The Next Black Swan Event: Preparing for Fail-Safes to Fail - My Patriot Supply
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The Next Black Swan Event: Preparing for Fail-Safes to Fail

October 27, 2022 0 Comments

What would you do if your fail-safe fails?

Take the recent news story about a celebrity who found himself without a working vehicle,which was trapped in a parking deck for 24 hours after his Tesla’s fail-safes failed.

Actor Glenn Howerton’s Tesla story went viral last week after he explained that “every step of the way throughout this journey, every single thing that could go wrong went wrong.”

The short story is his Tesla vehicle’s key fob broke, and he used his phone as the vehicle key when he went to replace the key fob. However, he parked his vehicle at the bottom of a parking garage, where he did not get internet service. As a result, he was locked out of his vehicle upon returning. Trying to problem solve, he Ubered home and got his card key for the vehicle. But when he returned with the card key, he could unlock the vehicle, but he was unable to start it. He eventually had to get a special tow truck since his Tesla Model X couldn’t even go into tow mode.

The actor shared on his podcast, “Technology completely and totally failed me. And then Tesla Roadside failed me, and then Tesla Vehicle Support failed me. I was on the phone with these people from 9:30 in the morning until six o’clock at night.”

As much as we want to believe we can prepare ourselves to face anything, the simple truth is there will be times when something completely unpredictable happens. Tesla is a huge company with tons of fail-safes in place to prevent things like what happened to Howerton from happening – but it still happened.

Likewise, corporations and manufacturers have entire manuals and divisions dedicated solely to preventing crises and dealing with them when they occur.

However, there are times when something so unpredictable happens that even those who have prepared for crises are crippled. Consider how the COVID-19 pandemic brought the entire supply chain to its knees.

These are often called black swan events. And while we cannot predict them, there are things we can do to prepare for the unforeseen and ensure that if fail-safes fail, we can take care of ourselves and our families. 

Understanding a Black Swan Event

A black swan event is a term coined in the 2007 book, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. It is an unpredictable event that has massive consequences.

Taleb writes, “A black swan is an event that 1) is so rare that even the possibility that it might occur is unknown, 2) has a catastrophic impact when it does occur, and 3) is explained in hindsight as if it were actually predictable.”

When the idea of black swan events was first introduced, the focus was on finances. However, finances are directly tied to human events. Therefore, when a crisis event affects a large number of humans, it has financial consequences.

Black Swan Events in Recent History

While black swan events are unpredictable, it is wise to review black swan events of the past. The more we learn about how black swan events happened and what resulted, the better able we will be to navigate the next one.

  • The Great Depression: The stock market crash of 1929 caused a decline in stock prices and a run on the banks. It ushered the United States into The Great Depression, a period of a severe financial crisis.
  • The Spanish Flu: The Spanish Flu from 1918-1920 is often considered a 100-year flu and a black swan event.
  • 9/11: Taleb, who introduced the black swan event theory, has called 9/11 a perfect example of a black swan event because it was unexpected, had a massive impact on policy, and was difficult to predict.
  • Hurricane Katrina: While hurricanes can be predicted and tracked, the extensive damage and loss of life caused by the failing levees around New Orleans could be seen as a black swan. The size and scope of the destruction were unpredictable.
  • 2008 Great Recession: Also known as the global financial crisis, this severe financial crisis started with the housing market in the United States. It was at one time considered the worst economic meltdown since The Great Depression.
  • Colonial Pipeline Hacking: In 2021, hackers gained access to the networks of the Colonial Pipeline Co. and managed to take down the largest pipeline in the U.S., leading to a gas shortage on the East Coast. The hackers demanded a ransom in cryptocurrency. Service to the pipeline did not resume for almost a month.
  • Texas Power Grid Failure: In 2021, Texas suffered two major disastrous events that resulted in a black swan event: a winter storm and a failing power grid. The February 2021 winter storm resulted in the Texas power grid failing and forced the power companies to implement rolling blackouts.

Predicting Black Swan Events

The reason I started with actor Glenn Howerton’s Tesla story is that it shows how something we rely on can fail us in an instant – especially when it involves technology.

Many experts believe future black swan events will involve technology. Imagine what would happen if the cloud disappeared, the internet stopped working across the globe, or the power grid for an entire section of the country went down.

This one individual couldn’t access his vehicle due to a weird technology blip. What if it was something bigger than this?

Seatrade Maritime News argues, “Who was able to forecast whether President Putin was actually going to invade Ukraine in February this year, even though there had been every evidence that this was his intention? Why did the explosions in the Baltic Sea which damaged the gas pipelines seem such a huge surprise that almost overnight demonstrated a level of vulnerability in the undersea movement of both energy and data? Why did the blockage of the Suez Canal by the monster Evergreen containership cause such a furor, even though the risks had been presumably understood? And why should shipping be any better at its intelligence, when some of the world’s great financial brains failed to anticipate the meltdown in 2008, or indeed the shocks of the present problems?”

The problem with black swan events is that they are unpredictable. If you can predict it, then it’s not a black swan event.

We can imagine or try to predict unforeseen events, but we don’t know exactly how or what will happen in the future.

Protecting yourself before, during, and after a Black Swan Event

Even though we can’t prepare for a specific black swan event, there are some tried and true preparations that will prove helpful no matter what crisis you face.

  1. Cash: We are quickly moving to a cashless society, which would prove dangerous in a crisis. If the power goes down, you won’t be able to access an ATM or use a credit card machine. If financial institutions are hacked, your accounts (aka your money) may be in trouble. That’s why it is always wise to have a cash reserve for emergencies.
  2. Copies of documents: We are becoming reliant on the internet of things, but the convenience of storing vital information electronically or in the cloud puts us at risk in a crisis. Again, hackers can discover this information. If a major natural disaster or war takes place, physical hospital records may be destroyed. Without power, these electronic documents may not be accessible. Keep copies of your most important documents and records in a fire-safe box in your home.
  3. Emergency food: There is no question that black swan events affect supply chains. You may not be able to get the food you need from the grocery store. The store may physically be destroyed, or it may be physically impossible to ship products from one place to another. Given the very real possibility of food shortages and the real necessity of food for survival, it is wise to stock up on long-term emergency food.
  4. Water: As scary as it is, our public water systems may not be safe in a disaster. In fact, they could even be the root of a black swan event, as we’ve already had hackers try to harm citizens by poisoning public water systems. That’s why it is critical to have a water filtration system in your home.
  5. Power sources: Like the Texas winter storm event, we don’t know when we will face an extended power outage, but it is always a possibility. Prepare by stocking up on batteries, candles, flashlights, and solar-powered gear. And, if you have a fireplace or fire pit, make sure to stock up on firewood.

We can’t predict the future, friends, but we can take steps to prepare.

In liberty,

Elizabeth Anderson

Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply

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