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Ian Wells' thoughts from Lowell, MA

5/22/98 An Invitation for some Down-Home Y2K Heroism

6/20/98 Y2K Community Preparedness is like a Moon Shot

20 Jun 1998
From: Ian Wells <>
Subject: Y2k Moon shot

Y2K Community Preparedness is like a Moon Shot

Most readers of this realize that the future is indeed much riskier than we
had assumed. Such a future demands responsibility, awareness and
resiliency. The question is clearly what to do next. What is the most
effective way to prepare for possible y2k disruptions?

We have several experiments underway to see what is the best way to
create community contingency plans. Unlike most experiments, we don't get
to have the experiment complete before selecting the right path. Kind of
like a moon shot. Information about what seems to be working and what
seems to not be working can help guide us to use methods that are more
likely to allow our own communities rebound more quickly.

What won't work? I don't believe, as some suggest, that
abandoning current "business as usual" could possibly happen before any
disruptions have occurred. No one will just abandon the system that works
so well for most of us because something might happen.
We are all in our jobs because we have done well in the existing system.
There are people who will give up material wealth to do work they believe in,
but most of us I don't like to give up any existing structure. This may
change as the predictability of the existing structure (that we like so much) is
increasingly in question.

I wonder how to track success/failures in Y2k community organization as the
number of community organizations grow?

Today we track other y2k community volunteers by personal email and looking
to the Cassandra web site or the Y2k salons. The volume of information
is going to change dramatically (I wish sooner than later). I wonder how we
can track the likelihood of success of different methods being used in different
communities? Tom Atlee has an excellent recommendation: the Civic Practices Network
made up of organizations who are doing front-line community work and
sharing their approaches and experiences. This data would give us all
critical guidance information.

We can do this. It will not be easy. I personally feel that we may be
underestimating our own ability to weather disruptions, once the problem is
defined and believed. Granted our own middle class society has become
risk-averse (perhaps adding to the denial of potentially such a large risk). But,
my goodness, other communities have weathered much worse risks and come
through. Note that some come through better than others.

What we have, in June 1998, is a gift of time. How do we most effectively
use this time? One way is to find out what has worked for other communities
in the past. One suggestion is to prepare a framework to increase
infrastructure resiliency, and work inclusively with all groups, including
our governments, businesses, non profits, churches, etc.

There are examples of such inclusive frameworks being built before. As
those of you know who have talked to people in government and utilities,
Y2k is not on everyone's job description. There is no one in charge of
finding out the impact of Y2k on our community. In my experience, a power
plant operator does not consider it part of their job description to find
out how to keep their plant operating in case of multiple infrastructure
failures. The Y2k part of their job description does not exist.
This results in most people, in my experience, assuming planning for such a
potentially large disruption must be someone else's job. No one has time in
their day to take on such an immense, extra responsibility. They would do
it if they had their boss's approval. Bosses validly will not reallocate so
many resources without justification. Justification takes time - and time
is what we don't have. Justification also requires some certainty, which we
don't have. It also requires buy in from their boss, which takes even
more time. So we are in a situation where individuals see the importance
of action but are locked into the current organizational structure which
prevents action until approved at a high enough level. Companies, banks,
federal government and many other
organizations have recognized the problem early on and allocated resources
appropriately. Even so, most agencies have underestimated the effort
required to remediate the problem. From my limited view, most local
governments have not yet allocated appropriate resources into y2k
contingency planning.

Where does this leave us? What is the way through? What's working? What's not?

I believe the most effective action comes down to the personal level. And
each of us who wants to act must act alone if there is no structure to fit
into to help us work with others. There are many such structures beginning
to exist. If you are reading this, you are part of one [this web site]. Few of us have
quit our jobs to join this structure. We have volunteered time because
we want to do something now, we don't want to wait to convince our boss to
add this to our job description. We are creating structure to give us the
synergy that's available when we work together.

I enjoy reading about other experiences and feelings about the emerging
organization. Here is a description of what I am working on in Lowell, MA.
Is it successful? Not yet, by a long shot, there are way too few people
involved, I would say 6 or so. So the jury is out - if I were a scholar I
would not be publishing anything now because I have no solid results to
brag about or to learn from. I am publishing because this is such an
unusual situation and there is so little time to experiment.

So here is my current take on why we are doing what we are doing in Lowell.
This write up changed again when John, Jimmy and I sat down to breakfast at
the Owl Thursday morning...

Based on my experience, the organizational example I look to is the Boston Computer
Society. This was created in 1977 and grew because it filled a void that
matched people's demand to know about using their PC's with the supply of
volunteers who, for their own reasons, wanted to provide this information.
No company did this. No government did this.
BCS grew exponentially giving a framework
for volunteers to work outside their own day-to-day jobs. BCS disbanded itself
a few years ago because this structure was no longer needed: The demand and
supply had been met by other groups that are now part of our
infrastructure. (See to read about the BCS. I
would also like to find a description of its structure and history, but
have not found one online yet)

Notice that the BCS coexisted with companies, governments, non-profits.
People from these groups attended and supported the BCS because BCS met a
need of existing organizations. BCS did not set policy or tell people what
to do. BCS was not in charge of the PC revolution. It was a simple, defined
structure that allowed motivated volunteers to work together to meet a need.

The BCS again demonstrated the energy available from people who want to do
something when we see a need. This is a great theme in our North American
culture - volunteering to help others, expecting the best of others. This
is exemplified by the high profile that Colin Powell, for example, has
taken in promoting and supporting volunteerism in the US. Volunteerism is
key. We all demonstrate this because we are volunteering now for Y2k,
because it supports flexible and fast and appropriate and local response to
a need. Since volunteers do not get paid, we can decide what to do and do
it. We do not need our bosses' boss' approval to organize, say, an arts
festival in the park. If we deem it important, we can imagine it and create
it and organize it. Just as we ourselves have volunteered energy to Y2k, so
will others. What is it that has motivated us to volunteer? For me, a community
and our online Y2k, has, speaking for myself, been instrumental in moving
forward and deciding what is most appropriate to do.

We need to remember that the local organization we create now must also be
resilient to losses in power or telecommunications. Starting a local,
regular meeting schedule is one small step for this.

Instead of pushing for Colin Powell to be a Y2k Czar, why not encourage the
"The President's Summit for America's Future" to champion Y2k volunteerism?

Volunteerism encourages working together with existing organizations. There
is too much to do alone and so much that other organizations are already
doing that can help us all out. Let's look at the programs that are already
in mid-stride that can incorporate the new demands of Y2k risks. One
example is the Red Cross Program in our region that has a program with the goal
of making contact with community groups - maybe they could use that to
help community groups learn contingency planning. Colin Powell supports
volunteerism in a high profile way - I think he could do the most for Y2k
preparation if he maintained the same job but highlighted the need for
volunteerism in Y2k community planning! This fits into the strategy of using
what is already here, given the shortage of time.

So where we are at in Lowell is developing a simple framework for
volunteers to volunteer into, when they come to a realization there is a
problem to be solved. The idea is that this framework can encourage
volunteerism by example
and can allow Y2k volunteers to brainstorm with others in the community.
The framework consists of a web page with pointers to people working on
projects and pointers to resources. We meet at the Owl Diner every Thursday
morning at 7am - this is a place for people curious about Y2k to talk to
others. That's it. Today a fellow who is running for the state senate seat
came by our table and took notes. He discovered that not all computers will
be y2k-ready by 2000. Someone else has started making fundraising calls to
fund a public lecture series. Connections are starting to be made, nothing
is certain, little is complete - what we do will depend on what the
volunteers we hook up with do. A simple structure may allow us to build
the critical mass required to begin preparations for any disruptions,
earlier than if we had no structure. Many of the readers of this are
already part of local Y2k communities. Will this work best? We don't know
yet. Sharing our successes and failures will ensure we find the best
course for this moon shot.


Ian Wells - - Belvidere Neighborhood Association
Y2k Committee, Lowell MA Std. disclaimer
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On 5/22/98 I received the following message from a friend, forwarded from Ian Wells. It was my first introduction to him, after which I looked forward to everything he wrote.-- Tom Atlee

An invitation for some down-home Y2K heroism

We all have a well founded sense that no one is in charge of fixing this
problem. Because no one is in charge, it does not follow that we must
look after our own and run away someplace.

There are many alternatives in the space of taking charge by working
together in our communities. This strikes me as a solvable problem.

I am sure we have all had the experience of seeing something that must be
done and stepping forward and doing it. That is the opportunity of y2k.
There is an immense amount
to be done to enable us to live successfully with the Millennium bug.
Us geeks have advance knowledge of this problem because we know technology.
That gives geeks the chance to start earlier to create neighborhood
contingency plans.

Public awareness is increasing.
Four months ago, when I contacted local officials,
I was surprised to find I was the one informing them about the effects of
the Millennium Bug.

Now when I call new people, people are familiar with the problem and its
risks, but they don't know what to do. People know it's not their job.
But they do want to help if they just knew how. I get the feeling that
there is a lot of collective energy waiting to emerge to help each other.

Why don't we know what to do? The situation is without historical precedent
and no one knows what will happen. We have no models yet for success.

It is most challenging to warn before something unprecedented occurs. The
truth is in the numbers and I wonder how to convey this to action. In the
70's I worked with fisheries officers who looked at catch data and
predicted the collapse of the NE fisheries. They were scorned by their
government bosses. In the 80's I heard projections of the Internet boom
based on exponential growth data for new sites. Both these groups of people
looked at data and believed the data to predict the future. That is the
situation we are in now and our challenge is to make that data real.

One way to visualize success is to imagine the plot of the Sept 99 y2k
disaster movie. (ignoring the irony)
This movie will have heros. And the heros will not be folks who run off to
their cabins and get in fire fights with their neighbors. Heros will be
heros as they have always been, those who go beyond their self to help
others. Myths will arise from actions of heros.

So right now y2k presents immeasurable opportunities.
Each of the readers of this right now has the chance to
define what a y2k hero is. There will be heros. They could be you.
How often does one get such a chance in their life?

And as soon as heros do appear, the press coverage that we need to increase
awareness and concern will appear. Why should the press play up fear when
readers want to hear about bravery and action that stretch beyond ourselves?

Actually a strange thing about y2k so far is that it is really a geek
thing. I mean, I feel a little alone without artists around to help me feel
the situation. There are no songs of heroics or songs of despair or of
There are not even any movies. This is part of the surrealness of the
situation - we know there will be problems, but we have not communicated
our feelings.
And from feeling comes action. But life around us goes on.

What actions can we take? Y2k is not any person's fault or even anyone's
job to solve. It's a system thing. Similar to the environmental
awareness/action change that occurred 20 years ago. We cannot wait for the
government to take action. Because their computer systems are too slow to
be converted, they may be part of the problem, not the solution.

Change is most effective through
grass roots organizing. I will assume we can not really run away from this.
What I am counting on being most effective is grass roots organizing to
understand the risks and then act on minimizing them as a community. Many
people working together for the common good can be amazingly effective.
We see this in many ways everyday.

My local neighborhood group, the Belvidere Neighborhood Association, was
formed to drive drug traffickers out. They did it, not by calling the
police in alarm, but by watching drug houses, keeping notes, and when
they knew the pattern, telling the police where to go when.
The neighborhood group was effective because they initiated locally
something very important to them, and provided the information to others so
they could do their job. Others would not initiate [but the neighborhood group
would] -- and the neighborhood group could not enact [solutions, but others,
such as officials, could]. An interesting model for y2k contingency planning.

I talk with many people in local government or doing y2k work. There is a
lot of concern about what to do for their own families. A neighborhood y2k
group can become a place to initiate action which is acted on by others who
will not be told by their boss to do this. My city councillor is very
pleased that we have formed a y2k committee because he cannot move pro-y2k
legislation without a voice from citizens.

Grass roots organizing is not the only way that we will learn to live with
the millennium bug. We are also in an amazingly entrepreneurial society.
Exactly where can I buy a solar powered battery charger? How can I
equip my house to be self sufficient in energy and food production?
Demand will create supply.

The y2k problem spans many dimensions. To understand how to deal
with it effectively, we will be figuring out how to work together in new ways.
Perhaps the Internet has come along at the right time.

Finally, here are some easy actions to take, towards the goal of grass
roots organizing.

1) Keep notes. Keep a diary.This is a historic time. Use your notes to
help understand the changes.
2) Rendezvous at a local diner (7am Thursday at the Owl Diner is what we do),
informally share ideas with others who want to act on y2k. Brainstorm.
3) Investigate areas of risk, and focus on helping people do their jobs.
For example, our local water department wants an emergency generator in case
the power goes out; I am glad to lobby for them, once I know the situation.
4) Create a web page, of course (hmm, still have to do that).
Pass on what you know ASAP
5) Create a y2k committee in your local neighborhood group, having a group
name helps in all sorts of ways to talk to others
6) Hold a block party. If times will be tough, its good to have met your
neighbors under less trying situation. And if y2k is a bust, you had a nice
7) Work with the Red Cross to prepare emergency shelters at your school,
church, etc. Great for ice storms [and other disasters], too.

Besides, [if you choose instead to protect just yourself and your loved ones,]
I wonder where you would run away to, given everyone else is doing
the same thing. I am betting on preparation and depending on others.



Ian Wells
Community Year 2000 Committee
Disclaimer: Views expressed are mine alone - Ian