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Sample notices to engage others in local Y2K community activities

Notices such as these can be written as letters to the editor of local papers. They can be left as stacks in libraries and cafes, or at community events. They can be handed out on the street, sent to mailing lists, posted on websites or bulletin boards, or distributed in any other way.

Community Response Needed to "Y2K Bug"

by Walt Blackford

This is not a doomsday prediction. This is a wake-up call, a reality test,
and an invitation to become an active participant in community-based

Many Whidbey Island residents already are aware of the phenomenon generally
referred to as the Year 2000 Bug or more simply as Y2K (with K representing
thousand). However, for some readers this may be the first you have heard
about the economic and social disruption many are expecting when computers
and untold other electronic devices throughout the world suddenly
malfunction or stop altogether as the date changes from 12/31/99 to 1/1/00.

Given the complex interconnectedness of computer systems on a global scale,
the magnitude of this "millennial crisis" cannot be established with
certainty. Not surprisingly, numerous predictions have been offered, and
they range from mild, temporary inconvenience to global catastrophe,
economic recession, and extended civil unrest.

One fact is consistently agreed upon, however. Very few voices in the choir
insist there will NOT be a problem. Disagreement seems to be around
unanswerable questions like how big? how long? and at what cost?

Stated in its most basic form, problems will arise when many computers in
the world recognize the date 1/1/00 as January 1, 1900 rather than the year
2000. And because of a quirk in a software programming standard adopted
several decades ago, some, most or all of "life" as we in the
industrialized world know it MIGHT come to a screeching halt when midnight
strikes on the next century.

However, the point of this is not to raise panic but to proclaim an
opportunity -- an opportunity for this community, and others like it, to
come together in a positive way around what appears to be a near certainty.
A response all the more important because Y2K will affect us equally and
directly regardless of our politics, positions, or economic status.

Beyond the simple objective of introducing this possibility into the
community consciousness, my intention is to suggest in the strongest way
possible that however long the difficulties persist and however great our
lives are disrupted, the benefits of working together as a community to
understand, prepare for, and weather the storm far exceed the alternative
of everyone looking out only for themselves.

What can you do? First of all, don't take my word for it. Let this be just
the beginning of your commitment to educate yourself about Y2K.

Beyond informing yourself, take the intitiative to engage your friends and
family in conversations that consider the range of possibilities and how
you might prepare for them together. Contact the County Commissioners,
members of City Council, State legislators, the Governor, and
representatives in the Senate and House. Ask how they are assessing the Y2K
situation and determine what they are doing to prepare for it.

Most of all, this is not a time for withdrawing or withholding information
from the community. Panic is much more likely to arise in an atmosphere of
fear and distrust. In a community like ours, where circles of friendship
are smaller and many of them overlap, we have an extraordinary opportunity
to become even closer, to enjoy great support and satisfaction from
increased cooperation. I am among those who believe that investing in
community self-reliance will yield a much higher return than if an
equivalent amount of energy and resources are directed only to personal

This is not a time to wait for someone else to do it for you. Take
responsibility for convening a neighborhood gathering. Invite members of
your church or civic group to join you in a dialogue where participants can
pool their knowledge and come to a collective understanding of the problem.
Share what you know about Y2K with co-workers, vendors, suppliers, and
customers. Ask what they know and what they're doing about it.

The best sources of information seem to be on the Internet, which is not
readily available to everyone. And for those who do not have computers at
work or at home, remember that local libraries can connect you to the World
Wide Web.

In the end, each of us will have to draw our own conclusions and choose our
own course of action. I urge you to become informed and involved. The
health and safety of the community may depend on your commitment and
cooperation. And we all shall be the better for it EVEN if the Y2K Bug does
not bite us.

Walt Blackford is a writer, consultant, and community-builder who lives in
Langley. He can be reached at: __________

The Year 2000 Problem

by Nancy Schimmel, 1998

When people set up main-frame computers back in the Fifties, they were
quite sure these computers would be superseded long before the year
2000, so they saw no problem in using a two-digit field for the date: 55
instead of 1955. Unfortunately, later programmers found it easier to
match the old programming so their programs would be compatable, and
some old main-frame computers are still in use, for instance in the
Federal Aeronautics Administration, where programmers are working madly
to fix the central computers on which all air traffic controllers
depend. If the FAA job isn't done by January 1, 2000, the computer won't
know how to deal with 00 as a year, the information will not be
reliable, and flights will have to be drastically curtailed until the
work is finished. Programmers have been working on the Social Security
computer since 1993 and still aren't done with the conversion. The
computer subtracts your date of birth (1933, say) from the present date,
1998, and finds that you are 65 and eligible for a pension. But it only
has a 2-digit field, so it is really subtracting 33 from 98. I was born
in 1935, so in 2000 the computer subtracts 35 from 00 and gets -35, not
65, and I,m not eligible for a pension. If this isn't fixed in time, it will
have to be worked around.

Fixing computer operating systems and programs involves three steps:
finding the glitches, fixing them, and checking that the fix didn't
cause another glitch. And if it did, fixing that. All this takes time.

Another problem is that many machines have embedded chips that are
actually tiny computers. Some of these will shut a machine down if
routine maintanance is not done by a certain date. The chips may be in
power stations, fire engines, and other machinery that we rely on. All
date-related chips in essential machinery will have to be found and
replaced before Jan. 1, 2000.

There are a finite number of people trained to cope with the Year 2000
problem. The problem is finite too, of course, but probably larger. The
effects on the public of not getting the job done will vary with the
agency, factory or business that uses the particular computer, and can
range from minor inconvenience to disaster. At this point, we don't know
what will happen. We only know when. (Actually, some programs that work
with planning ahead -- inventory, appointments, credit card expiration
dates -- are beginning to show problems already.)

There are various responses to the problem:
The programmer's response is to work hard for long hours (and often, to
ask for a pay raise).

The business person's response, and the bureaucrat's, is to say that
everything is under control, hire more programmers if they can find
them, and hope for the best.

The survivalist's response is to expect the worst and stock up the
country cabin just in case.

What should our response be? Community-minded folks are looking at this
problem as an opportunity -- to look for sustainable, low-tech, local,
community-oriented strategies to minimize the bad effects of our
over-reliance on big computers, big technology, and centralization. We
are making sure our own households are ready (some canned goods and
water stored, first aid kit, flashlights working, and so on -- the same
stuff as for earthquakes, hurricanes, large scale blackouts) but we are also looking at what
we can do for people who can't afford to stock up or don't have a home
to stock. Will the shelters have enough food? We are finding out what
our city or town has in the way of contingency plans if the lights or
phones do go out, etc. And we are getting to know our neighbors better,
because if the phones go out and the gas pump won't work, we will be
relying on the people right around us for help. If the transition goes
smoothly after all, we will be prepared for earthquakes and other disasters
anyway, and we will know our neighbors better, which ain't a bad thing.