. Ben, with the assistance of Grace Beaumont and Bradley Jaffe is giving a demonstration for Assistant Secretary Flynn from the Dept of Defense. Flynn is very impressed and wants to know if it can be replicated on a larger scale. Ben assures him it could be. ("The Children's Crusade")
Despite the unintended effect of the device Matheson and their colleagues have created, Randall was optimistic about its implications on the battlefield. At some point, they are hired by the Department of Defense of the United States with the goal of possibly weaponizing their invention. Fueled by the loss of his son, Randall goes forward in activating The Tower on the night of the eventual worldwide blackout. ("Ghosts")
The Blackout occurred on the night of September 17, 2012. The first sign of the Blackout began as telephones and computers began to fizzle and die across the world. Soon thereafter, power went out in houses and vehicles across the planet. Aircraft were soon seen falling from the sky. Then, transformers exploded and power to entire cities was lost.
Power is seen to have been lost first in New England, then spread westward across North America before affecting all of South America and Europe/Africa then Asia as well. ("Pilot")
Ben clearly knew about the Blackout at least a few hours before it happened, because he went to buy non-perishable food right before, and even attempted to warn his brother Miles in advance.
The Blackout crippled the entire world that was entirely dependent on electricity. Governments fell and people were forced to fend for themselves.
Survivors of the blackout tended to avoid large cities, settling on small villages in the rural areas of the country.
In America, any forms of government became nonexistent only to be replaced by a seemingly despotic feudal system. The Monroe Republic in the areas like Chicago became such an example.
At some point 15 years after the Blackout, General Monroe through the pendants, regains the use of electricity for consumption towards his conquest of the continent. Monroe plans to use his newly acquired power to build nuclear weapons, directed towards his enemies. After realizing the full extent of Monroe's intentions, Rachel is left with no choice and acquiesces to turn the power on. Rachel, accompanied by Aaron travels to the Tower to shut down the Nanites. The duo traverses what remains of the Mid-Western United States and, after grueling challenges that almost resulted in the death of the two, arrives at the military installation in Colorado.
Upon arriving, their goals were immediately met with resistance by the caretakers of the tower, with Grace Beaumont believing that shutting down the Nanites would result in the burning of the planet. Adamant about her goal, Rachel proceeds to turn the power on against their wishes and incapacitates Grace while killing most of the armed defenders with the help of Nora. Aaron and Rachel successfully enforced the shut down of the Nanites, thereby restoring power all over the world.
Unbeknownst to the group, Randall had locked himself in one of the rooms to which he was able to launch nuclear missiles toward Atlanta and Philadelphia. Randall cryptically justified his actions in restoring unity in the country, calling himself a Patriot. Despite Rachel's plea not to go through his plan, Randall shot himself just minutes before the missiles decimated the two cities, despite the action of Aaron re initiating the Nanites. The group's actions resulted in a brief power surge in which electricity was restored for a fleeting four minutes.
Years after the Blackout, most people believed that the Blackout was caused by natural causes, and that they could no longer turn the lights back on.
As revealed in the episode The Song Remains the Same, the Blackout was an accident that resulted in the worldwide loss of power. Nanotechnology appears to be the cause of the blackout, more specifically, microscopic machines called Nanites. The Nanites are capable of two commands, absorb electricity and replicate. The former caused the Blackout.
- Rachel explained to Aaron in the episode The Song Remains the Same that a “couple of hundred quadrillion” nano machines about the size of a virus are everywhere and programmed to absorb electricity and replicate, thereby disabling all artificial (i.e. man-made) forms of electricity. The estimate of ~200 quadrillion virus-size machines seems too low as that would result in a cumulative mass of only a few to several kilograms at most and with global electrical consumption at the time of the blackout being on the order of several terawatts, the nano machines would require an effective energy storage density equaling if not surpassing that of antimatter. This would in effect be like expecting a single or a few car battery-sized devices to absorb all of the electrical power in the world in a matter of seconds. A possible explanation is that Rachel was referring to the remaining quantity of nano machines and that at the time of the blackout 15 years earlier the number was far greater with the remaining number since reduced to the minimum necessary for the absorption of any latent electrical generation.
- The ACOG scopes of M-4 carbines still worked because, contrary to popular belief, they use tritium isotopes and fiber optics.
- Although the Blackout disables all electrical aspects of modern civilization, any non-electrical technology still functions. For example, the use of Civil War-era smoothbore or rifled muskets by the Monroe Militia may reflect either a limited mid-19th century type industrial capability or the systematic looting of museums. Given the widespread use of such weapons by the Militia, the former is more likely. The limiting factor on polities such as the Monroe Republic developing such industry is almost certainly a lack of both unskilled and skilled labor due to the catastrophic die-off in the immediate aftermath of the Blackout.
- The overall concept is similar to the Emberverse Series by S.M. Stirling, although the 'Change' in Stirling's novels also affects all aspects of modern technology, including gunpowder and steam engines. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dies_the_Fire
- Before the blackout, Ben and Rachael found out one of their unborn kids (most likely Danny) had a defective artery, and the Department of Defense contacted Rachael, saying they could cure him. It is unclear whether this had a role to play in the Blackout, but it may help explain at least parts of it in the future.