Disaster Preparedness: Supply Lines

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On May 7, 2021 a U.S. fuel pipeline operated by Colonial Pipeline was shut down due to a ransomware attack. The attack resulted in the shutdown of the computer system operating the pipeline and temporarily created fuel shortages across parts of the Southern United States. As a result, several people took the opportunity to be complete idiots in an attempt to hoard gasoline in unsafe containers from their local gas stations. To my knowledge no one was killed as a direct result of their actions, but at least one woman was severely injured when she crashed with her gas “loot” while trying to evade police for failing to stop due to a traffic infraction.

A year before this event we had the start of the Covid-19 global pandemic. When it originally hit the U.S. for some reason people decided they needed to hoard toilet paper. In my own community, browsing through local Facebook pages was rather surreal. On one page a woman shared a picture of her daughter’s 4ft high castle made out of toilet paper rolls. Just below it, an eight-month pregnant woman was begging for someone to spare her a roll or two. She couldn’t find any anywhere after going to five stores. The juxtaposition of the two posts were frustrating, annoying, and unnecessary.

Today, June 1st,2021, I have just finished my weekly grocery shopping and just sat down for lunch when I saw another ransomware attack has occurred. This time the target was the world’s largest meat processor working in the US and Australia, JBS Corp. I’m not surprised. If you’re surprised, then please pay attention. Things are going to get worse. The more these attacks are successful the more they’ll keep trying. For me, disaster preparedness starts with recognizing my place within the grander scale of concurrent spheres of impact. Sometimes I’m the drop. Sometimes I’m the fifth ripple.

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Focus on what’s within your control, not what’s out of your control.

I can’t control when a ransomware attack will occur, when the next pandemic will occur or when the next earthquake will strike, but I can mitigate my family’s risk with a few simple steps.

  • Plan for reoccurring events. We have a few good wind and snow events every winter and yet people panic at the first mention of possible snow. They stress, they get grumpy and then they go stand in long lines at the grocery stores to get whatever it is they think is “essential.” I on the other hand pull out my battery-powered lanterns. I track the storm and plan according; brew coffee and put into thermoses, make dinner early or change to a shelf-stable dinner option from things already in the pantry. If you have to go through something every year, take the extra time to plan for it before it becomes eminent and save yourself the stress! It’s a snowstorm not the end of the world.
  • Stock up when select items are on sale. In my region, the Northwestern United States, canned food usually goes on sale in September. I can get cans of beans 10 for $10 and soups at nearly half off. I often make chili and cornbread before a storm since most of our storms tend to come at night. While hot chili is preferred, I don’t mind eating cold chili for lunch the next day if the power is out. Our power outages average about 2-3 days. For longer power outage we cook on the pellet grill. Before we had the grill, we used a small camp stove. If you have the outdoor space, a fire pit is good too. If you live in an apartment, save some cash to take a ride to a restaurant in an area of town with power or stay with a friend or family member for a night or two if you can.
  • Support locally grown foods. Supporting local growers helps provide jobs in your community and shortens the supply chain between you and your foods. Look for Farmer’s Markets in your area and give them a try. Also look for local co-op stores that support locally sourced products. Investing locally helps you and your neighbors. Pay attention to when things are in-season. They are fresher and offered at a better price. Freeze, pickle, or ferment what you can save for later. It will be interesting to see how vertical farms affect the future of growing produce. I would like to see the innovation of vertical farming (a type of aquaponics) come into urban areas and reduce the effect of “food deserts” found in poor, urban neighborhoods where fresh food is scarce and access to alcohol and processed food are high.
  • Make friends with all different kinds of people. As I get to know more and more people in my community, I pay attention to what their skills and abilities are. There’s nothing wrong with making friends with someone just because they’re nice and you like being around them, but it’s also nice to make a mental inventory of who’s good at what. It’s a game I like to play in my head.  It the event of a real apocalypse, who would I want to track down to be part of my survival team? Humans are a group-oriented species. If you learn nothing else from disaster movies, it should be that the lone wolf rarely survives. I know a guy with a welding shop and another with a carpentry shop, some nurses, some women who sew better than me, the local co-op, a couple of local farmers and a dairy over yonder. I also know a ton of Real Estate Agents, I’m sure I could find a way to put them to good use! If nothing else they’re well-connected to people and properties that could be leveraged as assets. I really need to find someone who knows the hot air balloon guys. In case a post-apocalypse aerial scouting mission is needed, of course! So even if you’re a declared introvert like me, get to know people around you. If you need to come together as a community, it’s good to know where to start. If you think you have no useful skills, there’s no time like the present to learn some!
  • Make it fun, make it informed. Play the game, “What would I do if….?” Walk through scenarios in your head about what you would do in certain situations. Do this with your family and friends. People who are skilled at making quick decision and saving lives didn’t get that way by luck. It comes down to training. As you walk through scenarios think of things that would help make it easier. Having a first aid kit in the car. Having a fire extinguisher in the kitchen (or you can smother a fire with flour or corn starch if you have enough on hand.) What if there was an extended gas shortage and you had to get to work? Could you walk? Bike? Call someone to share a ride with and offer to bake cookies in exchange or something?

Final Thoughts:

I really feel we need to focus on making ourselves adaptable and resilient at the individual level and scale it up to the community and society level. My biggest concern is that we won’t adapt fast enough to climate change while politicians bicker and corporations drag their heels on innovative climate initiatives. I have no control over what the politicians and multinational corporations do, but I do have agency over myself. I can choose not panic buy or stress over every snowstorm. I can make myself strong and support members of my community when they need me most. You need a roll toilet paper, darling? I got one for you. I planned for this.

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Penny for your thoughts?