Chapter Three – Sorry, We’re Out
The spreadsheet that Gwen refers to is the result of something that started small, began to grow, then became an organizational project. It was an organic development. Shortly after the pandemic lockdowns several consumer products became difficult to find. Mom and pop stores along with the big box stores and everyone between had trouble keeping shelves full.
First it was toilet paper, which Kirk discovered when visiting the grocer for drinking water.
The Gage’s have two each 3-gallon refillable bottles for drinking water that are consumed a couple of times per month. The jugs are primarily used to make coffee each morning. A water filling kiosk is located at the back of the local store.
While wheeling the 3-gallon jugs to the back of the store one day, Kirk couldn’t help but notice that the toilet paper isle was nearly empty. As the first bottle was being filled with water, he visited the toilet paper isle. The entire isle held a meager three 24 packs of on brand of toilet paper. Kirk grabbed one 24 pack and quickly took a picture of the nearly empty shelves, then both the TP and Kirk returned to the water filling station.
He began filling up the second water jug and sent the picture of the near empty TP isle to Gwen in a text message. “Does this virus cause diarrhea? There seems to be a rush on TP. I grabbed one of the last 24 packs in stock. Not sure if we even need any, but what the heck.” Gwen responds by reacting to the text with a quick “ha ha”.
Kirk was uneasy and felt somewhat guilty about grabbing the third to last bundle of TP without even knowing if they needed any. Upon arriving at home Kirk reviewed the TP inventory at home. The couple use about one roll per week and now had a 36 week supply after this purchase. Kirk deemed that this was a reasonable amount of TP inventory and thought nothing more about it.
When the CDC began to recommend frequent hand washing Kirk’s company immediately ordered a large shipment of antiseptic wipe containers to distribute to every employee. Purell dispensers were purchased and placed in every break room, every bathroom and at each entrance. Remembering what happened with toilet paper, Kirk bought eight containers of Lysol wipes and 2 refill sized bottles of hand soap during his next trip to the big box store. Soon after liquid soaps and anti-biotic cleansers like Lysol wipes began to be disappear from store shelves.
Rationing by most retailers of toilet paper, anti-septic wipes and soap soon followed to allow more consumers to have at least some of these essential items. The run on cleansers made sense, it was caused by a combination of the CDC recommendation and the fear that alarmist media coverage of the pandemic instilled into the general public. A fear that turned out to be appropriate.
Like most families of professional healthcare workers, Gwen and Kirk were no strangers to frequent hand washing prior to the pandemic. Precautions against germs, viruses and bacteria has been a daily regimen for years. It is too bad that it took a pandemic for people to take personal hygiene seriously. Early in the relationship, Kirk needed to be reminded to wash frequently, and not to touch his face. Constant on the job washing of hands was hardly new for a healthcare professional like Gwen, but mandatory handwashing was new for Kirk.
As essential workers, the couple continued working while much of the world worked at home or were quarantined or worse were unemployed during the lockdowns due to subsequent massive loss of business activity and productivity. Those who were ‘safer at home’ consumed more while Gwen and Kirk used less hand soap, moisturizers, and antiseptics at home.
His company wrote new cleaning protocols, procedures, and policies for personnel and work centers when the pandemic heated up. Disseminating and training needed to be conducted one on one, which was time consuming but necessary and valuable. As CDC recommendations changed, so did the policies and need to retrain his crews again one on one.
They used less personal cleaning supplies thanks to work, however, that didn’t keep Kirk from noticing that cleaning items were often out of stock. Like toilet paper, he wondered what other items down the road that retailers would need to limit the number of items that could be purchased per cart.
Kirk became a good scout of and scavenger of hard to find items. Every trip to the grocer was as much recon as it was shopping. Noticing which shelves were lean or empty and wondering if it is an item that the household needs ran through his mind while wheeling the cart down each aisle.
Kirk and Gwen usually shared grocery and essential buying duties, but that was before the pandemic hit. Demand for health care workers became as vital as demand for household items. Gwen was working nearly every day of the week. Worse yet, several clinics and hospitals could be short of staff at any given time. Much of her week was spent driving to different facilities as help was needed, leaving little time for anything except working.
Kirk worked more hours in a week, but his hours took place in a 4 day work week, giving him 3 days off per week. He became the best one to take over shopping and sourcing hard to find items.
Soon fresh meats and produce became hit and miss. As the pandemic mushroomed, manufacturing began to feel the results. Employees became infected in droves, and work stoppages were necessary due to quarantine protocols. The meat processing industry was greatly affected by the virus for both availability and price of meat.
Meat processing companies have their workstations set up in close proximity to each other. There could be hundreds of employees working elbow to elbow or shoulder to shoulder. The virus is opportunistic and took full advantage of people who congregated in close proximity to each other. Many facilities would have half or more employees infected at any given time, and operations would shut down for cleaning and even longer waiting for affected employees to be quarantined and to regain health.
Eventually bread became hit and miss. Then beans and grains, and baking goods, some canned veggies and fruits.
For a while, even the water filling stations were taken out of service due to fear of spreading germs at the self-serve kiosk. Packaged gallons of water were wiped out early and stayed empty for months.
A few weeks into the pandemic lockdowns and shortages Gwen addresses Kirk. “Hey baby? I was browsing our YouTube history looking for a yoga session that concentrates on knees when I noticed a video about 10 things needed in a grid down event. Did you watch that?” Kirk answers in the affirmative, which prompts Gwen to ask some clarifying questions. “Why are you watching this? When did you watch it? Is there anything in it that we can use?”
“You were working up in Chippewa that day. I needed to unwind after work, so I poured two fingers of Scotch, sat down on the love seat, and turned on YouTube. This video was in the ‘recently downloaded’ section. It looked interesting so I watched it.” Gwen repeats the clarifying question that he didn’t answer and one more. “Did you learn anything that we need to know? Why didn’t you tell me about this?”
Kirk takes in the questions and responds. “Yes, there are several items that would be an issue if the grid went out. We are missing several items listed on this video. I kept it to myself because it seemed a bit aggressive. To be honest, the thought of what they called a WTSHTF event is alarming, but considering the recent power outages in Texas the topic drew me in.”
The term WTSHTF attracted Gwen’s attention. “First, I rely on you to keep us safe, that’s your strength. So, if you think we are not prepared for a disaster I expect us to talk about it and decide together if it is too aggressive. Second, what the hell is WTSHTF?”
Kirk grins. “Yes baby, we should talk about everything…When The Shit Hits The Fan.” Gwen’s eyes widen. “Excuse me?” Kirk grins again. “That’s what WTSHTF stands for. It is an acronym for…When The Shit Hits The Fan” They both laugh.
The couple come to the agreement that many events could occur that can leave the couple wondering how to exist. The pandemic is just the current issue, so far shortages are just an inconvenience, but it never hurts to be prepared.
There were other disastrous events to consider. Like all of political unrest and many communities enduring destruction from riots. What happens if there is a full economic collapse like a depression? Kirk heard a podcast about the possibility of the electrical grid going down from several possibilities like a solar flare or even a hostile country taking out our grid via an Electro Magnetic Pulse bomb. The possibility of an EMP bomb is one the reasons for the newly formed Space Force.
One thing that they did not think to prepare for was an 8.0 magnitude earthquake in the heart of the United States. The Midwest does get an occasional tremor, but a quake of this magnitude was not fathomable…until now. The couple will soon learn that the ability to adapt is more important than stock piling things.
From that point on, many sources of disaster preparedness were studied. FEMA has a website called www.ready.gov/kit that lists its emergency prep recommendations. There are videos from people that are generalists like the 10 things needed during a grid down event that Kirk watched. There are ‘experts’ that specialize in foods; what foods store well, what foods do not spoil, what foods supply the nutrients needed in smaller quantities. Lists are made of what foods can be eaten as they are or MRE, meals ready to eat.
There are specialists for keeping the property safe, heat sources, survival techniques, self-defense, communication, power, bugging in, bugging out, experts on organizing things needed in an emergency, and experts on emergency medicine and first aid. Gwen handled the leg work for medical and first aid needs.
Basically, if someone has thought about emergency prep, there is an expert and videos to watch about it.
Kirk takes notes and passes along what he thinks is likely to happen realistically and what the couple may need to be ready for. The topic becomes a common point of discussion.
Soon the house begins to fill up with supplies that may not be designed for or be used under normal circumstances. “Gwen? We have prep items scattered around most of the house, especially in the basement. If we ever need to use them, we will need to organize them.”
“What do you have in mind?” Gwen asks with interest.
“I’m thinking that a spreadsheet is needed. Remember the Urban Prepper guy? He has a color code system to organize prepping that is similar to the way that a Project Management Team would use. I will make a SCRUM board with tasks and items needed to organize our prep and assign who will be responsible for each task and item.”
“SCRUM board?” asks Gwen’s eyebrows rising.
“Sorry, the project manager in me kicked in. I watched a YouTube channel called The Urban Prepper, he’s a project manager when he’s not playing a super prepper on YouTube. A SCRUM board has columns identifying needs, assignments, deadlines, and completions. Once per week you and I can meet for a stand-up meeting to review what is done and what will be done the next week.”
Gwen is intrigued. “When will we have our first stand up meeting?”
Grinning Kirk replies. “I will make the SCRUM board next Monday while you are in Chippewa and we will have our first stand up meeting Wednesday morning.”
After several weekends of organizing, categorizing and physical inventory, items were placed into color coded totes and entered into an electronic spreadsheet. Use by dates were entered for all perishable items. Physical copies of several versions of the spreadsheet were printed. One sorted by expiration date, one sorted by category and one sorted by where the items were sourced from.
As perishable items neared expiration, they were either consumed, donated, or discarded and then replaced.
The spreadsheet becomes a working document as new items are added, but the SCRUM board is no longer needed so the project is effectively completed and no longer front of mind…until now.