More unedited goodness direct from my brain. I promise Monday's post on the topic will be coherent, comprehensive, and organized.
Why are people buying all the water? It’s like the only thing people know how to prepare for is an earthquake because Las Vegas is full of Californians. Oh wait, it is.
Let’s get the preliminaries out of the way. Yes, I know a lot of tap water tastes terrible and no one wants to drink it. I use a Brita filter with cheap, generic refills from Target. My mom and my boss use filters in their refrigerators. Yes, it is good to have bottled drinking water on hand just in case. Yes, you may need bottled water for outdoor work, sports, or events, especially in summer.
Running out and buying all the water in the face of a pandemic that isn’t going to be all that deadly, if even if it turns out to be particularly deadly, is stupid. The disease isn’t going to magically get into the water supply and poison people. The water system is likely to break entirely before that happens.
The water system will work just fine during a pandemic. Heck, the systems here are modern enough that they won’t experience a loss of water pressure due to increased handwashing as it rumored is happening in Iran. The water system is fairly robust and low-maintenance. For such a large and complex system, water companies and districts employ very few people and major failures are rare. The most common water system disruption is when a very old water main breaks. In Las Vegas, most people are being served by very recently placed water mains and Reno isn’t that far behind.
So get it out of your head that you need to stock up on water like it’s going out of style. If things get so bad that the water system fails, this will be during the middle of summer and we’re all probably dead in less than a week anyway. In a scenario where there is only bottled and stored water, you will have to evacuate Vegas and good luck having the gas to get somewhere where water is plentiful and no one is trying to shoo you away at gunpoint.
What is more likely are supply shortages. Businesses are already experiencing this as they stupidly offloaded most or all of their manufacturing to China. With China being closed, factories are making stuff and things aren’t being shipped. Even if China recovers and gets back to work, there will be some hiccups in the system. In the long run, this is good for America as manufacturing will come back to the country or at least bad for China as businesses diversify their suppliers.
On the individual level, be concerned if truckers stop working. Check out the infographic. I don’t think it will be that bad. Truck drivers are fairly isolated a lot of the time and can easily continue to work as long as they aren’t sick. However, if violence gets too bad in a city (say food riots) truck might not come into a town.
Stores may have shortages for several reasons. 1, supplier issues (see above). 2, employees may not come to work because they are sick or don’t want to get sick. Stores won’t be properly stocked or some stores can’t open altogether. 3, panic buying.
We’ve already seen some panic buying. Hand sanitizer can’t be had for any price. Toilet paper is next. This will roll onto food and everyday necessities. People panic buy because they are afraid if they don’t stock up right now then they won’t have anything. If enough people do that to outstrip the available supply in stores, we have a shortage. Then, as shelves are bare, people who are stocking up, or people who are increasing their storage, strip the incoming product. Our just-in-time inventory systems don’t work well with this, which you know if you’ve been trying to buy masks.
What should have been happening is over the past month is people buying extra groceries. If you bought an extra week’s worth of groceries for the last month, you’d have a month-long cushion. If we do this another month, that’s two months. If you already have laid in your supplies for a few months, you can round out your supplies and replace what you’ve consumed.
The smart people are the ones panicking now. Those of us who have stocked up and stored up will be insulated against the real panic buying. We won’t have to venture into crazy grocery stores that look like a hurricane is coming and fight people over the last pineapple.
What’s going to happen is a soon as the numbers get really big, enough to scare people locally, there will be a run on stores. It will be absolutely insane across the country when the federal officials declare a state of emergency. Only then will most people “get it” and start to stock up.
So why are you stocking up? Me personally I’m buying things now so I don’t have to go out during crazy panic buying or worry about shortages. I don’t want to be checking the store everyday for toilet paper while I’m using both sides of the tissues I have left. Ideally, once everyone is sick I want to shop as little as possible, maybe once a month, to minimize my exposure. If I’m sick, I don’t want to have to go shopping, both for my comfort and not to infect anyone else.
Plus, if things are really bad, I have a cushion of X amount of time before I need to worry. A cushion is a good thing. Replace what you consume. Remember the rule one is none and two is one. Three items give you one to consume and replace, one backup, and one emergency item.
How much do you really need? Let’s take toilet paper for example. The average person uses about one roll a week, women slightly more over time. Stores sell packages that will last a person about a year. You can buy one of those a week for a family of four and be done for the year. Or ship it, from a warehouse using Walmart.com or something, and not empty a store.
And why toilet paper? Shouldn’t canned food be sold out everywhere? Well, having a crusty butthole or wiping with an old t-shirt sucks. Ever wonder why you find random socks while hiking? That’s right, no toilet paper. TP is a very necessary comfort item. It stores forever. The biggest reason I think toilet paper, instead of food, is because people have an implicit trust in the system to supply a necessity like food. Ass wipe, not so much.