On Feb. 3, a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, igniting a fire that covered the town in smoke. The incident has since turned into a political football and spectacle — one that continues to generate headline after headline in the media.
If there’s one thing you should take away from this, it’s the idea that you can’t rely on anyone to save you. It’s in your best interest to be prepared, whether for train derailments, statewide power outages, or any other disaster — man-made or otherwise.
In today’s show, Dylan talks about the recent Ohio train derailment, tips for emergency preparedness, and how you can apply those same tips to get your financial house in order.
- [02:22] The recent East Palestine, Ohio train derailment explained
- [06:10] The role that regulations play in protecting consumers and communities
- [12:06] Key takeaways from the Ohio train derailment
- [13:40] Why you’re ultimately the only person you can rely on
- [15:15] The importance of having a plan and what that entails
- [18:03] Why being organized is key to being prepared
- [22:18] Why you should periodically review and adjust your preparedness plans
- [23:59] How you can apply the elements of preparedness to your financial life
[00:00:00] Intro: Forget the civilized path. It’s time to break the chains of debt and dependency, take control of our financial lives, and live free. This is the Fiscally Savage Podcast.
[00:00:16] Dylan Bain: Hello and welcome to Fiscally Savage. I’m your host, Dylan Bain and Happy Friday everybody. If you’re new here, on Fridays, we try to take something in the news and go a few steps deeper. And today, ladies and gentlemen, I wanna talk to you about what’s happening in East Palestine, Ohio. So, unless you live under a rock, you probably are aware that a train has derailed in East Palestine, Ohio that was operated by Norfolk Southern rail lines. Now, one of the things that I think is really interesting in watching this on the news is there’s a lot of discussion. I mean, I think whenever something like this happens, if you are into getting your news through alternative news sources, they will take something that’s in the mainstream media and then tell you it’s not in the mainstream media. I first heard about this story through Reddit because I love Reddit and I see a lot of stuff there and it was like literally about 15 minutes later before it popped up on my other news feeds and that’s one of the ways that I keep track of what’s going on in the world is that I aggregate news so that I can do things like this show. And reading about this train derailment, again like so many other things, falls under the category of Dylan reads things so you don’t have to. See, with a big train derailment, it’s kind of a disaster. And it has become this absolute media circus around this, mostly because the media has an agenda, which is to make money and nothing sells like fear and outrage. And this train derailment is feeding into so many different political narratives right now and getting a hold of something that resembles really good information has been really hard. And so, what I’ve done is I’ve just decided that I’m going to take all of the news that I possibly can and all of the government reports that I possibly can and all of the not-government reports that I possibly can and try to distill down what happened here. And so, what I’m gonna start off doing is that I want to present to you kind of like the lay of the land and this train derailment and then, I wanna talk about what it would mean for you as an individual person.
[00:02:22] So, there’s a lot of information and misinformation and de-information out there about this. But what we do know is that on February 3rd, 2023, a train carrying several cars, of which 10 of those cars contained hazardous materials, derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. Now, 10 of those cars, in addition to other things, carried a chemical called vinyl chlorine. The thing to know about vinyl chlorine, and if you know anything about plumbing, you know that PVC pipe or polyvinyl chlorine is a common building material. Well, to manufacture that, you need the precursor element, which is vinyl chloride, which is a gas. So, this train was carrying a gas but for transportation, both for economics and the ease of transportation, the gas is compressed down into a liquid. So, when the train derailed, you now have cars that have gas in liquid format under intense pressures. Oh, yeah. And it’s also flammable, which is why Ohio Governor DeWine ordered a controlled burn of the vinyl chlorine from these cars because if he didn’t, there could have been an explosion, which would’ve been a much bigger problem than this already has become. And one of the things that was quick to be pointed out by a lot of different people is that trains carrying hazardous materials were mandated to have a special type of breaks on them that would reduce the number of derailments. That regulation was passed under the Obama administration but then repealed under Trump.
[00:03:55] Another thing that’s come up a lot is that the EPA has deemed the air around East Palestine safe. And if you’ve seen any of the pictures, it literally looks like a mushroom cloud in the middle of East Palestine. And when I look at this and I see this cloud of toxic chemicals that is just black and ugly that’s billowing into the sky, it’s hard for me to believe that the air is safe to breathe and I will be the first one to tell you: I don’t wanna be anywhere near it. One of the things I thought when I saw this picture was, my God! This is worse than the Three Mile Island nuclear accident. And it turns out I was totally right because if you know anything about your history, you know that the EPA or the Environmental Protection Agency was put in place in order to regulate environmental contaminants around our cities and communities. And it’s constantly a political football. Republicans always say that it’s doing too much and it’s stifling business and Democrats say that it’s not doing enough. And context here matters because the reason the EPA said the air around East Palestine was safe is because they only rate things within acceptable levels. And it turns out that the acceptable levels of vinyl chlorine smoke going into the air, which actually, you know, when it burns, it turns into other things, is, you know, the air is in fact within those acceptable levels but that was because they set those levels very high so as to not damage business. But Three Mile Island, which is a nuclear power plant that had to vent radioactive hydrogen into the atmosphere, that was considered to be an absolute disaster because it was outside acceptable levels for a nuclear power plant. And if you actually go and look at Three Mile Island and look at that incident, the amount of radiation released that day was about one-sixth the amount of radiation you get from an X-ray. And I bring this up only because the context matters. It can be completely truthful for the EPA to say, well, it’s safe because it’s within acceptable levels. But if what we set the acceptable levels at is unreasonable, well, then yes, they’re telling the truth but we should maybe have a conversation about what is acceptable in our environment. That’s a completely different podcast.
[00:06:10] The other thing that is worth noting, particularly with this train derailment, is that there is a discussion about the balance between regulations and the burdens that it puts on businesses. And the reason that Trump repealed this mandate to have these special breaks on hazardous materials was because the rail lobby lobbied for it. They didn’t want to have to bear the expense of putting on these extra breaks. And what that had the effect of doing was taking the risk of derailment to not be paid by the rail companies but instead to be paid by the communities that the rail companies operated in. And this is not the only place we see this. Anybody who has gone to Europe from the United States and has just eaten all the amazing food that’s there will tell you that they can eat things like bread and cheese that they can’t in the United States. In fact, when they’re eating in Europe, they tend to lose weight. They feel great. They sleep better. And they come back to the United States and even if they eat completely clean, they end up having an issue. And this, again, comes back to this idea of, well, where’s the balance of regulation versus businesses? In Europe, if I was a food manufacturer who wanted to put an additive in, I would have to justify that both that additive is needed and is safe. I have to demonstrate that the additive is safe for human consumption before I can put it in there. In the United States, it’s exactly the opposite. If a business wishes to put an additive in, they’re welcome to do so and it’s on the consumer to then have to build up the evidence to prove that that additive is not fit for human consumption. And this is why things like Skittles are not allowed to be sold outside the United States because the coloring in Skittles is considered not fit for human consumption in basically rest of the developed world. But again, there’s this balance that’s going on that’s constantly being played out. The water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi is another great example of this. Our infrastructure in the United States has a 25-year lifespan. And in Jackson, Mississippi, they’re way beyond that. And the secret here, ladies and gentlemen, is most communities are way beyond their infrastructure due date. Jackson, Mississippi just happened to be the first major city where their water was no longer safe to drink because the water treatment plant could no longer actually keep it clean. And, again, there’s a question of do we wanna bring in the regulatory burden of extra taxes in order to pay for a new water plant? Or do we wanna have a low tax environment? And this, of course, being in Mississippi, you can imagine which way they went. And it’s not even just there. If you lived in Texas for the last couple of years, you’ll know that ERCOT, your power grid in Texas, goes down in the winter all the time. That’s because you have a market system to govern your electrical system and the market’s great at a ton of things but not so good when it comes to actually dealing with things like electrical markets and anything that isn’t normal. So, when winter storm Uri came through three years ago, it knocked out ERCOT. Like it was so bad that nuclear power plants had to shut down ’cause they couldn’t generate enough heat to actually continue to produce electricity. And the list goes on and on and on. ERCOT decided that they wanted less regulation but as a result, they’re less reliable. Jackson, Mississippi said they wanted lower taxes and as a result, their infrastructure’s crumbling. We in the United States said that all food additives are innocent until proven guilty and as a result, were sicker for it. And we decided we didn’t want the rail companies to have to bear the cost of new brakes and East Palestine, Ohio is paying for it.
[00:09:42] And I bring all of this up because it’s very interesting to me to watch the positioning. Governor DeWine actually turned down the offer for federal aid on Valentine’s Day, February 14th, and then proceeded to tell everybody who would listen that the Feds weren’t helping out. And he also liked to say that, well, FEMA’s told us we are ineligible for aid, which is true. FEMA, of course, being the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is one of these agencies you see after hurricanes and tornadoes and stuff like that. And the thing to know about FEMA is FEMA’s designed to deal with disasters that create a great deal of property damage. So, unless there’s houses and pieces all over the place, they won’t actually be able to do anything ’cause it’s outside their mandate. But we also as a society don’t consider disasters to the air in high levels of air and water pollution, which is what this train derailment’s actually caused. We don’t consider that necessarily to be an emergency because of a lot of these trade-offs. And, of course, this has become this entire political football with Democrats and Republicans basically just falling all over themselves to blame the other party and turn this into some sort of wedge issue because that’s just the world we live in today. And I wanna bring your attention to that we as people in the United States should be demanding better from our politicians. We shouldn’t be allowing one side or the other to demonize them. We should be demanding that they fix these things and help us build a society that encourages human flourishing rather than pointing their fingers at each other so they can keep their jobs come election day. Unfortunately, while that might be a beautiful dream, that’s all it is right now. The state of play is that in the terms of the East Palestine, Ohio train derailment, the risk inherent in not having those breaks, of having low staff on these trains, of something called precision scheduling that has admittedly lowered freight prices across the United States — the risk that was brought on by all of those things was offloaded to the communities they exist in the same way that the trade-off of not having the regulations on the power grid in Texas meant that the risk is now born not by the power utilities in the state but instead by the people who are purchasing the power and the citizens of the state. So, when the power goes down, well, you’re just outta luck.
[00:12:06] And with the whole thing becoming a spectacle and the media just soaking it up because remember the media has an agenda — it’s to make money and nothing sells like fear and outrage. The point we should be taking from all of this is we cannot rely on these people to do the right thing. In fact, as much as it pains me to say it, no one’s coming for you. And so, when we look at our communities and we look at everything around us, it’s in our best interests to be prepared. And so, what I wanna share with you in the back half of this episode are four different things that you can do right now that will make you more prepared, not just in case, you know, a local train derails or your power grid goes down or the water’s no longer safe to drink, but just better able to handle the slings and arrows of life as they come at you. And so, I wanna start off by saying there’s a difference between being prepared and being a prepper. I am not gonna talk to you about building a bunker in your backyard because the preppers are a different type of community and that’s not what we’re talking about here. What we’re talking about here is being prepared for things that reasonably will come up in our lives. And since I’ve been working on being prepared myself, I’ve been using my preparations probably once a year for at least the last five years. And it’s important to understand that you can’t be prepared for everything but any level of preparedness will put you ahead of the curve when you need it. So, without further ado, four elements of preparedness.
[00:13:40] Number one: you are the first and almost always last line of defense when it matters. You and only you are the person who needs to act first and you’re the last person you can rely on. I bring this up as number one because I think when we start talking about preparedness, I think the urge is, what do I need to buy? What do I need to stockpile? Something like that. And there is a legion of vendors out there who will sell you everything from MREs to Swiss Army knives to clothing that’s super special and mesh bags in case of EMP. And really at the end of the day, if we’re struck by something like a nationwide power outage due to EMP, all of your gear isn’t gonna matter if you, the individual, are incapable of using it. When you look to say, I wish to be prepared for the things that may come at me, your fitness is probably the biggest contributing factor. How fit are you? If you had to walk four miles to get water and walk four miles back, could you even do it? I think that’s an open question for a lot of us, isn’t it? And you have to be planned. You have to have skills. And more to the point, you have to practice them. You may have learned how to make fire without matches back in summer camp when you were 16 years old but could you still do it? That’s an open question, isn’t it? And we always think about like, oh, well, but I’ll just have a lighter. Well, that works until you don’t. But you are the first and last line of defense you have with basically everything and that’s where you really should start.
[00:15:15] Number two: have a plan. Now, in the case of East Palestine, Ohio or Jackson, Mississippi or anything at ERCOT, whenever there’s a disaster, there’s — people will say, well, you gotta have a bug out bag — and that’s a bag where you have 72 hours’ worth of gear and food and supplies — and you just grab the bag and you go. Ladies and gentlemen, let’s just stop and think about that for a second. In the case of East Palestine, that’s probably not the bad plan is to just get out of Dodge, right? Grab your family, grab what you need, and leave because it’s an environmental disaster. But if you’re in ERCOT, if you’re in Texas in ERCOT’s territory, well, chances are good going somewhere isn’t really gonna help you, particularly if you’re right in the middle of the state. How far would you have to drive until there’s reliable power again? And so, when you’re having a plan, part of that plan is when do I stay versus when do I go or when do I bug out versus when do I bug in? And the actual reality here is is that bugging in is the better option like 99% of the time. The reason people don’t talk about that about bugging in — and that is basically another way to put that shelter in a place — is it’s not sexy. You can’t just pretend that you’re Jason Bourne going across the countryside in a great adventure if you’re just sitting at home and enjoying some raviolis out of a can. But if you’re going to bug out, the question isn’t what do you need to put in your bug out bag? There are a legion of sites to teach you that and I’m not gonna talk about it here. But I am gonna point out that most of those sites never bring up the idea of bug out to where? Where are you gonna go? Who are you gonna bring in with you? How are you gonna get there? I mean, if you’re in East Palestine and a train derails and there’s a gigantic plume of toxic smoke coming up, well, you can bet your bottom dollar everyone else is gonna have the same idea. And so, the interstates are gonna be clogged. So, how are you gonna get out and under what circumstances do you make the call that sheltering in place is the less safe option? Also, how will you make fire, water, winter supplies? So, like if you live in Texas and you live in ERCOT, you know that the grid can’t support winter operations so you’re one cold snap away from losing your power sometimes for a couple of days. What’s your plan when that happens? Do you have blankets? Do you have hoodies? If you lost gas for some reason and electricity and that’s what you use to cook your food, how are you going to feed yourself? And having a plan is all well fine and good, ladies and gentlemen, but you have to communicate that plan to the people around you that need to know. I’m married with two beautiful children and I have a roommate. My plans are communicated to all of them. There isn’t a question of what we would do if the house was on fire or we lost power, or any of those other things. You have to let other people know what’s in your mind before they’re in the panic state of an emergency.
[00:18:03] So, number one: you’re the first and last line of defense. Number two: have a plan. That brings me to number three: be organized. And I say that as somebody who’s not an organized person. I truly am not. And all of my preparations are well catalogued. I know where they all are. I know what I have on hand. And when you say it should be organized, well, think about what your plan would be. You might say, well, my plan is to shelter in place. Okay. Well, if you’ve lost power, do you know how you’re going to get heat? Do you know how you’re gonna get food warmed and cooked? Do you know how to purify water if you need to do it? And where are those things? If you’re like, well, I got a camping stove. Cool. Where is it? Because you might think it’s out in your garage or under your bed but it might actually be in your storage locker. You might have given it to your friend. When was the last time you actually saw that and then let alone used it? Being organized means you know where these things are. You don’t have to go searching when you’re in a panic state because something’s gone wrong. Being organized means that you have cash on hand, typically in small amounts. Most of my spending is done through credit cards and I pay them off every single mont and that’s how I do that. But if I was in a grid-down event where I would have to be moving a lot, those credit cards might not actually function anymore. And whether you like it or not, cash will still be king at that particular point in time and I bet you people would like it. But if you’re walking around with a roll of a hundred dollars bills, you’re just a target. So, do you have cash in hand? Is it in small amount? Is it somewhere where you could get it when you need it? Being organized means that you have documents. This is one thing that a lot of people forget about preparedness. And when we were getting ready to buy our house and this was my, you know, it was my second home but it was my wife’s first home, and one of the things she said was, well, we need to have all the documents. And I was like, well, yeah. But they’re all in this folder. Because I maintain a one single folder and in that folder, I have our IDs, both our passports and passports for my girls. I have the birth certificates for all people in, you know, that are relevant in this situation: myself, my wife, my kids. I got a marriage certificate. I got all sorts of documents in there and I also have the most recent bank states for every that I print out every quarter and put in there and a complete list of all accounts with account numbers and about approximate balances. I also have photocopies of the titles to my car. I don’t actually walk around with the titles but I have photocopies of them and a photocopy of my mortgage statement — well, not at that time but I do now — as proof of ownership of where I live because if I had to bug out and I come back and somebody’s squatting in my house and, you know, control is starting to be reasserted in the area, I wanna be able to prove that yes, this is my car and yes, this is my house because in a chaotic situation, I don’t wanna leave things to chance. And so, being organized means that when I wanted to refinance the house, I knew right where all my documents were. And Cloud drive since, you know, data storage is great and wonderful, but I actually have physical copies of all of it so that if I had to go, it’s literally open the safe, grab out the folder, and we’re ready to go. Being organized means that you know what your needs are. So, while people are focused on do I have the camp stoves and the water purification and what about firearms and blah, blah, blah, my question is what meds are you on? Do you have enough that you could go, say, 30 days without access to a pharmacy? What about pet food? Is your car sitting there with a full tank of gas? When was the last time that you just made it a habit that every chance you could, you would just fill up the car so that if you needed to, you could just leave? Being organized means just making sure you have a handle on all of these different things. And so, if you have medications you have to be taking, if you have a pet — like for the love of God, do not just leave your dog or cat. They go with you if you were to leave — or if you have to bug in and you’re not gonna have access to something, say, like a grocery store for, say, 30 days. Well, you wanna make sure your pet, if you got a good doggo or you got a cat, make sure that they’ve got what they need because they’re part of your family, too. All of these things, ladies and gentlemen, having these preparations means that the anxiety in the back of your head is going to be a little bit less.
[00:22:18] So, number one: you are the first and last line of defense. Number two: have a plan. Number three: be organized. And number four: you need to periodically review and adjust. Now, when COVID hit in early 2020 and I had just the sheer dumb luck to have closed on my house on March 1st of 2020, so I had a house. I had my roommate had moved in. My wife was here. My kids were here. Everything was good and I also had my preparations that we had brought from the other apartment. And when COVID hit and the lockdown started and you couldn’t get to the grocery store, some other people around me panicked. But for me, I just went and got my preparations because I had some food storage on hand. It wasn’t that big of a deal. And as time has gone on, once the grocery stores opened up, I of course refilled that. But since that point, I’ve had to sit down with my wife and my roommate and actually go through and like look at what food are we actually storing. Do we eat this? Is this something that we wanna have? Like beans are great. Really hard to cook when you don’t have access to a stove or a pressure cooker. And so, periodically reviewing of what maybe has gone bad, what other documents need to go on my documents folder, how much cash should I have on hand, is there new construction on the interstate so if we had to leave that I know that ahead of time so I don’t end up in a traffic jam. This is what I mean by periodically reviewing and adjusting because it’s not always gonna be the same. When I first started doing this, I only had one daughter and she was very little so she didn’t have a role. Well, now, she’s 10 and so, she has a role now in most of these plans because we’ve had to periodically review and adjust.
[00:23:59] So, that’s number four: periodically review and adjust. Those, again, those four points are you are the first and last line of defense, have a plan, be organized, periodically review and adjust. And I wanna take the last bit of this podcast and just point out to you that these four points are exactly the same as financial preparedness. You are the first and last line of defenses when it comes to your finances. You have to have the skills of budgeting, of communication to be able to actually take control of your financial life. You need to have a plan because otherwise, how do you know what to budget? What things are of value to you? What’s your vision in this? You have to be organized because you need to make sure you have some cash on hand. You need to know where your accounts are. You need to be looking at your spending on a month-to-month basis and asking yourself what in my life do I really need to have on hand right now? And then, of course, you need to periodically review and adjust. What has changed in my life? Should I go look at my car insurance? Do I need more insurance? Am I getting married? Am I getting divorced? What do I need to change in each one of those scenarios? Because I’ve said this on the show before and I’m gonna say this again. But when you start getting your financial house in order, everything else is gonna start coming along with you. It is impossible to just get better at one part of your life. Everything else will bleed into it or you will stop making progress in the place you started. And so, it doesn’t surprise me anytime I read these lists of, well, how do we prepare if a train derails in your town and the governor decides to send it all up in smoke? They go through the whole list and I always think to myself that applies to your finances, too. That also applies to how you manage your fitness, how you manage your food, how you manage the marriage. It goes on and on, ladies and gentlemen. It’s because, at the end of the day, these things aren’t actually that different because whether you’re talking about fitness, whether you’re talking about family, whether you’re talking about finances, we’re really all talking about your life. And so, we don’t know what’s over the next hill and we don’t know what life will throw at us next. But what I do know is that I’m gonna take now, I’m gonna take today, and I’m gonna get ready for it because I know I can spend the time now or I can panic later. And just like you, that’s 100% my choice.
[00:26:33] Outro: Thanks for listening. If you like what we do here, please hit that subscribe button. Leave us a rating and review. And share the content with somebody who would benefit from the message. You can follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, all @fiscallysavage. And head over to fiscallysavage.com to get our free tools, suggested reading, and everything else you need to take control of your financial life and live free.