I live in Orlando. If you’ve been listening to the glamour girls and breathless boys of the curvy couches in the newsrooms of New York, you would think that I live in a Death Zone. A hurricane is coming! A hurricane is coming! Shortages! Mayhem! Break out the plywood. Buy up all the water, bread, and peanut butter within a 500-mile radius. And get the hell out of there!
Well, let me tell you what it’s really like. Yes, the shelves were pretty bare on Wednesday, a full week before the hurricane is supposed to make landfall. (Some have said that preparing for a hurricane is like waiting to be attacked by a turtle.) For one evening, bread was gone, water was gone, and batteries were gone from many stores. But that was the first day of the hype. “Hurry! Hurry! You need seven days of water per person in order to survive the devastation! Get it all before someone else does!”
So how did I prepare? Well, yesterday I went to the beach. (Hurricane warnings make for perfect beach conditions: blue skies, warm water, strong waves, and nearly empty shorelines.) Meanwhile, my daughter took my grandson to Universal Studios (light breeze and five-minute wait lines.)
Today I went shopping. As I expected, based on last year’s hurricane preparations, pallets of bottled water encircled the entire perimeter of my local Publix. An employee stood at the front door, prepared to load a couple of cases into each customer’s cart so the heavy water would be conveniently located at the bottom while the customer continued shopping. So thoughtful! (It was also a gentle reminder that two cases would be plenty—no need to hoard.) The bread shelves were full as well, and stockers were busily replenishing other staples. There will be additional deliveries tomorrow and every day until the storm hits. There is simply no reason to panic about running out of food and water, despite Wednesday’s initially empty shelves.
Home Depot is doing the same thing with plywood, batteries, generators, and flashlights, bringing in more supplies daily. Instead of raising prices to reduce demand, as store managers did in years past, they are planning ahead to satisfy rising demand with rising supply. We don’t need to get into a fight over who saw that last sheet of plywood first—there will be a whole pallet of plywood unloaded from the delivery truck any minute.
How is this possible? As demand quadruples with every frantic news report, why aren’t we experiencing severe shortages?
It’s simple: Business people are smart. They can read a weather report, review previous sales trends, anticipate demand, and adjust supply. Trucking companies can respond in advance too, diverting transportation where it is needed now, not where it might have been scheduled to go a few weeks ago. And because hurricanes move so slowly, business people have a couple of weeks to adjust their orders, assign overtime duties to stockers and checkers, and reassure their customers that the doors will be open and the shelves stocked throughout the run-up to the storm. And they’ll be open for business again just as quickly as they can after the storm. We aren’t going to starve. I promise you. Maybe I’ll have egg on my face when this storm finally hits and I don’t have electricity, but at least I’ll know where to buy those eggs.
Meanwhile, FEMA and the National Guard are on their way to Florida. They might be needed, if damage is severe. Also on their way are hordes of weather reporters, seeking out the highest water, the windiest corner, and the dangliest signs to show us just how desperate we are in Florida. (Remember last year’s phony photos of reporters hunkered down in raincoats and boots while residents strolled by in the background wearing t-shirts, shorts and flip-flops?)
Some folks may experience severe damage and loss, especially those who live near the coast, and I feel compassion for them. They’ll need emergency help (and should receive it from their insurance companies). But for most of us, the local Publix and Home Depot have us covered. There’s no need to panic, and no need to break our budgets by purchasing more food than we actually need. And that, my friends, is how capitalism makes life better for everyone.