Just in Time? Just in Case

Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds has written a thoughtful piece about inventories and happenstance, for the Washington Examiner:

Japan’s earthquake was in some ways a triumph of preparedness: Thanks to strict building codes, not a single building in Tokyo collapsed. But the earthquake, and the tsunami it produced, have had impacts that go well beyond the immediate.

In particular, the damage is exposing the extent to which modern supply-chain management has produced a system that is so lean it lacks the reserve capacity needed to cope with disasters.
My wife takes a heart-rhythm drug called Tikosyn; if she misses a dose, she could die.

Walgreen’s doesn’t want to keep it in stock, so they order a bottle by air-freight when her prescription is about to expire. Normally, that’s fine — but if something happened to interrupt shipping, she’d be in trouble.

She keeps a backup supply, but what would Walgreen’s do for others in a similar predicament? A few days of shipping problems and many pharmacies would be out of important drugs.

Likewise, grocery stores now keep only a small supply of food on hand, depending on regular deliveries for restocking. When those deliveries are interrupted, shelves start to empty pretty fast. (And government emergency food stockpiles are nothing like they were in the Cold War era).

Power plants used to keep a 60-day supply of coal in stock. Now they typically keep only 30 days’ worth. That saves utilities money but it means that there’s less margin if deliveries get interrupted. In the past, severe blizzards have left some utilities dangerously close to running out. Most cities have only a few days’ worth of gasoline.

Something to think about and prepare for. If someone wanted to create a situation where our society would quickly devolve into chaotic self-interest and have Americans tearing at each other, these tight inventories would be the thing to disrupt. Talk about “remaking” America!

“Be prepared” never sounded like better advice. Read it all

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • SCSoxFan

    I’ve been aware of this issue for several years now. I read a novel, “One Second After” that centered on an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attack on the United States that knocked out the electrical grid and destroyed all equipment with electical circuits and computer chips, including all vehicles made after the 1970′s. The supply-chain aftermaths Mr. Reynolds describes are a much milder version of the disruptions described in the book. In the novel, just as Mr. Reynolds discussed, food spoiled quickly because of the lack of refrigeration and no trucks were available to resupply the grocery stores. The same thing happened with meds, with riots at drug stores and hoarding (in the novel, the main character’s daughter was diabetic).

    The description of how fast civilization in the US collapsed and how quickly the population died off due to the lack of food deliveries and medications, was a real wake-up call for me. I’ve actually gotten copies of the old Foxfire books describing things like edible plants and stocking up a 90 day supply of medications.

    It’s actually a very scary prospect.

  • http://sailorette.blogspot.com Foxfier

    I’ve actually gotten copies of the old Foxfire books describing things like edible plants and stocking up a 90 day supply of medications.


    (Not just because I grew up around them, either.)

    My folks are ranchers, and both are seriously worried at how little people know about where their food comes from– one class mom taught, when she was talking about supply lines and stocking, a kid insisted that milk came from the grocery store. (high school kid) He didn’t mean that’s where it was sold, or any other thing– that is Where It Comes From. He had no mental connection between cows and the milk he drank.

  • http://www.russelllindsey.wordpress.com Lindsey Russell

    I have a degree in supply chain from Michigan State (supposedly one of the top supply chain programs in the country), and if they are still teaching what I was taught ten years ago, we are all in trouble.

    The more “diverse” and “international” the supply chain, the better. The theory being that labor costs would be lower. The entire subject drives me to distraction.

    We no longer long manufacture much of anything in the United States. It is a sad fact, but true. I’ve lived in Michigan most of my life, and if what has taken place here over the last few years is any indication, our economy would soar if we actually invested in manufacturing.

    I’m sorry, but this topic just really gets under my skin! I can see how lives, many lives, could be at stake.

    Lindsey Russell

  • http://victor-undergo.blogspot.com/ Victor

    I agree reading much of this tells me that “IT” is actually a very scary prospect and to top “IT” off I’ve gotten some bad news and some good news from sinner vic.

    The bad news is that sinner vic tells me that Jesus is no longer thinking of tapping me on the shoulder to teach me how to deal with “IT”.

    The good new is that because of all the prayers that as been coming his way, sinner vic says that my soul has won the confidence of Our Heavenly Father.

    I hear ya! I’ll keep praying for your soul Victor cause the last thing we want is for any other soul to be crucified on Good Friday! :)

    Not funny sinner vic! :(

    God Bless Peace

  • Mila

    You only have to be in Florida during hurricane season to know what chaos can ensue even from a category 1 storm. The lines at the gas stations, the empty shelves at the grocery store…And I have faced the problem with medications that Walgreens does not carry, even in normal times and that somehow they were unable to obtain. The whole deal is vey scary.

  • Elaine S.

    I have always been distressed by the extent to which we have allowed ourselves to become totally dependent upon electricity and upon computers. One only has to go through a prolonged power outage (such as would be caused by an ice storm or a tornado strike) to see the effects.

    Another problem is the constant changing and updating of computer software. Already archivists and historians have trouble retrieving computer records from 15-20 years ago or more because there are no longer computers capable of reading the data stored on the old floppy disks. How much critical information is or could be lost in this fashion?

  • SallyJune

    You really notice the little things. At the same time that Hurricane Ike blew through our area, our portable dvd player went belly-up. So nothing except what you could get on the battery-powered radio. One neighbor got a battery-powered fan. Had God not sent a cold front one day after the storm (unheard of in my experience), we would have been sweltering and covered in mosquitoes. Fortunately we had water and gas, so hot showers every day and you could cook on the stove.

    Look around and take it seriously. Can you “shelter in place” for 10 days? Having some supplies buys you TIME to get over the shock of whatever it is, calm down and get rational again. Believe me, you are less prepared than you think.