All Together Now: The "Y2K Neighborhood" takes on the
"Millennium Computer Bomb"
By Larry Shook
This article has been
formatted for easy copying
into email, so it can be
spread around widely.
Begin with a sweltering Monday afternoon a few weeks ago, August 31. The
date is noteworthy only because this story orbits the calendar, giving each
moment a stature it wouldn't otherwise have.
Hope Findley is briefing the City Council on efforts to prepare Spokane
for possible trouble from the Year 2000 computer problem. Findley is Mayor
John Talbott's assistant, and this is the mayor's regular council briefing
prior to the evening session.
"We're approaching community awareness as though something will happen
come January 1, 2000," says Findley. "There will be some disruption.
We just don't know what it will be."
Talbott echoes her remarks: "We want to be sure people can react calmly."
Known variously as the Millennium Bug, the Millennium Bomb, and Y2K -- for
Year 2000 -- this programming flaw is widely expected to cause some computer
malfunctions. The difficulty, as Findley says, is that it's impossible to
know just how big a threat Y2K really is.
The Millennium Bug, or Bomb, is nothing if not unnervingly ambiguous. Some
experts dismiss it -- David Starr, former chief information officer of Reader's
Digest Association, has called Y2K a fraud. Many close observers, however,
don't take it lightly, especially decision-makers who must put their money
where their beliefs are. Many insurers offering business interruption policies
now exclude Y2K because of the perceived risks. The few companies offering
Y2K policies levy a $330,000 annual premium for a million dollars of coverage.
Lloyds of London, the company that enabled international shipping by insuring
boats and cargoes, has announced that it won't insure any vessel without
certification of Y2K compliance. Dr. Edward Yardeni, one of Wall Street's
most respected economists, says Y2K could cause famine in the U.S. because
of the dangers it poses to the nation's highly computerized agricultural
industry. On August 2, 1998, THE NEW YORK TIMES editorialized: "It
makes sense to prepare for the worst."
When the mayor and his assistant ask for comments from councilmembers, only
Roberta Greene speaks. She urges Findley and Talbott not to scare people.
The council promptly turns to other business.
That exchange epitomized the discussion of Y2K in America. At a national
conference on the subject held in Boulder, Colorado, just a week before
Findley's presentation, I heard Jim Lord describe this situation as one
of the most baffling climates of opinion in U.S. history. "There are
two kinds of people," said Lord, "those who don't think Y2K is
a problem, and those who work on Y2K and are terrified." A retired
U.S. Navy officer and electronics specialist, Lord has become one of the
country's leading advocates of grassroots preparedness on the chance that
some Y2K worries are valid. He thinks THE NEW YORK TIMES is right, and that
any individual or community failing to make provisions for possible interruptions
of electricity, food, water, emergency services, life-supporting prescription
drugs, etc., is taking a needless and potentially ominous risk.
While there is a range of opinion within the burgeoning Y2K surveillance
industry regarding the severity of danger involved, there is consensus that
it is a problem. Proof of that belief is the staggering sum of money being
poured into managing it. By some estimates, Y2K remediation efforts are
currently costing the U.S. as much as national defense.
What Is This Thing?
On the one hand Y2K is as simple to understand as a broken clock. On the
other, it's as complex as the interconnectedness of life itself.
Computers are machines that do mathematics -- they add, subtract, multiply,
divide. That's it. All of the millions of dazzling services they provide
are based on those four functions. Registering time is an essential part
of many of those functions, and so Y2K is about time. It's also about that
most human of acts: a mistake. Just an innocent mistake, accidentally designed
into these machines to which civilization has been entrusted.
Early programmers, products of a culture that understands THE SUMMER OF
'42 to be a love story set in 1942, simply used this common shorthand. Without
thinking, they abbreviated the long past and future -- the concept of millennium
and century -- out of the computer's database. That left only the truncated
digits of a decade. This was erroneously programmed into billions of lines
of computer code in mainframes. The shorthand contaminates many PCs, infects
an unknown but significant percentage of the world's 20 billion to 70 billion
microchips. The latter are tiny computers the size of a fingernail, "embedded"
as they say in the world's computer systems. That means they're part of
the warp and weave of the Earth's economic and social systems, too. Regulating
the pulse of life, they control the function of devices ranging from nuclear
missiles to wristwatches to traffic lights to offshore oil platforms. (The
average offshore rig has 10,000 embedded systems, some underwater, some
encased in concrete.) By one estimate, if only five of every 10,000 microchips
failed because of Y2K, the result could be 12.5 million to 35 million critical
computer failures worldwide. On Sept. 10, 1998, when Rep. Stephen Horn (R-Calif.),
chairman of the technology subcommittee for the House Government Reform
and Oversight Committee, issued the federal government one of his periodic
report cards on its management of Y2K, anachronistic embedded systems were
much on his mind. He noted that water pumps on the fire trucks of Baton
Rouge, La., aren't affected by the Year 2000 problem. It's just that the
truck ladders won't work without Y2K repairs. Horn gave the government a
"D" for effort.
Even so, Y2K really isn't a complicated problem. It's just a BIG SIMPLE
problem. Lord explains it this way: "If I gave you a shoebox full of
marbles on Wednesday with a cloth and a can of polish and asked you to polish
all the marbles by Saturday, you wouldn't have any difficulty. Now imagine
the same assignment, but instead of a shoebox, the Grand Canyon filled to
the brim with marbles. That's Y2K. It's a simple problem of overwhelming
It's as though a moment, an era, a world finds itself suddenly isolated
by the mad clock's hand. A manmade wrinkle in time. When December 31, 1999
becomes January 1, 2000, many of the world's unrepaired computers will simply
register two zeroes and they won't know what time it is. Some computers
will stop working. Some will make big mistakes which, while they might be
messy, will at least be noticeable. Others will commit sinister little errors
that could slowly befuddle the nervous system of the global economy. Food,
water, electricity, fuels, telecommunications, financial services, transportation,
health care, world trade of every kind -- the list of critical systems that
could be impacted is endless.
Could small numbers of Y2K-triggered computer failures cascade into major
social disruptions? That's the worry, and it's taking its toll on the public's
nerves. At the Boulder conference, several presenters noted increasing reports
of marital stress and even breakups over differences of opinion about the
subject. (Respected business author Margaret Wheatley joked that any day
she expects an Oprah show about "Men who love women who love Y2K,"
or "Children of Y2K-obsessed parents.") What emerged in Boulder
was the picture of a society looking to its technological priesthood for
answers much as primitive peoples once turned to their shamans. What does
it all mean?
A Sounding Alarm
To an increasing number of people, the meaning of Y2K can be summed up in
two words: National Emergency.
Item: On September 14, the former CEO of United Press International, James
Adams, announced the creation of "the world's largest Y2K Web site"
in order to "sound a public wake-up call." Dubbed "Y2Ktoday"
(www.Y2Ktoday.com), it will feature
a daily feed of some 500 stories from a special reporting team, plus wire
reports. Reason, said Adams: "It's time the public worldwide had access
to accurate and timely information."
Item: On October 7, a national
townhall Y2K meeting will be conducted via free satellite broadcast
to help communities and citizens get ready. Sponsored by the National Association
of Counties, the National League of Cities, the International City/County
Management Association, and Public Technology, Inc., its featured speakers
will include, among others, John A. Koskinen, chairman of the President's
Council on the Year 2000 Conversion, and a representative of Montgomery
County, Maryland. Y2K czar Koskinen is the nation's top source on the subject,
and Montgomery County is a national leader in Y2K readiness.
Steve Davis, Montgomery County's budget manager, began leading his community,
located northwest of Washington, DC, in the fight against the Millennium
Bomb in 1995. Davis' Web page, "Dealing With The Year 2000 Problem"
is a popular resource among local government officials working on Y2K. I
met Davis in Boulder -- where he was a speaker and also interviewed by ABC
Nightline -- and I was as impressed by his cool, unflappable manner as I
was by his technical expertise.
"I have a standing answer," Davis told me, "for any public
official who says he doesn't have a Y2K problem: show me your report. Until
you methodically inventory your systems, it's meaningless to make any claims
about Y2K. This is hard work, and it's absolutely essential. Any community
whose officials are not performing this analysis, and who are not regularly
reporting on their progress, could be in serious trouble."
A barrel-chested man of six-two, Davis has the demeanor of a big city battalion
fire chief accustomed to giving high stakes direction under pressure. He
doesn't like to talk about worst case scenarios for Y2K, because he doesn't
expect them to happen. He senses that the country is on the verge of a Manhattan
Project level assault on Y2K -- and he won't give reporters looking for
sensational survivalist stories the time of day. (A recent e-mail he sent
to a Swiss journalist working that angle: "I'm sorry but I will do
nothing to promote news coverage of the Y2K survivalist mentality. I think
that it would be much better if you were to do a story on what needs to
be done to minimize the problem.")
Still, Davis doesn't pull punches about how serious he thinks Y2K could
be without adequate preparation. He says worst case scenarios can be avoided
if government at all levels puts itself on a war footing and if all citizens
take preparation seriously.
One of the most frequently-consulted sites on Davis' Web page, "What
Government Should be Doing About the Y2K Problem," contains such admonitions
>> Government has a moral obligation to make Y2K its top
>> Governments should immediately take a "Manhattan Project"
or "Marshall Plan" approach and deal with this as the potential
crisis that it is.
>> The basic concept is that we must quickly pull public and private
sector leadership together to organize efforts to mitigate and prepare for
>> The Year 2000 Problem is:
-- A bug that will potentially impact many electronic systems
>> Without solid processes for a coordinated response to emergency
situations, loss of life and widespread suffering are very likely to occur.
Put the considerable logistical capabilities of the national and state armed
services, guards and militias to work planning solutions to problems.
-- A risk to our power, water, sewer, and telecommunications systems
-- The greatest challenge ever to face government in modern times
-- A complex threat that will be a tremendous test of leadership
-- Something that must be fixed quickly in the face of dwindling resources
Based on the kinds of problems found and corrected in Montgomery County
-- the 911 emergency system, among others -- Davis concludes that the world
isn't yet anywhere near ready for Y2K.
"I've run into tons of people who say that their city is doing nothing,"
says Davis. "If tomorrow were New Year's Day 2000 it would be horrific,
in my view," he warns. "You would have mass systems failures,
probably power failures -- telecommunications, water, sewer -- and all the
ugly things you can imagine, resulting from a shortage of food and so on.
Economically, it would be a depression. From a societal perspective, people
would essentially be starving and rioting... the economic and personal loss
[of wealth, not life] from Year 2000 would be as devastating as World War
Davis is by no means alone in that view. Economist Yardeni was invited to
give the keynote address at a recent gathering of the G-8 industrial leaders
in Basel, Switzerland, and he urged them to regard Y2K as a coming war,
and to unite in battle against it.
If worse came to worst because of Y2K, warns Dr.
Douglass Carmichael, a Pentagon consultant, "We could not rule
out that social collapse would turn us into a Rwanda, a Bosnia, a worldwide
spasm of social reaction grasping for power and control."
Because of that, Canadian Joe Boivin thinks a preemptive peaceful use of
the military is the world's best hope. A veteran information technology
executive, his $200 million Y2K repair for the Canadian Royal Bank of Commerce
(the country's second-largest bank) was successfully implemented among 140
divisions worldwide and is considered one of the most sophisticated remediation
"We have global threat here," Boivin told me, "and the vast
majority of countries around the world have only recently begun to look
into it. If you look at infrastructure failures within many of the developing
nations, who are hard-pressed today with all kinds of other natural disasters
and financial crises, there's a very high probability that, never mind how
well we do in Canada and the U.S., other countries are going to take a big
As a result, he said, Y2K threatens a foreign policy nightmare that creates
strong self-interest on the part of every nation to pull together to prevent
the worst from happening. Boivin believes that Y2K constitutes more of a
common enemy to humanity than any space invasion science fiction ever dreamed
up. He advocates the immediate creation of globally-coordinated task forces
in order to sustain delivery of power, water, food, etc. in every country
via Y2K-immune means.
Like many who have studied the issue closely, Boivin sees a possible silver
lining in Y2K's dark cloud. Because of population pressure and the destruction
of natural resources, he contends, humanity today faces a stronger mandate
for cooperation than ever before in history, with little time remaining
before the collapse of natural systems begins threatening civilization.
"Maybe the year 2000 is the opportunity," he suggests. "This
is possibly the last chance we have to grab [Y2K] as the common enemy and
put aside previous differences. If we don't do that, the outcome doesn't
look very good... I believe all of this is very much focused on survival
of the species."
In a June 2, 1998 C-Span broadcast, Senator Robert Bennett (R-Utah), chairman
of the Senate's Y2K Subcommittee, advised the public: "Don't panic,
but don't spend too much time sleeping, either."
Garv Brakel, Spokane's director of management information systems and Y2K
coordinator, says that's good advice. Like Steve Davis, Brakel says he doesn't
expect worst case scenarios, but he thinks it makes sense to treat Y2K with
the seriousness Davis recommends.
"There will be problems," he warns. "There WILL be things
that will be missed. There's no question about that."
Brakel, who was recently made Spokane's Y2K chief, says he is most concerned
about where Spokane's computer-linked infrastructure interfaces with the
outside world -- that's where the biggest questions lie. He says all the
city's critical systems are being vigorously reviewed and updated as needed
and that the kind of regular public reporting Davis advocates will soon
Y2K and The Human Psyche
Because media coverage of Y2K has been so sparse, such conclusions may surprise
readers who haven't been tracking the issue on the Internet. The Worldwide
Web fairly buzzes with discussion of the issue.
At the most basic level, Y2K raises just two questions.
1. Could it weaken computing power enough to seriously threaten the infrastructure?
2. Can the problem be managed?
Strong consensus exists that the answer to the first question is maybe,
to the second, yes. Why, then, haven't such basic conclusions been more
widely reported? The answer to THAT question seems to lie as much in Y2K's
exotic personality as in the modern world's faith in technology.
Creating a detailed strategy for managing Y2K brings communities face-to-face
with the unprecedented vulnerability technology has brought to their lives.
While modern mythology is that technology has set humanity free, frank review
of Y2K implies the opposite to many.
At the standing-room-only Boulder crowds that attended her lectures on what
Y2K means to agriculture, Cynthia Beal
described how she came to grips with the issue.
Owner of The Red Barn Natural Grocery in Eugene, Oregon, a retail outlet
of organic foods with annual sales of a million dollars, Beal explained
that for a long time she flatly rejected claims of Y2K's dangers. Finally
she began analyzing the various systems upon which her business depends.
She was stunned by what she learned. To illustrate, on the blackboard she
drew a pictogram of how a potato grown in South America must migrate through
a daunting gamut of interwoven computer and social systems to find its way
into a sack of potato chips on her store's shelf. In the event of cascading
Y2K disruptions of the type that can't be ruled out, it became clear the
likelihood of the potato's uninterrupted journey was roughly that of a snowball's
chance in hell. The same is true for most of the merchandise in the modern
supermarket, of which there is an average of three day's supply.
"When I finally 'got it,' " said Beal, placing a hand over her
solar plexus, "I got it here. It was like, UUUOOOHHH." She made
the low moan of a woman with a case of food poisoning. Throughout the audience
heads bobbed knowingly. "That's it," a voice agreed.
In the five days I spent interviewing people who had gathered for the Boulder
conference from all over America -- listening to physicians, stockbrokers,
computer engineers and others -- I learned that stories like Beal's are
Nevertheless this is an experience which the media tends to discount.
Typical is a column that ran in the September 6, 1998 edition of the DALLAS
MORNING NEWS under the headline: "A CAVE IN ARKANSAS -- Will Y2K usher
in TEOTWAWKI? [The end of the world as we know it.] Bryan Elder is sure
it will -- so sure that he'll be deep beneath the ground on Jan. 1, 2000."
The story began: " 'As soon as I get a cave, I'm going to live in it,'
Mr. Elder vowed, wending his way through one Arkansas cavern. 'I'll be the
world's next caveman.' Y2K is the pop-culture moniker..."
The October 1998 issue of SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN carries a similar piece under
the title: "The End of the World as We Know It." It begins, "Every
religion has its doomsday prophecy, and it turns out that computing is no
exception. (If you doubt that computing is a religion, just try mentioning
Windows to a Mac owner.)" The story goes on to compare Y2K to other
notorious End Times -- the 1524 deluge that DIDN'T drown London, the 1719
comet that never struck, the Cold War we weren't supposed to survive but
did, Kevin Costner's apocalyptic film operas. "About the only people
in the U.S. who might escape all effects are the Amish," jokes the
article. It concludes with the biographical note that the author "has
stockpiled several dozen bags of chocolate chips."
And then there's coverage such as Fred Moody's "Day of Reckoning"
article, which ran in THE INLANDER'S July 15, 1998 edition. [THE INLANDER
is the newspaper that first carried the story you are reading.] Where Jim
Lord divides Y2K opinion into camps of the indifferent and terrified, Moody
suggested the categories of "Owls," and "Roosters."
He cited the Center for Millennial Studies, a Web page founded by Richard
Landes, a professor of medieval history at Boston University, "where
Y2K is studied in its proper context: not the world of technology, but the
world of religion's 'apocalyptic time' -- defined, writes Landes, as 'that
perception of time in which the End of the World (variously imagined) is
so close that its anticipation changes the behavior of the believer.' "
In Landes' conception, the rooster is "the apocalyptic believer,"
the owl, "the anti-apocalyptic skeptic."
The tone of such reporting reassures the reader that all is right with the
world, and that God is still in heaven -- along with the communication satellites
that let people reach out and touch one another via cellular phone. But
it's misleading if it suggests that Y2K is just an example of humanity's
quirky psychology, or that the only sufferers of TEOTWAWKI are those who
either expect the rapture or are holed up with guns and bullion. Where,
in this view, does THE NEW YORK TIMES fit with its suggestion of planning
for the worst, just in case? And what to make of the Canadian Parliament?
As it happened, the day after Hope Findley's City Council presentation,
under the headline "Military Preparing to Take Over After 2000 Bug
Bomb," the Ottawa, Canada EDMONTON SUN reported: "The National
Defense Department announced yesterday it's preparing for war against the
'Year 2000 problem' that some experts predict will foul up computers and
wreak havoc worldwide. Defense documents released yesterday show the department
is preparing for the worst -- a kind of martial law that will see soldiers,
sailors and air personnel play a major role in keeping Canada working during
a massive computer crash."
Moreover, from reporting that simply spoofs Y2K you'd never guess what people
such as Gail Coopee, of Redmond, Washington, are going through.
A data resource management veteran with more than 20 years experience before
becoming an independent consultant, Coopee spent her last eight years in
industry with Snohomish County Public Utility District. She headed up the
company's strategic planning, which also included investigating Y2K.
"We looked at the Year 2000 problem as a technical problem we didn't
want to be too public about," she says. "We knew about it, and
we were very serious about dealing with our own information systems, but
really had no concept of all the embedded systems that are out there. This
is something I've only learned about in the last week," she told me.
It was September 8, 1998.
Coopee had been suspicious of the religious tone of some Y2K information.
Advice to create emergency provisions of food and water, she attributed
to "those nuts out in Montana and Idaho, those survivalists."
After dismissing Y2K to friends and relatives as no big deal, she succumbed
to a friend's pressure to review a set of reports. "There was great
resistance inside me to even look at this stuff," she says. After she
did, however, she realized that, "I was the one who had been blind
and not really seeing the whole problem... I'm starting to feel the emotional
effects of it. It's actually kind of hard to talk about it without crying
at this point."
When I asked her what concerned her, she said she was shocked to learn the
pervasiveness of embedded computer systems that perform cycle calculations
based on a calendar date.
"It's amazing the, uh, impact...on our... " She apologized as
she softly wept.
After a moment I asked her what she saw that might escape someone without
her technical background.
"I'm seeing the very real possibility of the end of the lifestyle as
we know it... our lives -- I'll just go ahead and cry. Our lives, I feel,
are never going to be the same. They may be vastly better if we do pull
this off in terms of coming together as a community, and really facing this,
and coming up with alternatives... to being so blindly dependent on technology.
I mean it could be really a wonderful change, but it is going to be different...
I was sitting on a dock yesterday, on Lake Washington, and I looked up and
I saw... there's the blue sky, and below there's this beautiful water...
and well, that won't be changed... But it's almost like everything else
in our lives is going to change. Even if it's changed for the better --
you know? -- it's going to take a lot of work to get there. And when we're
there it may take a lot more work... having to live in a society where we
have to relate to each other and be dependent on each other and communicate
on a daily basis for our survival is not something that, as wonderful as
it sounds, it's not something that most of us have any experience or preparation
"My mother and I were talking about this. She's seventy-nine. She said,
'It's taking us back to the horse and buggy days.' And I said, 'Yeah, minus
the horses and the buggies.' "
That's what TEOTWAWKI actually sounds like. Is media satire of such painful
soul-searching a sign of callousness? Not necessarily.
In a recent essay, Margaret Wheatley and her colleague Myron Kellner-Rogers
wrote of Y2K: "It reveals our very human tendency to deny and hide
from issues when they are too complex to comprehend."
The media, notes Dr. Kent Hoffman, a Spokane psychotherapist who is helping
to launch a community preparedness initiative called "Y2K Neighborhood,"
is no more immune to Y2K's inescapable psychological challenge than anyone
"Dealing with Y2K honestly does bring us face-to-face with certain
aspects of our lives we'd maybe rather not look at," suggests Hoffman.
"Uncomfortable forces can be involved, like when magnets face the same
pole -- the force of repulsion and denial when we 'get' the potential danger
of Y2K is overwhelming. Of course our psyches run for cover. Anger, disbelief
and even devaluation of the issue are almost inevitable."
Hoffman, however, also sees the silver lining glimpsed by Coopee, Boivin
and many others. "In time, especially when we see how community can
support us through this, we can transition into hope and action."
A Way Through The Rapids: The "Y2K Neighborhood"
Nancy Schaub, a Spokane philanthropist who is working with Hoffman to launch
the Y2K Neighborhood project, describes it as a process of educating the
community so that neighbors can collaborate, on a door-to-door basis, to
create resilient, overlapping networks of support. She says the challenge
of the Millennium Bug reminds her of one her passions: whitewater rafting.
An accomplished boatwoman, every summer Schaub leads friends on adventures
down the Northwest's great waterways.
"You never run a technical and potentially dangerous rapid without
first scouting it," explains Schaub, a youthful and athletic mother
of three grown children. "You get out of the boat and look for a high
place where you can study the river. Before you commit yourself, you have
to see the 'line,' your way through. I see many parallels with Y2K. In addressing
a rapid, the most critical time is the setup, and you must have ample time
for that. If you enter the rapid a little too far to the right or left,
you'll never find the right way through. I like the opportunity right now,
with Y2K 16 months out, to be thinking. I'm scouting the problem. I'm preparing
myself psychically, emotionally, spiritually, and I'm actually physically
preparing my environment, my relations in the neighborhood, etc. This is
the setup time. If we use it to gather the food and equipment we need, create
the right plans with our neighbors, we'll enter this period of disturbance,
which is just like big whitewater, in the best possible way -- we've already
seen a way through -- and that gives us the best prospects for coming out
Paloma O'Riley, America's high priestess of Y2K community preparedness,
agrees with Schaub. She also used a wilderness metaphor to make the same
point at one of her Boulder presentations. Formerly head of Y2K compliance
for Land Rover, the British carmaker, O'Riley and her husband raised their
children for a time in the Alaskan wilderness, 100 miles by air from the
"We lived with the worst case scenario, because we had to," she
said with a chuckle. "That doesn't mean you expect the worst, you're
just ready for it. Alaska requires that."
One of her favorite examples of worst case scenario planning involved what
could have been a tragic encounter between her toddler son and a grizzly
bear. As O'Riley worked in the kitchen, the youngster slipped outside without
her knowing it. Through the window she saw him halfway across the pasture,
trundling toward the horse corral. At that moment a huge grizzly rose on
its hind legs in brush beyond the corral. The boy was walking directly toward
O'Riley explained the helplessness she felt. She couldn't have reached her
son, nor even have gone for her rifle, in time to do any good. But the boy
simply froze in his steps, just as his mother had taught him to do if he
ever heard a strange sound. After a moment, the bear dropped to all fours,
turned and vanished.
That moment, explained O'Riley, epitomizes the spirit of her Cassandra Project
Web page (http://millennia-bcs.com/cassief.htm).
This prize-winning site has become a national clearinghouse for personal
and community Y2K preparedness efforts, offering exhaustive detail about
how and why to get ready for possible service interruptions. Just as Alaska
is bear country, she reasons, the world -- at least for the moment -- has
become Y2K country. Living in it unprepared makes no sense, she says, because
in a climate of disrupted infrastructure relatively minor mishaps could
produce a domino effect of needless emergencies unless contingency plans
are in place.
At the same time, O'Riley considers individual survival efforts worse than
foolish. They would be impractical if some of Y2K's more serious disruptions
came to pass, because of the risk of civil disorder if a critical mass of
society were caught off guard.
"The best security you have is a prepared neighbor," she told
Boulder audiences. Even in the event of truly worst case scenarios, she
said, "If we pull together we'll come through this with flying colors."
That is the point Dr. Hoffman emphasizes in explaining the idea behind the
Y2K Neighborhood. While the Millennium Bug may be a new kind of challenge,
it has an old fashioned solution, he says. It reminds him of Garrison Keillor's
story about "storm families."
"Each child in Lake Wobegon has a family, other than her or his own,
to go to in a time of emergency," explains Hoffman. "The heart
of the story is that we all need a 'storm family' in difficult times. That's
what Y2K Neighborhood is setting out to do -- create storm families, like
miniature villages, among every five or six houses on every block in the
county. It's a way in which we can come together, plan together, look out
for each other during this time of uncertainty. Who in each storm family
has special medical needs? Who has special skills, and how can our talents
be pooled for the mutual benefit of these small units? How can we make certain
that each household is safe, whether the hardship lasts for days, weeks
or even months?"
The point, says Hoffman, is to help citizens take initiative in advance
in order to deal with uncertainties and to keep pressure off of emergency
services. That will let them be held in reserve for the most critical situations.
He acknowledges that while it may at first seem intimidating to plan for
such possibilities, it needn't be.
"All we're really talking about is polishing up our neighboring skills,"
he says. "If they're needed, we'll be ready. If not, we will have created
goodwill and community enrichment on an unprecedented level all around us.
What do we have to lose?"
Larry Shook is a freelance investigative reporter
and co-editor of AWAKENING: THE UP SIDE
Y2K, available at Amazon.com and
Word, (509) 624-3177.
See also Larry's Media, The Millennium
Bug & The Stories We Tell where he describes what he left
out of this article.
(the short article below is a sidebar to the above long article)
Feed Yourself, Save A Farmer:
Carla Emery's Modest Proposal
by Larry Shook
Food, farmers and cities -- it's time for America to make the connection
again, says Carla Emery. Emery believes economist Edward Yardeni is right:
Y2K COULD threaten urban America with hunger. SERIOUS hunger.
Author of the 858-page ENCYCLOPEDIA OF COUNTRY LIVING, a bible of the self-sufficiency
skills that once were the backbone of American society, Emery posted an
open letter to President Clinton, asking him to create a Y2K emergency food
plan. She suggests having a six-month national food surplus and alternative
distribution system in place by January 1, 2000. The White House has been
silent on the matter, so Emery is upping the ante of her proposal.
She says she'd like to turn the Internet into a giant farmers' market via
the "Farmer Direct" web page she's creating. At www.farmerdirect.com,
she wants consumers to be able to order bulk grains and legumes directly
from growers. Orders from traditional emergency food venders are starting
to back up.
The idea grew out of Emery's current speaking tour of America's midwestern
grain belt, where she found a convergence of crises. The overseas financial
meltdown has destroyed commodity prices, threatening farmers with bankruptcy
just as they're harvesting bumper crops.
"They not only have no markets, they have no place to put their grain,"
says Emery. Meanwhile, "The country is having a crisis because it needs
to have food storage for Y2K... we are at the tail end of the seven fat
years. These are truly fat years, and what a blessing that we have all this
[food]. But we need a Joseph in high places to do the proper thing."
She was hoping President Clinton would play that role by mobilizing the
U.S. Dept. of Agriculture to strategically stockpile grain throughout the
country. But with no action -- as winter approaches farmers who are forced
to leave harvests on the ground, and as the specter of Y2K haunts Americans
with the prospect of bare larders -- Emery has taken matters into her own
Echoing Yardeni's concern, Emery warns that, in the event of serious Y2K
breakage, "If we do not have high level emergency preparations... we
are going to have disorder in the urban centers [and] loss of life on a
Her letter to the President can be read on www.carlaemery.com/index.html.
There readers can also order Emery's definitive 950,000 word tome on self-sufficiency.
A homespun video she just produced with the help of a University of Texas
staffer lays out her take on Y2K and the food she recommends storing. It's
available for $18. Call (903) 866-2002.