The lessons of 2020

In 2020, I had the opportunity to put some of my theories about prepping to the test: first, I had covid19, which didn’t kill me by the thinnest of margins, but it took me around six months to recover from lung damage. Then, while I was still in the very early stage of recovery, meaning that I no longer had 39.5°C fever, and the fever would start again if I strained myself at all, the Zagreb earthquake struck, with the epicentre basically under my arse, damaging the condo I’m renting. Then came the corona lockdown, disrupting the economy and the supply chain. Things barely started getting back to normal when the second wave of lockdowns hit, in the late fall and winter, and then the second Earthquake hit Croatia, epicentre 50km from me, much stronger, but less damaging at my location; still, it managed to eject a shovel of concrete and plaster from the walls, just as a way for the 2020 to send us off.

In all of that, we (by which I mean my family and friends) had some utility disruptions, basically the electricity not working for a short while, but it was soon restored. The stores were trashed by the quake, but reopened within days. The lockdown made it more difficult to get supplies, but we could still do it. All in all, the level of disruption to basic services was minor. The disruption to the economy, however, was very hard and it hit some people worse than others.

So, were my precautionary preparations useful? Did I have to tap into my food and water supplies? It’s a complicated question to answer, because physically, no, we didn’t use them, but psychologically, it helped a lot to know that if the stores don’t reopen quickly, we can survive on our food supply for weeks. It would be a boring diet, sure, but we would not be pressured to go looking for food in a potentially dangerous environment, and this isolated us from the sense of panic that was widespread. The most useful thing to have, in terms of disaster preparedness, was money. The fact that I had cash and gold that I could tap into, and trivially go and rent a house, even if the prices were unreasonably high, in case our place was rendered uninhabitable, was a great thing, and the fact that I had a solution at hand at any time, in case I decided to actually go for it, made it possible for me to stay completely calm and approach the situation strategically.

As a result, I had the opportunity to both confirm and revise my assumptions from before. The main revision is that, in a common disaster scenario, having money is the single most important thing. Sure, having some food and water handy that you can eat and drink during the first day of being hit, by either an earthquake or a flood or what not, is very important, but if you don’t have money, your supplies will be quickly exhausted and you will be left with your home potentially uninhabitable, in some tent or a trailer, depending on welfare. However, if you have money, you are several phone calls away from fixing your situation; move to a hotel initially, then find something to rent or buy, move there. Within a few days, problem solved. In order to be able to react quickly, having a stash of local currency is essential, because you will need to pay for transportation, workers, and a place to stay. You need money in order to get out of a bad situation, and you need to have layered access. You need some cash, then you need to have something in the bank, and then you need to have more in a deeper layer, of lesser liquidity but still accessible as soon as you liquidate the investment. Here I mean crypto, stocks, bonds, and of course precious metals. Having a few 1oz gold coins in my pocket and knowing each can buy me more than a month of rent, or serve as a deposit, was a really useful thing, in a sense that I knew I had the option, but now I had to think things through instead of being rushed. The problem with gold coins is that your local coin dealer can be wiped out by the same disaster that wiped you out, and this will make it difficult for you to convert metal into more immediately useful forms of money, with which you can actually buy food and lodgings. This is why you absolutely must have enough cash to be able to pay for the most immediate things in the first couple of days. The banks might work, or they might not. The ATM machines might work, or they might not. You need to have all the options covered. Yes, I know it’s tempting to buy new and fancy gadgets and clothes and what not now, when things are fine, but when shit starts hitting the fan, you will wish you had that money in an envelope at home, so that you can put it in your backpack when you have to evacuate into your car because your house is either collapsing or is on fire or is flooded, and you have nowhere to go. The money buys you a place to go. It removes you from the X, and gives you the option to help others that are likewise affected, perhaps more so than yourself – and that’s actually a very likely scenario, because you are more likely to be a rescuer than a victim. Have money in reserve. Have layered reserves – cash, gold and silver coins, money in the bank, money in some offshore account accessible via debit card, investments you can liquidate if need be. Being poor puts you at the greatest possible risk in any disaster scenario, because it removes all the illusions of things being relatively fine because you have a place to sleep, even if you’re poor, and leaves you with nothing, and with few options. If you’re sick or old, being poor combined with a disaster scenario makes you the most likely person to die in said scenario. Having just enough funds to remove you from the X immediately following the disaster, is the single most important form of disaster preparedness.

Having a good flashlight, a good backpack, a battery pack to charge your phone, a good water bottle, a fire starting kit, a knife, blanket and some dry clothes, that’s all fine and you should have a backpack with all those things somewhere, if you need to evacuate immediately, but the most important thing to put in that backpack just before you leave your home is a wad of cash, a tube of gold bullion, a credit/debit card to access your bank account, your ID and your mobile phone. Then, as you sit in your car or at a bench in a park, you can use your phone to find a new place – not necessarily in the same town, if the whole town is a disaster zone – yes, you have the money – and then you can hire a truck to move your things before they are damaged by the elements, to either your new home or to a warehouse you can also hire, as a temporary measure. Don’t waste too much money on “prepping gear” now; if it comes to surviving in the woods by making traps for small animals, you’re fucked, so focus on the things that give you the greatest number of options in the most likely scenarios – and that’s an emergency backpack with the essentials for the first couple of hours, and money, as much as possible, strategically layered in various forms of liquidity. Also, when you start tapping into that money, you need to realize that the clock started ticking and you need to recover your earning ability, because any fixed amount of money can and will eventually be exhausted, and having it just postpones being fucked. Sure, you want to postpone it, but you also want to immediately start working on making more money, so that you replenish what you spent. You need to have plans, and your plans need to have backups, and those backups need to have friends. Also, you need to be ready to ask for help – in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, if you have friends who can help you evacuate your family and things from the disaster zone, that can be the most important thing, even more important than money in the first moments; however, after the first few hours, money starts asserting itself as a crucial asset, and if you don’t have it, you’re fucked. If you have it, the disaster might only actually last those first few hours, or a day.

So, that’s basically what emerged as the most important in the aftermath of 2020. You need to create options for yourself, in form of a store of money you can immediately tap into if you need to pull yourself and your family from a situation that potentially renders you all homeless. Also, I simply assume that you have a car, and you can use it as your temporary headquarters to which you will move the most important stuff that you managed to rescue from your destroyed home. If you don’t have a car, you’re limited to what you can carry in a single backpack, and that’s a super shitty situation to be in. Sure, be prepared for that and have the most important things in that backpack, and mobility is not as important as money, but it’s a close second. A car can carry multiple people and lots of stuff. It extends your options; essentially, it’s an option-multiplier. Also, it can provide heat during winter, and that can literally save your life if you’re sick or elderly. If I had to evacuate from my condo, barely recovered from covid, with slight fever and destroyed lungs, and tried to carry significant weight in that weakened condition, in freezing cold, and I didn’t have a car that can keep me warm and evacuate me to a safe place, I’d be fucked. Those are the lessons I learned; they are few, but they really cut through all the nonsense.