The IATE term of this week is “stockpile”, defined in the European Union terminology database as a “store of civil protection material, medicines, equipment and other supplies needed in disaster. It refers also to the storehouse of these reserves”.
Although regarding the current pandemic as the origin of this concept may come naturally, the term actually stems from the mining sector, in particular from the stocks of ore piles. In a mining environment, there are several reasons that make stockpiling necessary. For example, mining companies may wish to optimize grades, allowing plants to process better grades first, while lower grades are stockpiled for the future. Secondly, stockpiles can be used for the management of an emergency or a mine shutdown, which reduces the available supply to the plants, in order to keep on providing plants with a steady ore quantity. Finally, since some ore types need to be processed together, stockpiles allow to wait until there is a sufficient quantity of ore stocked before processing it. However, after World War II, the term spread to other domains such as finance, civil defence, and public health, its definition shifting to a reserve of an essential commodity stored for future use, in case of shortage or other emergencies.
In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the European Commission implemented the RescEU stockpile, a strategic reserve of medical equipment, such as ventilators, reusable masks, vaccines, and laboratory supplies, to help EU countries. This stock is hosted by one or several Member States and managed in cooperation with the Emergency Response Coordination Centre. Romania was the first country to volunteer to purchase and host a stockpile of ventilators. RescEU is part of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, whose aim is to improve cooperation between participating States in the field of civil protection and provide a joint action and a rapid response to disasters and emergencies that “overwhelm the response capability of a country”1.
While stockpiling commodities in the view of future emergencies is a strategic and complex decision based on a detailed analysis of the most pressing dangers to be addressed, this must not be confused with hoarding items or panic buying, which only increases the risk of stockpile depletion and the danger of economic backlashes. Panic buying may seem illogical, but there are some rational reasons that lead people to react this way to the outbreak of an emergency: herd behaviour, loss aversion, and sense of regret are only some of them. First of all, in an uncertain situation, people are more sensitive to the behaviours of others and tend to imitate them, fearing they might have information that is not accessible to everyone. Then, people usually react to losses more strongly than to gains and adapt their behaviours in order to avoid any regret, following the “just-in-case” scenario. Furthermore, the game theory analyses several similar situations in which people make interdependent decisions, such as in the case of the well-known prisoner’s dilemma.
In conclusion, while avoiding such uncontrolled reactions should be at the core of a successful crisis management plan, the reasoned decision to stock up items in view of major hazards may be a valuable strategy for future emergencies.
IATE goes AUDIO
This week, you can tune in to another IATE goes Audio feature: click below to listen to ‘stockpile’ explained in clear Italian.
Text and audio recording by Elisa Callegari. Translator and linguist, she has a great interest in terminology and formation of neologisms.