March 16, 2011
Empty Store Shelves As Japanese Hoard

You know all that advice you hear about stocking up before a disaster? Events in Japan demonstrate the wisdom of advanced preparation. Even in Tokyo Japanese shoppers are cleaning out grocery stores by buying everything.

People in the capital, home to 12 million, snapped up radios, torches, candles, fuel containers and sleeping bags, while for the fourth day there was a run on bread, canned goods, instant noodles, bottled water and other foodstuffs at supermarkets.

This is highly advanced, affluent, and civilized Japan. People in Tokyo fear a full reactor meltdown followed by winds blowing radioactivity into the city. They want to have supplies if the stores stop getting deliveries.

Think where you live makes you immune to, say, nuclear reactor failures triggered by tsunamis? Okay, but that doesn't take you off the hook. The 1970s oil crisis triggered panic buying in Japan.

Retailers said the panic buying was reminiscent of the oil crisis in the 1970s.

So imagine what a revolution in the Persian Gulf would do for your supply of gasoline and food when your neighbors start panic buying. Sound far fetched? Sure. North Africa isn't going to be convulsed by revolutions and civil wars either. Oh wait.

Even emergency supplies available to be sent to the disaster area aren't getting thru due to lack of fuel and damaged roads. Therefore Sendai is short of food, fuel, and water.

The panic buying isn't restricted to Japan. In the United States a run on potassium iodide pills has suppliers running out of pills. Don't wait till the radioactive fall-out threat becomes imminent before trying to get some iodine. Though if you live near an ocean you could go and get some kelp to eat.

In the comments of another recent post SkippyTony of Christchurch New Zealand discussed what he found useful for survival when Christchurch was recently struck by a strong earthquake. Sounds like he discovered too late that he needed to bolt his wine rack to the wall. All you people living within a few hundred miles of the New Madrid fault should take note. He also has a sobering set of Christchurch before and after photos.

One thing to note about supplies: You'll die of thirst weeks or months sooner than you'll die of starvation. So stock up on water if an earthquake or other failure can cut off your water supply for days. If you can lose water for longer then think about means for filtering and purifying dirty water.

If you lose power for an extended period of time and have no way to cook frozen or refrigerated food without utility power then you lose out on a way to prepare perishable food before it goes bad. A big water supply and a camping stove with fuel seem like useful things to stock. Though if you have wood and a suitable place to burn it you could get your cooking heat that way.

Imagine your government some day giving this advice:

“Please do not go outside. Please stay indoors,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano urged the public. “Please close windows and make your homes airtight. Don’t turn on ventilators. Please hang your laundry indoors.”

With a tightly sealed home what do you do for oxygen as it gets depleted and the CO2 builds up? A HEPA air purifier purchased in advance would work - at least as long as you have electric power. Want to go all survivalist? Get photovoltaic panels on your roof so you can use the electric power to run outside air thru HEPA filters during the day to get fresh filtered air.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 March 16 11:00 PM  Disaster Survival

LarryD said at March 17, 2011 6:36 AM:

HEPA filters do not scrub CO2 from that air, nor add oxygen. They're for removing particulates (dust, mold spores, pollen, etc). If it's fallout you're worried about, yeah, that would be removed, but the filters do have to be replaced periodically. Gases like radon and xenon wouldn't be filtered, though.

Short of buying a submarine or space rated system, I'd look into an algae based system, which would address both oxygen and CO2.

N ick G said at March 17, 2011 4:12 PM:

All you people living within a few hundred miles of the New Madrid fault should take note.

I heard a discussion of that yesterday on NPR. A geologist said that while San Andreas is moving, and accumulating energy that must be released reasonably soon, that wasn't the case for the New Madrid fault - it basically isn't moving at all.

Randall Parker said at March 17, 2011 7:03 PM:


Yes, my point is that with a HEPA filter on an intake vent one could bring in fresh air without bringing in radioactivity. I'll fix the post to make that more clear.

Nick G,

So why did the New Madrid fault let loose in 1811 and 1812? How did it build up the energy?

Sgt. Joe Friday said at March 17, 2011 7:32 PM:

Let's see:

- Any piece of furniture that's taller than it is wide strapped to the wall? Check.
- Earthquake insurance premium paid? Check.
- Emergency supplies (including food, hand crank radio, emergency cash, first aid items, walkie talkies, rope/tape/fastening materials, etc. etc.) packed in waterproof cases? Check.
- Emergency water? Check (30,000 gallons in my swimming pool).
- Propane barbeque with enough gas for two weeks' outdoor cooking? Check.
- U.S. Army Survival Manual? Check.
- Firearms & ammo? Check.

Guess I'm ready for the "Big One."

Kurt said at March 19, 2011 1:06 PM:

Sorry, but the Japanese don't seem to be hoarding that much, and panic is noticeably absent - don't believe everything you read in the press, which as usual is full of sensationalized BS. I'm sitting here in Tokyo, 13 stories above a supermarket that's filled to the brim with most everything you need. The shelves were a little empty for one day, but this was due to a lack of deliveries as much as hoarding (or so I was told by the supermarket staff). Lots of factories and distribution facilities have been down or operating at low capacity due to earthquake damage and power outages. The hoarding was pretty mild- just people stocking up a little more just in case, which is pretty rational. I myself made sure that the refrigerator was full of perishable items - the kids went one whole day without milk. Even though we always have emergency supplies, it's hard to stock up in advance on perishables, so a little more is always desirable if it's available. The only real hoarding shortages are things like rice. toilet paper and batteries - but all of these things you can get in limited quantities if you look around a little. Packaged sliced bread is hard to find because factories are having trouble with timing the bread manufacturing process due to power outages, but you can get bread in local bakeries if you want it. Fresh meat and vegetables are abundant. There are plenty of canned goods. I suppose there are a few idiots out there without a flashlight, but nearly half the population has double digit IQs, even in Japan.

anona said at March 19, 2011 6:55 PM:

@ joe friday: That 30 k gallons of water can become 0 gallons if the quake is strong enough to crack the pool liner. And 'quake earth movement can do a really good job of bailing out the pools' contents.

th said at March 20, 2011 8:12 AM:

Imagine your government saying this also, ...3/11/11, @ 3 am... phone call to hillary clinton on Japan. "They have very high engineering standards, but one of their plants came under a lot of stress with the earthquake and didn't have enough coolant," she said, "and so Air Force planes were able to deliver that."

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