Trading Posts of the New Frontier, by TCG

We have all heard the stories of the panicked rush on grocery stores by the unprepared masses at the onset of an emergency. Within a matter of a few hours even a so-called superstore can be picked clean of all worthwhile supplies. We all accept this as an inevitability when the SHTF, and this is why we prepare. Many may not know, however, that even after the shelves at the local store are bare there are still more resources that I believe will become available after TEOTWAWKI.

As soon as I was old enough to work I started bagging groceries at the local family-owned grocery store where my father worked. That store had a stock room with almost as much floor space as the front of the store, including a large walk-in cooler and freezer. The stock room and cold storage areas were always filled to the brim. We only got a delivery truck once or twice a week, and the truck generally had to travel a great distance from its origin to get to us. Several years later, the owners of that grocery store sold it to a larger chain. The new owners promptly closed the store for major remodeling. When we returned to work several months later, we employees were amazed by the changes that had been made. The floor space in the front of the store had been greatly expanded at the expense of the stock rooms. Now the back of the store consisted of a narrow hallway with only enough room for a few pallets of promotional or sale items and the cold storage areas had been greatly reduced as well. We soon found out that instead of one or two trucks a week, we received multiple trucks a day. The pallets that were unloaded were staged in the back hallway and almost immediately taken to the front to be stocked on the shelves. Gone were the days of checking in the back room for a customer request, because there was literally nothing in the back room! In the past, at the onset of one of the major winter storms that are common to the area, our store had plenty of products to sell to the panicked and unprepared for days, maybe even a week. Now, anything useful was gone in a few hours from the shelves with nowhere to resupply from. When the storm would hit, sometimes the store would be closed for days because the trucks could not safely make the trip to bring more food and supplies.

In the present, I work at a job in the transportation and logistics field that I have been at for almost a decade. One of the customers we service is the very same grocery chain that so drastically overhauled my hometown “mom and pop” grocer so many years before. Unfortunately, the trend towards the dependence of constant resupply versus stored, back-room stock that I first experienced at a young age is now the industry standard. Every large grocer, supercenter, retail outlet, and big box hardware chain store depend on multiple daily deliveries in order to keep the shelves stocked and the doors open. The trucks no longer travel cross country to grocery stores with their products, delivering once or twice a week. They come locally from massive centralized distribution centers (DCs) delivering multiple times a day. Working in my current career made me realize just how fragile this system of “just in time” delivery is. Any SHTF situation, from the highly likely scenario (such as inclement weather or a natural disaster) to more devastating events (such as an EMP or Marshall law), can and will disrupt the delivery cycle we have all come to depend upon. When the excrement hits the air conditioning, the store shelves will empty quickly without daily resupply and panic will ensue.

This short history lesson on my working life and supply chain tutorial may be insightful to some, but what does this have to do with preparedness and survival? The answer is the aforementioned DCs. These DCs have become the nation’s stockroom, each providing product support to hundreds of stores. Through my current career, I have been fortunate enough to be allowed to tour some of these DCs and have been blown away by many of them. The vast amount of provisions from canned goods, perishables, toiletries, and building supplies all housed under one roof would exceed any prepper’s wildest dreams.

When the SHTF, I am by no means advocating anyone run out and start looting their local Piggly Wiggly distribution center. I am also not advocating relying on the availability of any product, good, or service after the grid goes down. I believe that when things finally go south, the situation will initially be pretty terrible. Food will run out, water will stop flowing, and people will start dying. The people who have prepared will survive during this time off of their stored provisions, their self sufficiency, and their knowledge and skills. We would all like to be totally self sufficient, but not all of us are as prepared as we would like to be, for various reasons. When we are forced to live off our provisions, even the totally prepared will realize there are things they overlooked in their preparations. Finally, some supplies are simply not renewable. Eventually the terrible times will pass and the survivors will look toward rebuilding. At this time, I foresee the DCs as the new trading posts of America, akin to the ones of frontier days.

No doubt after the dust settles, panicked buying and thieves will have cleaned out the most obvious places containing supplies. But I believe many distribution centers will remain intact. Many DCs are located away from major population centers due to zoning laws and the need for a lot of real estate to facilitate large buildings and both semi truck and railroad access. Another way DCs will stay secure is anonymity. Many DCs have ambiguous names and signage that do not obviously state to the casual onlooker what the buildings contain. Most DCs are neutral colors and windowless, blending in like the gray man of the architectural world. Everyone knows where their local grocery or hardware stores are located, but not many can tell you where the distribution centers for those stores are at. By nature of the millions of dollars of inventory they contain, many DCs are very secure buildings that are not easily accessed by unauthorized people. Most have multiple sets of steel doors that must be opened before entering the warehouse proper. Many are surrounded by tall fences topped with razor wire. Some even have natural or geographical obstacles that make them inaccessible to even the most determined thief. During a hurricane several years ago, a DC my company services went so far as to block entrances with semi trailers to deter looting in case the area was devastated. Even though most DCs house product intended for stores owned by national chains, many distribution centers themselves are locally owned and operated. If widespread panic broke out, it would be safe to assume that many of the local owners of these well-stocked DCs would be present to protect their property and livelihood. This owner protection further insures the survival of many DCs and availability of assets for rebuilding after TEOTWAWKI.

I am fortunate enough to know where many distribution centers are located due to my career. Without working in the logistics industry, most would not possess this knowledge off hand or would have incomplete knowledge of distribution centers in their area. Even after almost ten years in logistics I am still often surprised to find new DCs in my area that I didn’t even know existed. There are many ways to find DCs in your area, with one of the simplest being to pay attention to the semi trucks. Where are the long haul sleeper trucks delivering to and where are the short haul daycab trucks picking up at? Keep track of the company names on the trucks you see. If you see a lot of the same company, it could mean there is a DC in your area. Also, listen to the CB radio on the trucker channels. Besides the often colorful and humorous stories you will hear, many truck drivers will talk to each other about where they are going, where they have been, and what they are hauling. If you suspect you have found a DC location, scan the channels on your CB during their business hours. Many still use a base station within the facility to call trucks in and out of the doors and to talk to local drivers. I have learned a lot over the years by listening to CB chatter. There are also several online resources that can be used in order to locate DCs and determine what they warehouse. MacRAE’s Bluebook is free and has listings of industrial warehouses and manufacturers across the country. Other websites like Manta and Cortera have many businesses listed in their directories and provide basic information for free, while more detailed descriptions are available via subscription. One of my favorites is Leonard’s Guide. It has a pretty good warehouse directory for free that is searchable by geographical location. Listings describe what the facility specializes in and provide direct links to contact information for most warehouses and DCs. Leonard’s Guide has a more extensive directory available online for a fee. They also publish this directory annually, and while comprehensive and useful, it is a little pricey and may be outside of most people’s budget. For a more affordable print directory, National Provisioner magazine usually puts out an annual Plant Operations Issue. While not as complete as the print version of Leonard’s Guide, it would be better than nothing when the world has to do without the Internet and electricity.

Watching the trucks in your area, listening to the CB, and searching online will probably provide you with information on many DCs you might have never known existed. Once you have this information compiled, it is time to go through it and extract what will be useful to you. There are a few places that should be avoided after the SHTF. The first and foremost are cold storages and freezers. While most cold storages and freezers have engine rooms with large backup generators, they are totally reliant on grid power to maintain the frigid temperatures inside for any duration of time. After a week, at best, the generators would run out of fuel and anything inside would begin to rot. The amount of disease from bacteria and vermin from a place like this would facilitate giving it a wide berth. The only possible exception to this rule would be one of the few natural cold storages located in several places around the nation. These cold storages are underground in the space left behind from limestone quarries. They can naturally maintain temperatures as low as 60 degrees Fahrenheit and use up to 70 percent less electricity to cool down to cold storage and freezer levels. While unlikely that they could be maintained for any significant amount of time, it is possible they could be powered by renewable sources of energy. Another place that might initially seem promising would be manufacturers. However, as retailers shed their stock rooms, manufacturers did away with warehousing area. Many manufacturers my company deals with literally load right off of the line into trucks that leave straight for a DC when full. They have so little storage space that if a truck doesn’t show up on time it can present a major problem as there is nowhere to go with the product produced. There are many types of DCs that are valuable to know and are quite common across the nation. The most abundant of these are dry grocery DCs. These are a must to know about as they generally have a wide mix of products including food, water, toiletries, and household products. Another common DC houses the products of building supply stores. These contain many valuable building supplies and tools that would be useful for rebuilding society. Beverage supply DCs are also good to know. While these may be looted initially by criminals looking for the alcohol many of them warehouse, most have vast stores of bottled water that could be left untouched. Further research in your specific location will reveal less common places that may hold items of value when the lights go out for good.

After going through and locating the distributions centers of value in your area, it is time to organize the information you have extracted. The maps I keep in my bug out bag (BOB), with my stored supplies, and at my emergency bug out location all are marked with the locations of the DCs in my area. Along with that, I keep laminated index cards bearing information specific to each DC/location (such as what they warehouse, who the owners and managers are, contact information, and what the building looks like.) It would also be a good idea to try to drive by these locations and take a quick picture to include with your laminated index cards. These facilities are often non-descript, and it may be a loved one that is not familiar with the facility using the information you gathered. It is also a good idea to keep track of DCs that are near your bug out location and along the route to it.

So the house of cards comes crashing down, but you are prepared. You get you and yours to somewhere safe. You have the supplies, the knowledge, and the skills to stay fed, warm, healthy, and secure. From a distance you watch the world burn. When the fire goes out it is up to you to help the world rebuild. And maybe by now you have a few less beans, bullets, and band-aids than you did before. The six nearly identical superstores in your old town are nothing now but hollow, burnt-out shells. You can faintly make out the shape of the Home Depot you used to frequent in the pile of rubble that takes its place now. Even the convenience stores have been picked clean. This is when the knowledge of the near-by DCs comes in handy. All of the junk silver you acquired, the case of bourbon you set aside, the now desirable skill sets you have learned can be bartered for supplies you now know you need, supplies you have run out of, and supplies to start rebuilding. These DCs will be one of the cornerstones providing the survivors of TEOTWAWKI the necessary tools and supplies to not only continue to survive, but to start to thrive again.