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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

How precautionary buying could create larger challenges in a disaster

After stores have sold out of necessities like toilet paper, paper towels, masks, cleaning products, and hand sanitizer, retailers across the United States are implementing purchasing limits on certain items as governmental leaders urge citizens to pace their buying habits during the COVID-19 pandemic.

José Holguín-Veras, an endowed professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and director of the Center for Infrastructure, Transportation, and the Environment, has studied this type of precautionary buying that happens before and after a disaster.

These purchases are a natural human reaction to concern over potential shortages, but Holguín-Veras says they can also be problematic.

After the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami disasters in Japan in 2011, Holguín-Veras found that demand for goods doubled. Following Superstorm Sandy, he learned that this type of demand removed critical supplies from the local area, delaying response as products had to come from further away.

Holguín-Veras is available to speak about how this logistical stress can affect the overall disaster response, as well as initiatives that could lessen that impact including: agreements with key private-sector vendors to ensure critical supplies, campaigns to educate the public, and rationing and demand-management policies.




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