Allen is right on about “arm chair” preppers. Many folks out there only talk the talk, without taking the walk.
Like Allen, I did not marry until my mid-40s also agreeing to live near a small community. The drive to my retreat is 42 miles to a fairly rural farm area when I grew up. My wife supports me wholeheartedly in this effort including participating where she can in learning new skills.
Over the last 8 years, I have been re-learning many of my boyhood skills critical to a rural lifestyle. It is amazing how much a person forgets over 30 years. I had many successes and just as many if not more failures. We are now just at the point where we can grow and preserve much of our food requirements. This is not an easy task!!
Along the way, my wife and daughter learned new skills along with me, including how to properly handle a weapon and became proficient in shooting to the point where it is an enjoyable family event.
I would point out, Allen C. does not take into account individual/public irrationality when disasters happen. While his examples may hold true during normal times, when the shtf all normalcy ceases to exist. Folks will do things without thinking or even any reason. Looting and hoarding will become the norm.
As far as the numbers go, he is missing the point. It really does not matter that 82% of the population or 90% will die within a couple of months/years from results of EMP. The point is that large numbers of people will die creating new problems such as loss of expertise, sanitary issue from unburied corpses, etc… I would think if even 10% of the population did not survive, it would be a major health issue. Bottom line is the people living would not be prepared to handle such a major event without prior planning and preparation. – George B. in Ohio
I would like to bring a correction to Allen C.’s comment about the food supply in grocery stores. Just a couple of months ago my wife left the Northwest division on the largest grocery chain in the United States. She had worked in the food department for 15 years including several years in food department management. When she started her employment the company’s business model was no more than 3 days of food inventory on hand based on sales at that location. The current business model calls for food inventory on hand of 1.5 days based on current store sales. In 2009 near Christmas poor weather prevented the store from receiving deliveries for a few days. Without any kind of crisis or panic the store shelves were empty after less than two days. The store where she worked receives no less than four full 53′ trailers of inventory per day – unless they send more. This does not include product brought in by dozens of outside vendors seven days per week. This store was just one of several grocery stores serving a middle sized town of less than 75,000 people. I urge everyone to do what you can now to stock up on food staples with a long shelf life. When more difficult times come – and they are coming, you do not want to be compelled to make a rush to the store to try and buy what may be left. – Steve J.
Normally I would be happy to let someone rant, get their frustrations off their chest and not feel it is necessary to address errors. But, in the recent article by Allen C. there is a deeply flawed assessment of the grocery store inventory control that I believe needs to be corrected lest readers are led astray.
In basic principle, Mr. C. is correct regarding inventory turnover rates of the average grocery store. Most financial assessments put the turnover rate at around 12, meaning that they keep roughly 1 month of their yearly revenue in inventory. However, what Mr. C. fails to appreciate is the how the numbers break down. Grocery stores don’t manage their inventory as a whole: they manage each product individually based on the just-in-time [inventory control] premise to minimize their capital outlay. What that means is that there is significant financial incentive for the store to keep on hand only enough inventory to get them through to the next delivery. Modern shipping typically averages 3 days from distribution to point of sale, hence grocery stores typically look to maintain roughly 3 days inventory of their high turnover products. Its not 3 days for all products, but 3 days for the highest turnover rate products. What store wants to have excess days of a product when they sell 100 units a day. Are they going to maintain 2,500 units in the store? Of course not.
So how do these two numbers square up? This is due to other business drivers that a store may face. They cannot just maintain stock of commonly used items. To attract customers to their store and provide one-stop shopping they need to inventory and maintain a wide range of rarely purchased items. Even ignoring non-food items (cookware, bags, personal care, etc) one just needs to look at the snack food aisles. How many different brands, flavors, and types of potato chips are kept in inventory? Many of them only sell a couple bags a month. This could lead a store to just have 1 bag of each on the shelf, but this is very poor promotion and the suppliers would not be happy. They want their product to appear to be in demand so, through supply arrangements and deals, a grocery store is incentivized to maintain inventories of these specialty items far and above just-in-time inventory levels. There are well over six months of inventory of many of these specialty products on the store shelves. In fact many stores struggle with getting turnover rates of these items to be shorter than the shelf life and are often faced with disposing of expired goods. This is why they have sales on certain items after all.
Ironically, the in-demand, high use items tend to have the least inventory levels on hand. These are often the items that appeal to the broadest customer base, like the most basic of food items. For instance, busy stores will know exactly how many bags of flour they need to maintain from years of tracking data and experience. It’s the low use items that radically skew the overall inventory numbers. In a situation that disrupts delivery, the shelves of common items will empty in just a couple days even without panic buying. What will be left are the bags of avocado-chili-fireball waffle cut potato chips and organic port-wine whole seed mustard, but even so this may only mean a dozen each for the total store customer base of hundreds or thousands. Even with hundreds of these types of items, it’s not going to feed the populace for very long at all.
I can’t say if 3 days inventory is the best number to use for this type of consideration, but I hope I’ve clarified that it is most definitely not 25 days. Anyone in storm-prone areas of the irrational mid-atlantic has already experienced this during winter storm alerts. Milk, bread, and eggs quickly disappear entirely from the shelves. This isn’t even panic buying. This is just pre-buying for folks who are afraid they won’t be able to get to the store for a few days. Even if there is other food on the shelves I shudder to think of the societal reaction when the milk and bread is gone and the next shipment time is unknown. ‘ Let them eat waffle chips’, isn’t going to go over too well I suspect.
I agree with Mr. C that many bits of accepted knowledge need to be critically assessed and re-assessed as needed, but in this instance his analysis is quite flawed.
Sincerely, – Mike P.
I greatly enjoyed reading the letter forwarded by Allen C. It mirrored many of my own thoughts, mostly not vocalized, that I have had about other “preppers.” I do not like the generalization implied in the word, itself, for it establishes a bias either for or against a whole group of people who seem decidedly different.
It brought to mind the much-repeated phrase among preppers: “like-minded individuals.” Now, having met face-to-face with a number of other people who are concerned about uncertain times and are preparing in one way or another for those eventualities, I found that huge differences exist in the ways of going about this task and the philosophies surrounding it. Thus, to put out an advertisement to join “like-minded individuals” in the “prepper community” is, in my view, about like making the same exhortation to a group of professional football fans on the assumption that they are “like minded,” when all they have done is to root for the same team that we do.
On the subject of paranoia, Allen repeats the oft-used phrase: “I wouldn’t be so paranoid if everyone wasn’t out to get me.” This reminded me of a meeting I had in a public place with a few other local preppers whom I “met” on an online prepper network. These were supposedly like-minded individuals, who, during the course of the meeting appealed to those present to provide their addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses for the purpose of networking, “early warning,” passing the news, etc. Of course, I found this proposal astoundingly foolish, and said so. I was accused of being overly paranoid. Are there degrees of paranoia? Anyway, I refused to provide such information to complete strangers, and chalked down having talked myself into such a meeting of this kind to my own foolishness. There are few enough “like minded individuals” within a tightly knit family, or even in a pretty tight military unit, much less in the population at large. People should dispense with the notion that such a fantasy exists.
Concerning Allen’s frustration with preppers being “know-it-alls,” this statement particularly rang true to me: “Later the same evening suburban grandma is in a user group regurgitating a half digested piece of prepper knowledge she picked up on another web site without ever having to actually fight anyone, kill anything, or spend a week in the woods.”
This brought to mind the image of my teenaged grandson, who, while very bright and seemingly able to absorb any sort of material that he reads, or hears, or sees on TV, has a terrible habit, in my view, of saying “I know….” such-and-such. I have repeatedly reminded him that he does not “know” anything, nor does anyone else, unless he or she has actually done it or experienced it. Reading about, talking about, or listening to others who read about, talk about, or otherwise expound on any subject does not constitute a reason to say to oneself: “I know.” There is only one way to “know,” in my opinion, at least, and that is to know by the experience of doing. One does not know how to fell a tree, slice it up with a chain saw, haul it, split it, and stack it, much less burn it, unless one has done it.
And Allen’s comments further lead me into the frustration I have with preppers who are constantly writing on various blogs a presumption of what “will” happen under certain circumstances, such as a societal collapse. Zombie biker gangs will roam the countryside, stores will be out of food in hours, gasoline will be unattainable, .22 caliber cartridges will be like gold, etc. Some of these events might be likely to happen, of course, but for anyone to say beforehand, and in the absence of any evidence, whatsoever, that they “know” what will happen is ludicrous. No one actually knows what will happen until it happens. Detractors have said “history repeats itself,” so we can take from history that we actually do know what will happen. But we really can’t. We know there is a likelihood of a similar event happening again, human nature being a constant through time, but we still do not know what “will” happen in a given event that takes place in the present times.
In the popular literature, there is only one person whom I can say (because I haven’t read everything, to be sure) actually knows about what it’s like in an economic collapse. He is Fernando Aquirre, who, in his book about the collapse in Argentina (2001-present), relates what he actually saw and did in that country during that collapse. What we have in the American literature on the subject, as entertaining as it is to read, is fictional speculation. Some of it substitutes well for instruction and even education, and reflects what appears to be very good research, but it is still fiction, causing one to caution oneself, once again, the “no one knows for sure what will happen.” Examples of such works that I have read and enjoyed include the novels Patriots (Rawles), Lights Out (Crawford), One Second After (Forstchen), Holding Their Own (Joe Nobody), Apocalypse Law (Grit), Feathers on the Wings of Hate (Grit), Enemies Domestic and Foreign (Bracken trilogy), The Pulse (S. Williams), The Rift (W. Williams), American Apocalypse (Nova), Lucifer’s Hammer, (Niven and Pournelle), Ashfall (Mullen), Molon Labe (B. T. Party), The Old Man and the Wasteland (Cole), World Made by Hand (Kunstler), The Third Revolution (Lewis), Half Past Midnight (Brackett) and Dark Grid (Waldron), among a few others. There are yet many that I haven’t read. Yes, I do love reading these books. But they cannot say, and do not purport to say, what will happen, as do so many whom we see writing on the blogs.
Yet, in spite of our differences, we continue to prepare because it seems wise to do so, even though we are not really sure of anything in the future except more uncertainty. However, I do feel that preparation is more of a lifelong challenge than one that can be accomplished in even a few years. Some people have had a “survivalist” mindset since childhood, and so “prepping” is second nature to them. As Allen (and my father) says, they don’t even call it that. It just seems a way of life, indistinguishable from other often-practiced habits.
Further, Allen’s letter got me to thinking of a Persian proverb, which led me into thinking of the Dunning-Kruger effect.
“He who knows not and knows not that he knows not is a fool – shun him.
He who knows not and knows that he knows not is simple – teach him.
He who knows and knows not that he know is asleep – wake him.
He who knows and knows that he knows is wise – follow him.” – (Persian proverb).
According to studies published in 1999 by Dunning and Kruger, there is a difference between what we know and what we think we know. People are notoriously bad at rating their own competence at a whole variety of tasks.
Dunning and Kruger found that people who were not very good at a subject also tended to lack the skill to rate themselves at that subject. Such people often figured that the limited information they had about the subject was all there was to know, and that they were consequently more knowledgeable than the average. Hence we are skeptical when we read of so many “experts” on so many subjects on so many blogs. Take, for example, the case of a “rifleman” who espouses that it is futile to learn for himself or to teach others how to hit targets at 500 yards, arguing that his 250 yard carbine (e.g. AK/AR) will do all that needs doing. Well, the ignorance extant in such a statement is near to astounding. Assuming that a majority of our foes are not riflemen, but carbine-men, would it not be wise to prepare to hit them outside of the maximum useful (lethal) range of their own weapons? But raising such a point in public (Internet) conversation is akin to banging one’s head repeatedly against a brick wall and asking for a great argument, considering all of the opposing views on that subject. There do seem to be a plethora of people who know not, and know not that they know not. They might retort that I am one of them.
Dunning and Kruger also found that people who really were quite knowledgeable about a subject tended to underestimate their ability, perhaps because they knew enough to be aware of how much more there was to know.
Further, they refer to a “double curse” when interpreting their findings: People fail to grasp their own incompetence, precisely because they are so incompetent. And since, overcoming their incompetence would first require the ability to distinguish competence from incompetence, people get stuck in a vicious cycle.
But one need not be obsessed with Dunning and Kruger. The same effect can be seen in other writings. Perhaps a few preppers will read this before posting their next expert “knowledge” to a web blog.
Charles Darwin: “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”
1 Corinthians 8:2, King James Bible (Cambridge Ed.)
“And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.”
Bertrand Russell: “One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.”.
Regards, – T.D.