Panic Buying Before a Disaster

When the public has and kind of advanced warning of a disaster – such as a hurricane or pandemic disease – people go into a panic buying mode.  Keep this one thing in mind – if you do not have it before the panic buying kicks in, you will not be able to get it.

These images were taken as Hurricane Ike was approaching the Texas coast in September of  2008.

Panic buying before a disaster and empty shelves

The list of items that disappears off the shelf first is rather short, but still long.  It includes canned foods, bottled water, camp stoves and camp stove fuel, bread, flashlights, and other odd and end items.

The image to the left shows the camp stove selection at a local store right before Hurricane Ike made landfall in 2008.  There were only a couple of stoves and just a little fuel left on the shelves.  When this picture was taken, the hurricane was still 2 – 3 days from landfall.  People were buying just about any kind of camp stove, lantern and fuel they could get their hands on.

Itis important to mention that people had buggies loaded down with charcoal for their outdoor grill.  It it cooked, or could be used to cook, people were buying it up.

Flashlights and batteries are another item to sell out rather quickly.  The cheaper the item, the faster it sells out.  This only leaves the more expensive flashlights on the self.


When buying a flashlight, try to pick a LED unit instead of a regular flashlight with a bulb.  Using an LED will extend the battery life of the batteries.

When picking between a 1 or 3 watt LED, what will the flashlight be used for and how much light is really needed?  The higher the wattage, the shorter the battery life.  So if batteries are a factor, then go with something like a 1 watt LED flashlight.

Lanterns that are used for camping are also sold out quickly.  These are the liquid fuel or propane lanterns that are used to light up a camp site.  A lot of people use them in a living room to light up the entire room.  The lanterns get very hot and presents a burn hazard to anyone that touches the top of the lantern and presents a fire hazard if the lantern is knocked over.

Canned goods are another item to disappear off the shelves rather quickly.  I was lucky to get this picture, most of the shelves were cleaned out pretty good.

Panic buying canned foods

The first thing that people buy are what they normally eat.  When those items are sold out, the panic buying really kicks in.  People will snatch up anything that is left on the shelves, even if they do not normally eat it.  So when you go to the grocery store, and how well the shelves are cleaned out can be a reflection of the level of panic.

For some reason, people seem to find comfort in having bread.  And even though it can go bad in a few days, bread is sometimes one of the first items to sell out.  A spam sandwich sure does sound good right now.

Ice chest are another item to sell out. Relief efforts usually include ice. So people will take the cold food out of their freezer and fridge, put it into the ice chest and use the ice provided by the relief efforts to keep the food from spoiling.

Hurricane barricade

To stop looters from breaking into the stores, bails of cardboard will be placed in front of the front doors of the store.  This picture shows the bails in place and ready to be moved in front of the doors a couple of days before Hurricane Ike made landfall.

The owners of some smaller stores will take up arms and defend their property from looters.  Some larger stores will hire people to stay in the building during the hurricane.

In May or 2009, when the news was talking about the “Swine Flu”, stores were selling out of hand sanitizer, hand soap and face mask faster then they could get it in.  Some suppliers reported backlogs that were a month long.