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JustInTime Life Riding the Edge of Disaster

Our modern age of convenience makes just about everything we need or want available with a click on the computer, a phone call, or at worst a drive to the neighborhood store. There isn't much we can't have delivered or have done for us, and very few of our affairs we can't manage online. And quite frankly, it's great.

The "Just-In-Time" inventory and manufacturing methods utilized throughout the overall supply chain, and in most business's have been invaluable in terms of efficiency and reducing costs. But mindlessly relying on them for daily living can make us less resilient and ill-prepared should the unexpected happen. The downside is that as we become accustomed to having what we want, when we want it, we gradually build a lifestyle that grows to depend on a vast interconnected and interdependent supply chain that in reality has no backup, little redundancy, and is far from failsafe. The question we should ask ourselves, is "what happens when it breaks?".It actually "breaks" fairly often, but on a relatively small scale when viewed from a global perspective.

Consider the aftermath of all the hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and more. While in no way minimizing the tragedy of these events for those affected, the destruction or diminished capacity of the local response network and breakdown of that portion of the supply chain, was backed up by sources further removed, at the undamaged and intact regional, national, and even global levels.But what would happen if the chain broke across a much larger area? First, consider some of the components in the chain that make our economy and lifestyle work.

Without being exhaustive, a few examples will connect the dots. For instance, have you noticed the number of trucks on the highways these days? Spend any time at all driving Interstate 40, which runs cross country from California to North Carolina, and you can't help but notice passenger vehicles are a definite minority. I've often been the only car surrounded by 18-wheel, long-haul carriers as far as I could see. Those drivers are a key component in keeping our economy moving ? literally. And it's not just I40.

The story is the same nationwide.In cities and towns, it's less about big rigs and more short-haul and delivery, getting goods to their final destination, stocking the shelves, and bringing our stuff directly to us. The phenomenal growth of Fed-Ex, UPS, and others reflects unprecedented online and mail-order shopping.

Not to mention the U. S. Postal Service who handle over a half billion pieces of mail a day.

And then there are the ports with continuous arrival & departure of monstrous container carrying ships and supertankers. The newest container ships already handle over 8,000 units and they keep getting larger. One supertanker carrying crude oil to US refineries supplies enough in a single trip to fill over 15,000 18-wheel tanker trucks. Air cargo carriers, with only a fraction of large maritime vessel capacity, make it up in overall volume with an exponentially larger number of trips and overnight service.All of this activity and growth make for a robust global economy allowing us to live the way we do. But like a chain of dominos, if one doesn't fall, it breaks the chain.

We're actually pretty adept at quickly fixing a few breaks at a time. People get sick, others take their place. Storms come, we hunker down till they pass. Demand for product or services increase, we take up the slack.

Even for large regional disasters, external resources have existed to respond and start rebuilding. In short, the great machine always keeps running because we've never had to fix the entire chain at once.Despite advances in automation and robotics, the key to keeping things going is still people able to do their individual parts.

While the possibility exists for a truly cataclysmic event on a continental or global scale, there may not be much mitigation possible for the population at large. However the probability for more severe meteorological or biological events increases every year. We already know we're in a cycle where hurricanes and tsunamis have increased in numbers and intensity ? just compare storm tracks over the years.The threat of a pandemic ? an epidemic that occurs world-wide, seems even more likely.

According to the experts, it's not a matter of "if", but "when". Presently the Bird Flu is a viable threat due to its rapid mutation and the consequences of one of those surviving mutations allowing it's transmission between humans. The Great Influenza of 1918 was estimated to have killed 50 million people world-wide. If projections of 20% to 40% population loss resulting from this current virus becoming pandemic are accurate, the death toll would be staggering.If anything approaching those numbers is to be believed, it's easy to see how the whole machine might grind to a halt. So what's a rational response? There are already a number of agencies at all levels engaged in trying to predict the future, accessing probabilities, and preparing appropriate responses.

Since our taxes pay for these activities, we should obviously stay abreast of what they do and keep them accountable. However, this article is more about what the rest of us can do to be a bit more self-reliant, thus not contributing to the mounting chaos to be expected during actual disasters.Figuring out how to prepare is far from rocket science.

It's simply a matter of envisioning the fallout from possible scenarios and preparing accordingly. For example, imagine something like an influenza virus becoming pandemic. Suppose a quarter of the population got sick, with fatalities resulting in some significant portion of that number. Another quarter of the people are involved caring for those who are ill, maybe becoming ill themselves. That's half the population. How many people in the remaining half will stay away from work fearing catching the virus, or just not wanting to get stranded away from home? What might the following weeks or months look like?.

Planes, trains, and other transport systems are unlikely able to keep their schedules. Overrun hospitals and clinics struggle to respond with so many of their own ill. Closed doors are the norm for most business and stores. It takes people to keep every basic service running for any appreciable amount of time, from power grids to water and waste removal. It also takes supplies.

If water treatment plants exhaust their normal 1 to 2 week on-hand supply of chlorine, and trucks aren't moving, how long until the water supply is contaminated? No one is collecting the garbage and people are likely dying faster than they can be tended to. Keep on connecting the dots to complete the picture. The time it takes to at least get basic services restored is about how long we should expect to have to get by on our own.Awareness is useless unless action follows. The above scenario can easily seem overwhelming, especially if one is starting from scratch, but throwing up our hands and doing nothing means we'll end up as part of the problem instead of the solution. Nearly everyone has the means to start "eating the elephant a bite at a time".

Target preparedness should be for at least a month, but it can happen a little at a time. If you currently couldn't last a couple days, remedy that first. Then go for a week, then two, and so on.

Items to acquire depend on what is normally needed on a daily basis, and on location, but there are some basics. For example, non-perishable food is a no-brainer. One could start on the next run to Costco, Sam's Club or wherever, by picking up an extra case of soup, canned meats or veggies, juices, or a couple jugs of water. And while we're at it, buy or restock a basic first aid kit. Pick up a flashlight, fresh batteries, candles and matches.

Maybe a camp stove and gel-type fuel or propane. Start refilling maintenance type medications a couple weeks before they run out. Make it a habit to gas up before getting down close to empty. In short, start building in a cushion of reserve.In addition, preparing in advance is considerably more effective if it takes place before the things we're preparing for are imminent. Just witness the pandemonium that erupts when something like an ice-storm is predicted.

People become aware that shortly, nothing will be moving. With the dawning of a sudden realization they aren't ready, mild panic ensues as everyone tries to get stuff they should've already had. While this mild panic is somewhat entertaining to observe, it's another story when the predicted event is perceived to be really ominous or even scary. There's no necessity in having mobs of people competing for the same limited supplies, because well ahead of a crisis, they just aren't limited.

So why even go there.We are fortunate to live with abundant convenience, and should enjoy its advantages. However, we are mistaken to count on it always being so. A little foresight will go a long way toward not compounding catastrophe and enhance our ability to recover as quickly as possible when it occurs.

Planning ahead not only benefits ourselves and those close to us, but allows us to be among those able to help instead of those needing help.

.John Allen writes on a wide range of topics. Visit his blog to read more or obtain feeds. He can also be reached through his website which focuses on finding unique gifts.

By: J Allen



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