In the story of how the modern world was constructed, Toyota stands out as the mastermind of a monumental advance in industrial efficiency. The Japanese automaker pioneered so-called Just In Time manufacturing, in which parts are delivered to factories right as they are required, minimizing the need to stockpile them.
Over the last half-century, this approach has captivated global business in industries far beyond autos. From fashion to food processing to pharmaceuticals, companies have embraced Just In Time to stay nimble, allowing them to adapt to changing market demands, while cutting costs.
But the tumultuous events of the past year have challenged the merits of paring inventories, while reinvigorating concerns that some industries have gone too far, leaving them vulnerable to disruption. As the pandemic has hampered factory operations and sown chaos in global shipping, many economies around the world have been bedeviled by shortages of a vast range of goods — from electronics to lumber to clothing.
In a time of extraordinary upheaval in the global economy, Just In Time is running late.
There's more at the link.
The article is pretty accurate, IMHO. Factories had grown used to running on a minimal stockpile of essential production supplies, relying on regular, reliable deliveries to bring them what they needed when they needed it. Unfortunately, when those deliveries were interrupted due to any one of a number of factors aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the factories could not continue normal production. They had insufficient reserve supplies on which to fall back.
I think all of us can draw an important lesson from this. How would - how will - our own emergency plans survive a sudden, unforeseen interruption in supplies? Many so-called "preppers" speak glibly of having so many months' or years' food supplies put away, just in case; but how many of them have checked their stockpiles against reality? They might have mountains of rice and beans, but be short on essential medical supplies (painkillers, laxatives, diarrhea medication and so on).
To take just one example in detail: if I have allergies, do I have a stockpile of anti-allergy medication, OTC and/or prescription, sufficient to tide me over if there's suddenly no more available in the shops? That's actually a critical item, and should be very high on everyone's emergency supply list. If we aren't used to living outdoors, where exposure to allergens is much higher, and we suddenly have no air-conditioning (because the power's out), and are forced to open windows to ventilate our homes, all those allergens will come flooding in. If we have to "bug out" to another part of the country, with local allergens to which we haven't built up any tolerance, it's going to be even worse. We should have at least several weeks' worth of such medications in stock, if not several months' worth - enough for every member of the family, including low-dose versions for children if necessary.
How many of our normal, day-to-day needs might be seriously affected if routine supplies are interrupted? I'm not just talking about food, but many other things. For example:
- Routine maintenance of our motor vehicles. Do we have enough oil, filters, small consumable parts, and tools to service our vehicles ourselves if necessary, or have a more mechanically minded neighbor or friend service them? Do we have the necessary instructions or maintenance manuals? Do we have even a small emergency reserve of fuel, so that if supplies to our local gas stations are interrupted, we have a tankful or two to tide us over, or get to a safer part of the country if necessary?
- Light bulbs, and alternate sources of lighting. If we can't buy them, we're stuck with what we've got. I try to keep at least one spare bulb in reserve for every 3-4 in the house, plus emergency lighting that I can bring into play during prolonged power outages.
- Prescription medication. I have a minimum of 90 days' reserve supply of every single prescription medication my wife and I take, and I'm working towards getting that up to 180 days across the board. For a couple of critical items (i.e. without them, I'm going to die!), I have a year's supply in reserve. I also have a small reserve of potentially critical antibiotics, in case of a real emergency.
- Ammunition. I'm not expecting to fight World War 3, but if society is severely disrupted by a crisis, who knows what looting and/or anarchy might break out? I have enough ammunition in storage to see my wife and myself through any likely need, and to keep in practice during times like the present, when regular supplies aren't available and/or affordable.
Because they didn't foresee, expect or prepare for disruptions in supply or their labor force, many factories - in some areas, all of them - had to close their doors during the COVID-19 crisis. Let's take a lesson from that, and make sure we're not making the same mistake.
One more thing. During a crisis, you'll hear many accusations of hoarding directed against those who are prepared to look after their own needs. This is a lie, but it's a very common and very persuasive lie. You should expect the authorities to try to confiscate any "excess" or "hoarded" stocks they can find, in order to satisfy the needs of the mob and provide public relations pictures of how they're "doing something". They may even mount door-to-door searches for such stocks, in defiance of constitutional and legal norms, justifying them in terms of the current emergency. (This has been a common element in several emergencies to which I was exposed.) If you try to resist, you'll probably be arrested.
That's why it's important to keep your reserves as unobtrusive as possible, in plain containers that won't attract envy or suspicion. If possible, store some in a secondary location, so that if one is found and "looted" (officially or otherwise), you still have the other on which to fall back. Also, don't talk about your reserves to other people you don't know well, or aren't sure you can trust. If you do, word about them is sure to get out during an emergency. People will come knocking on your door, demanding that you share with them. If you don't (and you shouldn't, except for those who have a legitimate claim on you for support), you're going to attract anger, resentment, and possibly violent attempts to take what you have. That's not a good place to be.