What if the things we need aren’t there when we need them?


The past few weeks have shown us (as if we needed to be shown yet again) how fragile our “normality” is, in economic and supply terms.  Consider these headlines from just the past couple of weeks:

I could go on with more examples, but those suffice to show that our supply chain from raw material production, to shipper, to manufacturer, to assembler, to distributor, to retail outlet, is under very heavy stress.  There’s no sign of the situation easing, either, because new shocks – like the Suez Canal closure, resolved only yesterday – keep adding to the burden.

Basically, the one word that describes our supply lines is “fragile”.  There are too many points at which they can be interrupted, and many of those points are, or have been recently, under siege.  All too often they’ve been interrupted, with dire consequences for those affected.  (Witness the effect of February’s blizzard in Texas on the world’s supply of computer chips for vehicles, and on production of key chemicals and certain types of plastic.  None of those areas have yet returned to full production, and downstream consumers – particularly factories and production plants – are hurting.)

Yesterday Bill Blain noted:

On Sunday I spoke with one of my old racing yacht crew who is now doing extremely well in Global Shipping. I asked if there was anything we were not being told, or what the real story of the ship blocking the Suez was. He was cagey but told me… “If you need Garden Furniture, buy it today” … The key-thing is what happened on the Suez demonstrates is just how easy it would be to block the bottlenecks of global trade. Everything from consumer tat to chips would be stressed.

. . .

Western Economies are dependent on long exterior global supply chains to fuel demand for more and more consumer goods. We’ve become comfortable to click and deliver being satisfied from China. Stuck in lockdown we’ve heard disembodied voices warning of economic catastrophe, but we’ve been cocooned from the economic reality, relying on governments assurances they can prop up the Covid ravaged economy with subsidy and furloughs. Destabilise our supply lines, and the threat is a run on everything – potentially making last year’s pandemic panic look tame.

. . .

Western society has never been this unstable, polarised and disunited … The economy of the West [has] bought into the promises of technological change and addressing the environment … But the reality is economies have become increasingly bureaucratic, stultified by regulation, and held back by political gridlock and polarisation. Infrastructure is old and tired. Key skills and capacities have been lost.

Let me present a tiny example – speciality steels. Without speciality steels for the fine work of tech, the economy will ultimately wither and die. We are now entirely beholden to external steel. The UK government put plans to restore mining the key element of steel in the UK on hold. Without metallurgical coal – you can’t make steel. Fact. The UK prefers its steel to be made in China with Australian met. coal so it can say it’s tough on cutting carbon. The facts are simple – make the steel here, less carbon miles and more high quality jobs. Or…

But, the risks are not just in terms of physical supply chains. The digital economy is even more important and potentially even less protected. We’ve largely remained unaware of just how vulnerable we are … The degree of interconnectedness in the global economy is extraordinary … Increasingly companies realize it’s not a matter of understanding their own vulnerability, but the vulnerability of all their suppliers, and hence, the whole digital supply chain.

There’s more at the link.

Add to that the economic mismanagement being exhibited by the Biden administration, with the Federal Reserve printing money like there’s no tomorrow to fund its grandiloquent schemes, and we can see all the signs of real economic trouble brewing.  Short-term “bubbles” such as the increase in house prices, the stock market rally, etc. are merely Band-Aids covering the worsening wounds caused by many other factors.  We discussed some of them recently.  They haven’t gone away – in fact, many are getting worse by the day.

What this means is that we need to improve our preparedness to face shortages in supply as a normal thing.  They may be local or regional rather than national, but some will affect the whole country.  What’s more, they’re very likely to be more regular occurrences than they have been in the past.  Some will affect imported supplies more than US-made goods, but since many of our raw materials, consumer appliances, vehicles and their parts, etc. come from overseas, that’s cold comfort.  (For example, have you any idea where most refrigerators, freezers, washing machines, etc., and/or their critical components and spare parts for them, are manufactured?  Yes, that’s right – China.  Have you noticed how the pressure on international shipping from that country to others has impacted the supply – and the price – of such appliances?  There’s a smaller selection of them in many stores, and they’re often more expensive than last year.  Go check for yourself.  While you’re at it, look at the prices of car parts, auto batteries, tires, etc. – most of them imported, of course.  Talk about sticker shock!  Note, too, that on a more strategic level, four-fifths of the rare earth elements used in this country are imported from China.  Among other things, we couldn’t defend ourselves without them.)

Politics aside (and there’s plenty to worry about on that front), more and more Americans are waking up to the fact that our economic and social situation is far from stable.  There are too many things going wrong at once, and too many threats to the status quo, to be complacent.  A few weeks ago, I quoted Frank and Fern’s thoughts on the matter.

This is where we are. If you aren’t in a situation, location, state of mind where you can provide for your NEEDS, not wants, when the system implodes or declines to the point of not supplying the basics for everyday life, then please work diligently with all of your might to get that way. Sometimes the decline of a system is rapid, sometimes it’s slow and you can see it coming more clearly and make the needed adjustments. Everyone we talk to, everyone, normal everyday people that up to now didn’t have a care in the world, shopped everyday for dinner and went about their lives, KNOWS something is very not right. It’s in the air, in our bones, invading our thoughts and feelings. The world is not right. Something is coming.

Be as ready as you can. It’s important. It’s beyond important. It’s beyond words important.

Go read the whole thing.  I agree with them.

So, what practical steps can we take to prepare for shortages, particularly those of unknown duration?  I can’t speak for anyone else, but here are some of the things that Miss D. and I are doing.  Our budget is very limited, but by selling things we don’t need, we can partly compensate for that.

  • I recently sold a rifle, and invested the proceeds in a second freezer and a larger generator, one capable of running both our freezers and our refrigerator at the same time, as well as a few lights and other domestic needs.  I’ll keep both in our garage, complete with a professionally installed pipe to carry the generator exhaust outside.  If we suffer an extended power outage, as happened to much of Texas a few weeks ago, we should be able to save our frozen foods, and run lights and a heater if need be.
  • I’ll be selling another rifle very soon now, to invest the proceeds in meat and some other emergency foodstuffs to bolster our supplies.  Given the increasing price of meat, it makes sense to buy food of a known quality from a local supplier and freeze it, rather than have to rely on an uncertain supply at fluctuating prices.  By shopping around, we can get premium quality meat at a discount to most supermarket prices.
  • Since our new generator will use more fuel than our present small unit (which I’ll retain as a backup), I’ll expand our gasoline storage.  My aim is to have enough to run our generator off-and-on for up to two weeks.  (Of course, I’ll store the fuel outside our home, because of the fire risk.)
  • We already have enough food in reserve to last for up to three months without resupply.  It’ll be a bit monotonous (rice and beans may be nutritious, yet eating them day in and day out can be more than enough of a good thing!), but it’ll do in a pinch.  I’m now going to consider what I can do to provide more variety (herbs and spices for flavoring, condiments that can add flavor and make food more interesting, and so on) and also increase our supply of key foods that won’t deteriorate in long-term storage.  We don’t have that much storage space, but if necessary I’m willing to rent a small climate-controlled storage unit to house the overflow.  If an emergency arises, I can move its contents into our garage at short notice with just one or two trips.
  • We’ve already secured a 90-day reserve supply of all of our regular prescription medications.  I’m going to see about stretching that to 180 days.  That won’t be cheap, but if necessary, I’ll sell another item or two to pay for them.  Given the proportion of medications and their raw materials that come from overseas, that may be a very important precaution indeed.
  • Automotive parts and consumables aren’t cheap, but they’re very vulnerable to supply interruptions.  If your car’s battery goes flat, or your tires wear out, you’d better be able to get replacements – or you won’t be going anywhere!  I’m giving thought to buying a set of tires now, even though we won’t need them for a year or two, and doing the same with a spare battery.  I already keep enough (synthetic) oil and filters on hand for two oil changes.  I’ll look into other critical parts (e.g. drive belts, spark plugs, air filters, etc.).  I’m no mechanic, but at least I’ll be able to take the car to a mechanic, hand him the parts, and ask him to fix whatever needs it.

I can already hear some readers objecting, “But we can’t afford them!  All those things will cost a lot of money!”  Yes, they will . . . but how much will it cost if you don’t have them, or can’t get them, when you need them?  That’s the really important question.  I’m trying to do my best to prepare for what I see as a parlous supply situation in future.  I have little confidence that we’ll be able to buy everything we need at will, as we’ve grown accustomed to in the past.

What about you, readers?  Are any of you preparing in the same way?  Please let us know what you’re doing in Comments, so we can all learn from each other.



  1. Recently found a very good seasoning blend, Bolners' taco seasoning, balanced, not too hot, and a little goes a long way. About $20 / pound on Amazon (yes, I know, but …) 🙂

  2. Heh. Rice and beans. You can vary the flavor by using different beans, varying the spices, and adding some ham or other meat. If you're boiling dry beans, then adding some dehydrated meat is a very doable thing, same with dehydrated vegetables. If using canned and just warming the beans up, then fresh or Virginia style ham or other meats will work. (I generally nuke a can of beans for 12-15 minutes, when the can usually says 2-3 or so. It makes the beans taste better, mingles the flavor more, and makes the bean liquor come out much better. OF course, I also put water into the can and rinse out the stuff in the bottom and add that to the beans, usually 1/5th or 1/4th of a can's worth of water.)

    Trust me, monotony isn't nearly as bad as not eating. Been there, done that. Used to live off of Cornbread and Beans for 4 days, then 2 days of Chili made from the beans, then splurge off of chili-dogs on the last day. Did get tiring after a year or so, with only sporadic other meals. But it was cheap as all get out.

    The key to monotonous meals is being a good cook. It's so much easier to eat the same old thing when it tastes good (and you can vary the flavor a tad by self-seasoning each serving) rather than having to eat flavorless gruel or badly tasting something.

    And… if you can raise chickens, do so. The price of eggs has doubled to tripled in the last 3 weeks.

  3. Consider getting a dual fuel generator that can run on propane. Home Depot has them. Gasoline gets stale in storage, even with Sta-bil additive, and then the generator won't start when you need it. Propane lasts forever. I'm replacing my gasoline generator and getting a 500 gallon propane tank installed. Our power was off for seven days in February.

  4. Put in a garden, if you have the space, or get some planters. Even a few fresh veggies goes a long way to making the "boring" food much better.

  5. A point to consider.
    Take a look in your medicine chest. Is there anything in their that would seriously suck to be without?
    I realize that life saving medicines such as insulin or thyroid meds are essential, but have you thought about athlete's foot, or a yeast infection?
    You know, medical stuff you need occasionally. If you needed it, but couldn't get it, life would really suck.
    Such meds are not generally expensive, and will store for long periods of time.
    Also, hygiene products including soaps, shampoos, toothpaste and brushes, tampons/pads and other modern essentials we seldom think of.
    You don't want to be paying through the nose for black market toothpaste from Tijuana.

  6. Here is a rundown on what did or didn't work during the big freeze in Texas. Our power was off for seven days and the water was off for six days. Ice brought down the power lines, it was not a rolling blackout.
    Power: none – generator had stale gas and not enough storage for seven days. Gas station closed when power went off. Getting a propane powered generator and a big tank.
    Water: Had 2 "blue barrels" and 6 five gallon containers full on my enclosed porch. Water was stored for 17 years and was still good due to Aerobic Stabilized Oxygen that had been added. Backup was melted ice and snow.
    Heat: Mr. Heater 30,000 BTU propane "blue flame" space heater. Kept 1800 sq. ft. house at about 50 degrees. I bought two more, with six 40 lb. propane bottles.
    Frozen pipes: Not a problem due to PEX plumbing, not PVC, and also the propane space heater helped. PVC drain traps froze, but didn't bust.
    Freezers: Did not open freezer doors. Lost items on top shelf of upright freezer, lost nothing in chest freezer.
    Refrigerator: Used ice chests with ice and snow or bottles of water left outside overnight to freeze. Kept milk fresh.
    Cooking: Propane camp stove failed due to dry rotted o-rings and hose in storage. Backup was alcohol burning back-pack stove. Good for heating soup and coffee.
    Light: Flashlights with lots of AA batteries.
    Other: Cash on hand – helped get propane bottles refilled
    Windshield scrapers sealed in trunk by ice, used plastic putty knife and spray bottle of alcohol with water for windshield.

  7. Separately, I found this to be the best gardening method after trying 3 other methods. It’s best described as “solid state hydroponics” and was designed to be used in crappy soil or no soil at all. It’s good for those with no experience—just follow the directions in the book.

    Of note it does rely on a fertilizer mix. They give the recipe in the book, and it’s easy to stock up. A couple of bags of the 16-16-16 mix will last for several years. Using fertilizers is “cheating”, so to speak, but it buys you time to figure out how to grow things without artificial fertilizers. Better alive and not quite organic than the alternative.

    Recommend getting the book and a couple of bags of the micronutrient mix. The rest of the ingredients are easy to find.


  8. https://www.surewatertanks.com/

    When I last looked, this company had the best price per gallon stored of any of the water tanks out there. The 260 gallon was the one I bought, and they also have a 500 gallon for sale. Used to live in Temple, Tx, and lack of water there would be very hard to remedy. Further south you could probably do some form of rainwater collection into large plastic trash cans and get by.

    I then scored one of the Sawyer 0.02 filters and a Berkey for filtration. And if worst comes to worst, a pack of pool shock pellets.

  9. You can expand your food stores by finding a local (or not so local) LDS food storage center. If you pick it up directly, it will be the cheapest price around. And no, you do not have to be Mormon to shop there. They do request a call prior to arrival, just to make sure they can be there when you are. Also, supplies are limited due to the huge run on such things due to COVID, so it’s probably smart to call first anyway.


  10. There is a book called “Handbook to Practical Disaster Preparedness for the Family” by Arthur T. Bradley. The primary utility of the book is to point out that any disaster results in a loss of certain things, and preparedness is a function of having backups to those things. If it’s a winter freeze or a zombie hoard, the underlying needs don’t change (although some would naturally rise to the forefront, depending on the situation.)

    He lists: food, water, shelter, light, electrical power, heating/cooling, air, sleep, hygiene/sanitation, medical/first aid, communication, financial preparedness, transportation, protection.

    I’m hard pressed to think of an emergency situation that would not be covered if I had decent preps in these categories.

    Of course one could quibble about the categories. I, for one, would add “community”. For me it was useful to make sure that I don’t get too focused on one thing and forget the other stuff.


  11. I shoved a couple big things of spices into each emergency food bin last time I recycled my supplies, so if the SHTF I'll have paprika, hot sauce, beef bullion, don't remember what eleDoesn't matter so long as you can add flavor.

    I could use a bigger generator but mostly I could use one of those boxes for plugging the generator into the house. I like the idea of an exhaust. My garage is about 50 feet from the house but I hate the idea that my generator would sit out on the back porch for anyone to steal.

    I'd think dehydrated meat would be better than frozen.

    Car batteries aren't going to last that long on a shelf, even with a tender so plan on buying new ones every couple years or so. Or perhaps wet batteries with the acid not added. Belts is a good thing to keep with you anyway. Tires? Probably can find tires, at the very least an abandoned vehicle in the worst case scenario.

  12. I've been on this road since the 90s, when I was doing Y2K remediation and got a good look at just how fragile our modern technological civilization is. A lot of people pooh-pooh that, but if a lot of people hadn't put in a lot of hours and spent a lot of money fixing things that should have never needed fixing in the first place, Jan. 1, 2000 would have been a very different party.

    All the things you're doing are good, but I'd lighten up on the vehicle stuff, unless you can store a lot of gas. You'll run out of gas long before you need to change the oil. Put that money in other things, like even more food and medical supplies. They're like ammo-no such thing as too much.

    Bear in mind where you live. I don't know if you're urban, suburban or exurban, but if things get bad, you don't want to stand out. Generators are great for a short term need, but even quiet ones are noisy in a power outage. After that, solar is quiet, and if you're fortunate enough that the back of your house faces south (ours does; I wonder how that happened), it's not visible from the street. Maintain light discipline at night.

    Build a network of the like-minded where you live. Draw your circle tighter as things get worse.

    You can call this The Fourth Turning, or The Long Emergency or whatever. I'm just thinking of it as the Decline and Fall of Western Civilization. Never believed I be living through it, but it is what it is.

  13. Hey Grouch, MD I'm about 30 miles east of Temple, TX. I got a couple black Norwesco 2500 gallon tanks and a 1500 gallon tank for rainwater collection from Tractor Supply. They were full during the big freeze, and they did not get frozen, due to the mass of the water in them. That was my backup to the backup.

  14. I've been buying gravy packets every store trip. I don't normally eat gravy, especially not from packets, mainly for health reasons, but I buy and store the packets.

    They are a great way to vary the flavor of rice or pasta. I've got buckets of rice, buckets of pasta, buckets of salt and flour, gallons of oil, and a couple shoe boxes of gravy mixes.

    Of course I've got other things too, but when it comes to adding flavor to bulk food storage, I don't think you can beat the gravy packets. And, I've started adding a gravy now and then to normal meals, like pork roast that was a bit too lean and cooked a bit too long, or instant mashed potatoes, or even biscuits. It rotates the stored items and helps acclimate my family to the gravy.

    FWIW, I store almost no dried beans. All of my beans are in cans. It takes a (relatively) lot of water, cooking fuel, and time to cook beans from dry, and in a disaster you don't have unlimited amounts of any of those things. During the Texas cold snap we ate mostly canned foods as sides to economize on effort and cooking fuel. And it was nice to be able to take some of our neighbors a single burner stove, a couple of cans of red beans and rice, and a Mr Buddy heater so I knew they wouldn't starve or freeze. The beans and rice is in our monthly food rotation anyway-add some sausage and you have a filling meal for the family that only needs to be heated up and could be eaten cold if needed.


    (I didn't get my big gennie started until the second day. I had to drain the gas to get the water out, and clean the carb, even though I had serviced it only a few months earlier for hurricane season. The little honda inverter met our needs the first night.)

  15. Gas goes bad, do a propane or small diesel genset instead.

    If you must use gas as a fuel, find a small airport and buy blue (100 low lead) gas. Expensive, yes…but it doesn't go bad and can be mixed with ol pump gas to "rejuvenate) the pump gas.

    If you REALLY want to store gas, do so in metal drums with tightly fitting bungs. THis will prevent the lihghter fractions from evaporating, leaving the heavy ends that clog carbs. (or fill 'em with avgas).
    Store them, of course, in well ventilated shelter.
    Make sure you have sufficient oil and filters for the genset as well.

    But think about propane or diesel, seriously.

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