Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Chapter Three

When the Chapman’s reach a comfortable level of nine months worth of food and supplies, the flu virus that they've been most concerned about for over two years begins to look like its about to make the leap from difficult transmission, high CFR to easier transmission and unknown CFR. It is changing from a low-probability/high-impact event to a high-probability/unknown-impact event.

Unlike in previous months where most infections were single individuals or the rare and small, genetically related family clusters, the current infections are becoming much more numerous and the clusters contain people that have no blood relation to one another. Mostly these clusters continue to appear in countries that have been hotspots of large animal die-offs attributed to this influenza virus; however, isolated human infections are beginning to appear in countries that have not experienced any mass animal die-offs. Even in military regime countries that previously only allowed very limited information on their animal die-offs and human infections to reach the outside world, the information can no longer be hidden and is slowly making it into western media stories.

While the bureaucratic powers-that-be still wimble around whether the clusters are human-to-human or the worse human-to-human-to-human (H2H2H) infection cycle, Scott and Sissy look at their supplies and realize that they are still not where they wanted to be by now. This really worries them. Sissy maintains a good inventory of all they have; but, on comparing the inventory numbers with the actual stock, they see there are particular areas where items have been used without being replaced. There is also an overall deficit because they weren’t able to reach their next goal level of twelve months of preps. While that wouldn’t have been as much of a problem last month, this month it really causes them a lot of concern. This month, given the information they have before them that they’ve gleaned from influenza and pandemic discussion forums, they decide to put their last minute emergency plans into action. They’ve been putting this off, hoping they would never have to, but it looks like a pandemic situation is fast becoming a reality they are going to have to deal with. Taking money that the family has set aside for "rainy days" they plan their strategy.

First, using their inventory as a guide, they fill back in the gaps that were created by not replacing what was used, especially all of their favorite ethnic foods and ingredients and those specialty items sold by small, local companies that might succumb to the economics of a pandemic.

Next, they look over their "must have" and "want" lists and finish purchasing as many of these items as possible. One item on this list is a lot of extra water filters. They order as many of these purchases as they can by C.O.D. just in case delivery is held up; they’d rather pay a couple of dollars extra than run the risk of being charged for something they never receive.

Taking the remainder of their lists, they divide them up so that Scott and Sissy can utilize their remaining time and resources as wisely as possible. They really stock up in the paper goods area – such items as toilet paper, napkins, paper towels, diaper wipes, feminine hygiene products, paper plates, disposable drinking cups and cutlery, ziploc bags, facial tissues, etc. They enlarge their bottled water inventory and also purchase canned juices, which have much shorter shelf-lives than their other prep inventory items. Any thing that is drinkable, with a decent shelf-life and on sale, is fair game including soda pop, juice boxes, canned soy milk products, flavored waters and the new vitamin waters, Gatorade, Power-Ade, energy drinks, etc. They also pick up a few "adult beverages" for things like cooking, toddies, and possibly for bartering if things get really bad. The hundred proof stuff can double as a disinfectant if need be. They even pick up several cases of beer to use as leavening in bread.

They buy several cases of bleach and stock up on several seasons’ worth of pool supplies for disinfection purposes. At night when she can’t do anything else, Sissy starts taking some of her bulk staple items and begins turning them into homemade mixes and convenience items using recipes and directions she has been experimenting with as substitutes for name brand items. These she stores in airtight jars and containers.

Lastly, but certainly not least, Sissy buys a lot more fresh meats and produce than she normally does and increases the time she spends on her own food preservation tasks ... home-canned meats, dehydrated fruits and veggies, home-canned soups, other home-canned convenience items, you name it. Every time she finishes preserving all the fresh items, she refills the refrigerator and freezer. She plans to continue doing this as long as she can, or until the money runs out. She isn’t sure which will happen first.

Their shopping runs take them to places like their local warehouse club, several area grocery stores, some small specialty shops, a couple of local pawn shops, and a large building supply warehouse. They visit numerous family discount stores emptying whole sections of shelves as they take the last few of several items as they try and get the best price they can find for specific items.

On one such day Sissy picks up her cell phone to find her oldest daughter Rose on the other end.

"Hey honey, did you think of something you needed after all?"

"No, but a WD commercial was just on the radio talking about some three days-only BOGO sale they are having. You got mad because Bekah cut up all your grocery store flyers to make paper mache yesterday. I didn't know if you knew about today's sale."

"Oh man, thanks sugar! No, I didn't know about the big BOGOs going on today. If your dad calls looking for me, tell him I decided to hit WD and Publix today after all and that he could knock Dollar General off his list for tonight because I already stopped there and I got the last two cases of sliced beef and gravy that they would have for the rest of the week."

"Dad already called and he wanted me to tell you that he got some kind of great deal on some stuff at the Big Lots over there at the corner of Gunn and Casey. Said you would never believe it."

"What was it?"

"No clue. Dad had to get off the phone because the electrician he had been waiting on was trying to call in."

"Oh. You sure you and James haven't thought of anything you need? What about for the girls and Johnnie?"

"Mom! I can barely walk in my room as it is. Well, if you go by the book store can you check and see if the next book in that series we're reading is out yet? And the shade in my room broke again but I hate to bother Dad about it. It won't go up and down anymore. And one of Sarah's flip flops broke. James says he can't find the Super Glue. And Bekah and Johnnie ate nearly a whole box of Cheez-Its before we caught them."

"Argh!!! Hang on, let me get my list. Now tell me all that again ..."

On the weekends they hit every flea market and farmer’s market within a thirty-mile radius of their home bagging several great deals on fruit and vegetables that are getting past their prime. During the week, Sissy is up before first light so she can get the best deals at the Produce Station, which is where many area grocery stores and restaurants get their fresh foods. Nearly every other day she comes home with a van loaded down with more cases of fruits and vegetables than they could realistically eat in a couple of weeks time. Scott places several large meat orders at one of the local Hispanic mercados that a former tenant manages. Large orders like this aren’t unusual in the Hispanic community, as there is always a party of some type going on somewhere. While he’s there, Scott also orders a lot of Chorizo and a few cases of some of his favorite ethnic foods from the little Tienda next door. He also stops in at a little Asian market down the street to see what they have that might be worth picking up. It is likely to be small places like this that are the first economic casualties of a pandemic.

Sissy runs herself ragged trying to preserve all of the extra produce and meats. One bit of luck though is that Scott thought to have the meats cut into easily preserved pieces and this saves a lot of time. Another bit of luck is when Sissy was going passed a estate sale and picked up nearly 20 cases of quart canning jars for less than a fifth of what she would have had to pay for them in the store because she was willing to take the whole batch at once. Twenty cents on the dollar is a major savings. The boiling water canner, the pressure canner, and her dehydrator never stop production except when she collapses at the end of the day. Even then, the dehydrator will sometimes run all night and the crock-pot perks away making things like fruit butters and soups to be processed in canning jars first thing in the morning. Its not just money and time that will determine how much of this she will be able to accomplish. When she runs out of jars, rings, and seals that will be the end of it as well.

Scott’s primary task has been to go over every one of the rental properties and buy all of the supplies that he feels he could possibly need, or afford, to keep their business running. Pipes and plumbing supplies; drywalling materials; nails, screws, and bolts in every imaginable size; metal flashing, asphalt shingles and roofing tar; paint and painting equipment – they fill every available space in their large storage shed and it even spills over to their lanai.

Scott and Sissy also do their level best to double their personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately for their peace of mind depending on how you look at it, they must not be the only ones in their area concerned with the additional influenza cases. Masks, gloves, and other pieces of protective equipment are gone from nearly all of the discount locations and they are forced to do their best to stock up from medical supply houses, military surplus stores, and online suppliers. The bulk size bottles of hand sanitizers and hand soaps are also getting hard to come by. Sissy suspects some schools, daycare centers, and business offices are stocking up on the off chance a pandemic really does occur.

While these accelerated preparations are taking place, Scott and Sissy see that the situation with the clusters of H2H and H2H2H cases of flu is not improving. The elevated cases weren’t a spike, but an upward trend. In their opinion, the situation is rapidly deteriorating. They begin telling their children that there are some world-events that may affect how the family socializes over the next few months. The kids have been aware of the situation. Who could miss all of the supplies and hectic buying their parents have been doing? How would it have been possible for them to miss their mother’s frantic pace and the unusual dedication to canning? They had, after all, been warned to keep all of this to themselves and to not discuss it with their friends. When Scott and Sissy sit them down and give them the bad news, the kids are neither surprised, nor particularly happy, to hear it. Their attitude is that they are giving their parents the benefit of the doubt but are reserving final judgement until they see how things will affect them directly. Scott and Sissy have been trying to prepare them, but like many kids, a lot of things aren’t really real for them until they actually experience them. The kids alternate between completely ignoring the situation as much as they can in hopes of making it go away to being obsessed and wanting to know every minute detail.

With so many suspect clusters now being reported overseas, Scott and Sissy decide not to wait on their twenty-four hour last minute prep run. This will really pinch them financially but they feel that they cannot trust that they will truly have time to put this into effect otherwise. They have no way of knowing if they will get the three to five day warning they had been hoping to get by monitoring the flu forums. They want to have all their prepping done before the general public finally takes notice and the stores go truly crazy.

They re-stock a lot of their home office needs, such as toner for their printer, rechargeable batteries, printer paper, pen refills, receipt books, and generally anything that they might need to run their office. They also throw in any supplies that the kids might need for school such as notebook paper, mechanical pencils, regular pencils and mechanical sharpeners, crayons and markers, writing pads, glue, and generally a mish-mash of anything that they can find on sale.

They make sure and top off all of their fuel containers. Good thing they think to do this now. It turns out James finished off one container while doing yardwork and forgot to mention it, and Scott used another to fill some of his equipment for tree trimming when he was clearing limbs from over several of the apartment roofs. Additionally Scott purchases three more twenty-pound propane tanks and make sure the ones they already have are all topped off. They have an extension hose that will allow them to use these tanks with their Coleman stove and lantern if necessary; but Scott decides to also increase their one-pound propane canister supply by nearly half. This purchase raised a few eyebrows and caused some questions. Scott manages to side-stepp the questions by saying they had a family event coming up and most people assumed he meant a large family reunion.

Sissy has used the “family event” answer to cover strange looks and nosey questions in the past. People are just naturally curious she supposes, but their family prefers caution to candor in these situations. There is no sense in advertising their actions and supplies. Where once they were anxious for people to emulate their preparedness actions, it is now so late in the game that it is far safer for people to take as little notice of them as possible.

Scott and Sissy do wonder how people are failing to notice what is going on with the avian influenza cases. Is it because it is still overseas and not in their own backyard? Or are most people simply not in tune with anything outside of their immediate sphere of influence any more? For whatever reason – scientific data review, professional analysis, or plain old intuition – there begins to be a general consensus on the flu forums that events are coming to a head; that the bubbles of activity are turning into a full rolling boil. This has been a long time coming. Even with the evidence before them, some forum members still continue to disbelieve that this is "it." They think events still have room to worsen before a pandemic will actually strike. And while this may be true to a certain extent, you eventually have to decide how "bad" is "bad enough" before you will act.

Scott and Sissy divide up the last of their "want-to-buy” lists and try to use their remaining time and money as wisely as possible. With Scott going one direction and Sissy going another, they manage to finish up their prepping in one long day. They refill both their vehicles with fuel at the end of the day and vow to keep them topped off from here on out. Sissy is in a bit of a funk looking at the mess their house is in. But at the same time it is a good feeling and a relief to know that they are now as prepped as they can be.

“Where on Earth am I going to put all of this stuff? I’ve used up all the obvious storage spaces.” Sissy mumbles under her breath as she stares at all the piles in every corner of the house.

Hearing her Scott says, “I finished reinforcing two of the box springs while you were out. That’ll hold a lot of this stuff. You can put cans in our queen size. That should at least take care of all these loose cans that keep rolling all over the floors.”

“You are absolutely the best. You know that?” Sissy says as she gives Scott a great big hug. “I’ll start doing that as soon as I put these kiwis and strawberries on the dehydrator.”

“Don’t do it by yourself. Get the kids to help. I’m gonna shove all this toilet paper under the girls’ and Johnnie’s bunk beds, then I’ve got to go. I’ve got a clog in the main line over at 15th Avenue. Hopefully it won’t take long, then I’ll be back.”

“Are you taking Carl?” Sissy asked, referring to a guy who had been helping with casual labor at the apartments. “I don’t like the idea of you having to do all that digging by yourself, especially not in this heat.”

“He’s going to meet me there. He just lives down the street. When I get back I promised to take Rose and James to Sound Exchange and if there is time to the bookstore. They want to spend their allowance on music, movies, and books since we’ve gotten them just about everything else. Sarah spent the last of her allowance and the rest of her gift cards when she and Rebekah were out with me last night. Have your spare glasses come in yet?”

Sissy grins and responds, “Good. OK. Great idea. And yes, I picked them up on the way home.”

Scott just laughs and musses her hair before kissing her forehead on his way out of the door. Sissy locks the door, takes a deep breath, and switches back to overdrive and hopes she can get a few more hours of sleep tonight than she has been getting. Not only is she running out of storage space, she is running out of energy.

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