How Much Food is Available in an Emergency?

The average food store has about a 3- to 7-day supply of food. If new trucks do not keep coming, it will look empty in three days. More and more businesses are relying on computers to coordinate purchases so they can store even less—a practice known as "Just In Time Delivery." It is interesting to consider these practices in light of the computer disasters that will occur in the I have worked in the Military Airlift Command of the Air Force in which I received my initial training in supply, transportation, storage, and distribution of needed materials. I worked later with Haliburtion Services in materials distribution within the manufacturing center in Duncan. I also worked with International Paper Co. and my last position for 14 years was with the hospital at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. I purchased and maintained the food supplies for the hospital and some non-food supplies. I had been working with the Troop Issue Subsistence Agency (TISA) at Ft. Sill for this 14 year period.

During the 14 years I was a Civil Servant for the Department of the Army, I witnessed the military follow American Industry ideas in cost-saving methods of operation. This included the retirement system of the Civil Service workers and contracting very important Military operations to civilian contractors who can go on strike at an inopportune time.

"Just In Time Delivery" (JITD) as developed by companies to eliminate warehousing of parts and materials, which eliminated maintaining buildings and paying personnel to work there. As demonstrated recently by the strike at GM brake parts manufacturing center, all of GM's manufacturing operations were soon shut down due to no brake parts to assemble cars. In effect, when one smaller operation went on strike, it stopped all the manufacturing because there were not any parts in storage to carry on business while the strike was negotiated. I can see the government doing all it can to save money and reduce spending. But it always seem to come at the expense of jobs of the lower paid personnel in the government.

A good case in point is the "Just In Time Delivery" at Ft. Sill where I had worked. They basically had already contracted out the TISA operations to a civilian contractor (this included all Logistical operations on Ft. Sill). Then they went to JITD and eliminated the need for dry and cold storage warehouses in which to maintain food. The cost saving, if it is totally shut down, is two warehouses and about 8 to 10 personnel and two delivery trucks.

The compromise is that the Post is dependent on a contract food service supplier whose warehouses and shipping point are 100 miles away in Oklahoma City! Food is brought daily to the Post and delivered to the dining facilities. Also, surplus foods that the USDA used to buy to maintain agriculture prices are being eliminated. The US used to have great stores of excess agriculture products. This is no more.

The new MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat) that replaced the C-rations of old do not have as long a shelf life. Also the MRE is kept refrigerated, if possible, to help extend the self life. It also has many dehydrated food items in it and is water intensive to prepare and use. The Army spent more money maintaining water supplies to the troops in Desert Storm than the food.

You cannot stock a large amount of supplies with a short shelf life. The supplies must be rotated so that the older ones can be used first. The older must be used up on time. Also, MRE's are very expensive, so the Army does not stock very many MRE's at any one time at a Post. They schedule the use and consumption to field operations and troop movements in and out of the Post of the Reserve and National Guard components. So, in effect, they order and disperse very similar to the way they do the regular food items on the Post.

When I worked in the hospital, I used to maintain a 30 day supply of food there most of the time. We were a bomb and fallout shelter with contingency plans to feed and shelter a large group of people in emergency. But my 30 day supply was for 30 days of normal operations. It was good for about a week to ten days if we had a large group being sheltered in an emergency.

I had resisted the "Just In Time Delivery" system because it did not provide for the emergency contingency plan. Also, many times, my excess food items carried our operations through long spells of items being out of stock at the Post warehouse.

Even with a warehouse on the Post and storage facilities at the hospital, there were times that it seemed that the TISA office could not come up with every day food items (like french fries, or butter, or sugar) for 4 to 6 days at a time. So this has caused me to seriously consider the merit of the JITD system. Any disruption in the supply system (which is trucks running up and down the highway delivering each day) will cause serious problems in all aspects of our daily lives. Even the average grocery store is now operating on JITD system and will not have more than three days food on hand.

I hope this helps readers to understand the possible problems that can come if all these computers that all our businesses are using go haywire. All the paper work such as manifests, bills of lading, orders, receipts, supply levels, shelf life of items, maintenance records, personnel records, accounting, etc. are on the computers that could go down on 1 January 2000.

The military will have a hard enough time feeding itself during an extended disaster. Do not expect them to help feed you in a disaster. It is much better if you are prepared to help yourself—then you also have a chance of helping others.

—Raymond Kaping

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