What Can We Learn from Japan?

Last night, I watched an update on the devastation in Japan on 60 Minutes:

The first half of the video covers the nuclear situation. The second half documents what happened when the tsunami hit a small school with 200 children. Heartbreaking.

It’s incredibly sad and certainly drives home many lessons. The most important lesson is that life is short. We rarely have any control over how long we’ll be here and it’s best to cherish each day we have and the people in our lives. There is no guarantee that you or I will be here next year. This also applies to the people we love. Things tend to happen quickly and life can change in an instant.

The second valuable lesson we might extract is that we should prepare for the possible loss of electricity, gasoline, water and food. At around 12 minutes in the 60 Minutes video, they report the following:

  • 1,000,000 people had no power
  • 2,000,000 had no water
  • 3,000 people were waiting in line for a grocery store to open
  • There are food shortages
  • The line to get gasoline stretched 1/2 mile

We tend to take each of these items for granted. The reason why is because most of us have never been without water or food for any extended period of time. There has never been a day in my life that I haven’t had access to clean drinking water. Simply turn on the kitchen faucet and bingo –  instant clean water.

What happens if this were to change quickly?

As a little case study, pretend a natural disaster impacts your area and the supply of water to your home disappears. Would you be prepared? I would have to think that the supply of bottled water in grocery stores would sell out very quickly (which is what happened in Japan), because everyone would be fighting to get water or their families. We can live without food for a pretty long time, but were in serious trouble within just a few days without water.

Financial planners teach that it’s critically important to maintain an “Emergency Savings Account.” The purpose of this account is to protect from the sudden loss of income and from large unexpected expenses. These experts recommend that we save enough money to cover 3 to 6 months of our living expenses. It’s very good advice!

Wouldn’t it also make sense to build a 3 to 6 month supply of food and water, too?

Consider the following by Lee Bellinger, who wrote the Ultimate Self-Reliance Mega Manual

“Let me stress: This is a U.S. company, which serves U.S. customers. It shows you why panic shortages appear instantly in advance of hurricanes and other emergencies, almost every time. You need to be aware that our society’s energy, food, and essential goods supply chains are fragile, deeply interconnected, and vulnerable to panics.

If even a small fraction of the population of an average city takes to the roadways at the same time, you have an instant parking lot. You should also be aware that the food on the shelves at your local grocery store has only about a 72-hour supply pipeline. Which means that, like the roadways, it only takes a slightly elevated number of people going into stores to hoard to create instant shortages. And once the shortages become evident, the black marketers come out in force to exploit unprepared people who get caught flat-footed. The panic mushrooms.

Even our own government lamely recommends that you keep enough supplies in your house to get by for at least a week. But it is, quite frankly, nuts to have no options for food, water, and other essentials – other than going down to the store to pick something up in a pinch.”

Please understand that I’m not all doom and gloom, but what happened in Japan definitely provides the opportunity to learn and prepare. Mel Brooks once said…

Hope for the Best, But Prepare for the Worst

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