Many people are acquiring physical gold and silver to provide financial insurance against the risk of losses to paper assets such as stocks, bonds and paper currencies. However, merely owning physical precious metals for possible use in a financial crisis is not all that people need to think about having ready.
In just over the past dozen years, there have been two significant interruptions to everyday life here in Lansing, Mich., where Liberty Coin Service is located. On Aug. 14, 2003, the Great Northeast Blackout of 2003 hit just after 4 p.m. Eastern. The origin of the problem was a computer software problem in a control room of FirstEnergy Corporation in Ohio. This led to power outages reaching north to most of Ontario, east to New York and much of New England, affecting 55 million people.
In this crisis, several areas also lost water pressure when the pumps did not operate. For example, four million customers of the Detroit water system had to boil water for four days. Transportation systems were shut down, gas stations, banks and credit unions closed, cellphone service as generators ran out of fuel or batteries ran down, the Internet and cable television systems largely went down and most businesses were forced to close. Some areas were out of power for up to four days. Lansing was along the edge of the outage. The eastern part of the metro area lost power, but most of the western suburbs kept power throughout.
On the night of Dec. 21-22, 2013, a major ice storm struck the greater Lansing area. Trees were unable to withstand the weight of the ice and fell on power lines and homes across the area. About 40 percent of the customers of the municipal utility lost power for up to 10 days. Across Michigan, about 150,000 homes had no electrical service. Without power, homes could not be heated and water pipes froze. Liberty Coin Service was closed for one day.
While these were both non-financial crises, they demonstrate some of the problems that could occur in a financial crisis. A power outage is perhaps the greatest risk. With no electricity, people would not be able to access their accounts at banks and credit unions, could not use credit or debit cards and could not fill up at gas stations or go to grocery stores or pharmacies.
Owning physical gold or silver will not help manage such emergencies and crises. Therefore, it would be prudent to also acquire other assets and skills. For example, the Red Cross at a minimum recommends that household have an emergency supply of water of one gallon per day per person for a minimum of three days. Similarly, it also recommends a reserve of at least a three-day supply of non-perishable packaged or canned food per person. Beyond that, the Red Cross urges people to carry an emergency stash of cash and required medications. Further, the Red Cross urges that at least one person per household be trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and basic first aid.
You can go to http://www.dcma.mil/Emergency_Resources/files/RedCross_Emergency_Prepardeness_Checklist.pdf for a checklist created by the Red Cross in Denver to prepare for a variety of possible disasters. Among the emergencies that could arise are tornados, flash floods, earthquakes, winter storms, hurricanes, fires and hazardous material spills. Not mentioned in this list are such risks as civil unrest and looting.
One thing not mentioned in the checklist is to get to know and become friends with your neighbors. A group of neighbors working together can accomplish tasks that a single household could not. During the Lansing ice storm in 2013, the utilities and tree service companies could not quickly clear up all of the downed trees and branches. Literally, some roads were blocked from the extensive downed limbs. Neighbors working together were able to clear some streets long before municipal help could come.
While the foregoing may seem to go a bit off on a tangent from precious metals and numismatics, I want to wake up some from the sense that merely owning physical gold and silver is sufficient preparation for a crisis. Plus, the information here is useful to just about everyone. I hope you find this helpful.
Patrick A. Heller was the American Numismatic Association 2012 Harry Forman Numismatic Dealer of the Year Award winner. He is the owner emeritus and communications officer of Liberty Coin Service in Lansing, Mich., and writes “Liberty’s Outlook,” a monthly newsletter on rare coins and precious metals subjects. Past newsletter issues can be viewed at http://www.libertycoinservice.com. Other commentaries are available at Coin Week (http://www.coinweek.com). He also writes a bi-monthly column on collectibles for “The Greater Lansing Business Monthly” (http://www.lansingbusinessmonthly.com/articles/department-columns). His Numismatic Literary Guild award-winning radio show “Things You ‘Know’ That Just Aren’t So, And Important News You Need To Know” can be heard at 8:45 a.m. Wednesday and Friday mornings on 1320-AM WILS in Lansing (which streams live and becomes part of the audio and text archives posted at http://www.1320wils.com).