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I am really impressed with this letter to the Senate Y2K Committee from Mick Winter, chair of the Napa Valley (CA) Citizens for Year 2000 Preparedness, on the occasion of the Committee's hearings on Y2K Community Preparedness. Anyone else who would like to add their voice is encouraged to do so. The address is on Mick's letter. (but note Bayard Stockton's comments at the end) -- Coheartedly, Tom
Napa Valley Citizens for Year 2000 Preparedness PO Box 2254 Napa CA 94558 707.257.2737
14 May 1999
Senator Bob Bennett
Senator Chris Dodd
Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem
U.S. Senate SD-B40, Suite 3
Washington DC 20510
Dear Senators Bennett and Dodd, and other committee members,
I am the chair of Napa Valley Citizens for Year 2000 Preparedness, a small grassroots organization formed in September 1998. We also maintain a website at http://www.y2knapa.com.
Y2K is not an unexpected surprise. There have been decades of warnings. The year 2000 is an Election Year. If the consequences of Y2K are serious, and our communities are not prepared, the American public is going to look at incumbent elected officials at all levels, from Town Councilmember to Vice President, and ask: "Why didn't you do something?"
The federal government has focused on protecting the government's own computers from the Year 2000 design flaw, and on protecting American businesses from American lawyers. It is time that it focused on protecting American communities from the likely consequences of Y2K.
Doubt is my constant companion. I have no way of knowing the actual consequences of Y2K, and I believe no one does. But what I have learned over the past 14 months through many hundreds of hours of research is that the penalty for preparing and being wrong is far less than the penalty for not preparing and being wrong.
Or to put it another way: "It's better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it."
Some have said there is only a 1% chance of major, long-term problems from Y2K. If there were only a 1% chance of your being killed each time you drove to work in the morning, how long would it take before you considered tele-commuting? Or, as a friend of mine suggested, if every 100th person who ordered a McDonald's hamburger was shot, how soon would you consider becoming a vegetarian?
One possible, and I think sensible, response to Y2K is to head for the hills. However, I, and thousands of other concerned citizens like me, choose to remain where we are. It may simply be because there aren't enough hills for several hundred million of us. I prefer to believe it's because our towns and cities are not only where we live, but also where our society exists. We are not a nomadic people. We are no longer a rural people. We choose to live in communities of all sizes. Those communities must be prepared. At this moment they are not, and as I write this there are only 231 days left in which to prepare.
We believe that the federal government has not been forthright in telling the American people about Y2K. We believe it is because the government is afraid of panic. We share the concern over panic, but we believe the government's approach will result in panic, not prevent it. Panic comes when people fear they are in danger, have incomplete information, and believe there is nothing that they can do about the situation. None of this need be the case. Americans can be given full information - recognizing that no one knows for sure what will happen with Y2K. They can be assured that with proper preparation the danger is greatly lessened. And they can be told what actions they can take and given the tools to carry out those actions. American spirit and Yankee ingenuity alone will not save the day, but combined with honest, comprehensive information and the full backing of their government, it can be done.
I am just one of many hundreds working in the Y2K trenches throughout this country. We refer to ourselves as "Y2K Community Activists". Many others, including members of the various governments, refer to us as "gun nuts", "survivalists", "cult members", "scaremongers" and "scam artists". I am not a gun nut. While I am not against guns, I have none myself. I am not a "survivalist" in the usual sense of the word, although I am certainly attracted to the idea of helping my family, my community and my country survive this potential disaster. I belong to no Y2K cult, whatever that might be. I will admit that I do wish to scare people a little -- just enough to get them to act. And when it comes to scams, well, I have to admit that I have made money from Y2K. So far, over the past 14 months, I have made a total of $322.00 from helping people obtain emergency food packages. Frankly, I wish it had been more. The time I have spent on Y2K community organizing has had a negative effect on my regular income.
I have no particular desire to spend my time on this matter. There are many other things that I would rather be doing. But I feel I have no choice. It is similar to how I felt as an Army staff sergeant in Vietnam 33 years ago. I can assure you that it occurred to me then that there were many other things I would rather have been doing. However, I recognized that I had a job to do. And I did it.
I am not a Y2K computer professional. I am not a programmer. I am not a Y2K remediation expert. I do not have direct experience with mainframe computers. I do have nearly 20 years of professional experience with computers, but that has been with personal computer software. I have written software instruction manuals, and helped design software interfaces. But I have also worked in the computer department of an insurance company that was dependent on a mainframe computer. A non-Y2K compliant one, of course. And I have seen the problems and delays in any software project, no matter what the size. I have never seen a software project completed on time. And remember, my experience is with small companies and small projects.
It was at the insurance company that I first heard about Y2K. A mainframe computer programmer eight years ago told me his concern about the two-digit year problem and his frustration that he couldn't get management to listen. I dismissed the problem myself, thereby demonstrating an ignorance I wasn't to remedy for another seven years.
In March 1998 a friend in Seattle telephoned me, mentioned the Year 2000 problem, and suggested I visit a certain site on the Internet. I assured him that I knew about the problem and that it was being taken care of. He insisted that I visit the web site, and to get him off my back, I promised I would. Unfortunately I kept the promise. My life has not been the same since.
I visited the web site, and then followed a hypertext link to another. And another. In fact I spent much of my free time over the next two weeks totally immersed in Y2K. I was staggered by the amount and variety of information available on the net. And I was even more staggered by the magnitude of the potential problem. I determined that there was nothing more important in my life than helping my family and my community prepare to deal with that problem. I have been spending every available moment since then doing what I can. It has not been with great success.
Over the past 14 months I have written a number of letters to the editor of our local daily newspaper. I have given interviews to newspaper, television and radio reporters in Napa County and around the world. I have spoken to, or written to, nearly every elected official in Napa County. I have spoken to groups of non-profit executive directors; professionals who work with the elderly; ministers, pastors, rabbis and priests. I have talked with friends, neighbors and clerks in stores. I started a group which meets regularly twice a month to discuss both home and community preparation. The group I started has spawned a number of other groups in adjacent counties. I started a Napa Valley Y2K web site with extensive information on Y2K and home, neighborhood and community preparation. At the bottom of the page it states "Steal This Website". This encouragement has resulted in a number of other communities throughout the country starting their own community Y2K page, using structure and content from mine.
Our local chamber of commerce, realizing that local government was taking no action, sponsored a "Y2K Town Hall", at which over 200 people listened to representatives from city and county government, water departments, sanitation, phone and power companies, banks and hospitals, talk about their Y2K status. Many gave my work credit for helping bring that forum about. It may be. It doesn't matter. At least it happened.
In cooperation with the City of Napa, we will be disseminating emergency preparedness information through the Napa Police Department's "Neighborhood Watch" program to over 300 neighborhood groups. While details have not yet been worked out, it is likely that it will include suggestions to prepare for 3-7 days, a period of time that our Y2K group considers to be grossly inadequate.
All of this has been worthwhile, and it has largely been personally satisfying, but it has also been a failure. Because all that truly matters is whether or not my community is ready for Y2K. It is not. And there is no indication it will be.
The reason? I believe it is because our federal government has taken no credible action. There is a paradox here. Despite considerable distrust of government at all levels, the American people still look to government to help it in an emergency. The emergency has not yet happened. But, as someone said in testimony to you last year, "It is seldom that a disaster has the courtesy to announce itself in advance."
We know when it is coming. We may not exactly know what it is, but we know what it could be. And what it could be is devastating.
Preparation for this emergency has not taken place because the government has said there is no emergency. And thus my community believes, because it trusts the government about these things, that there is no emergency. And so I consider my efforts over the past 14 months to be a failure.
I plead with you to tell the American people the truth. Tell them that you don't know what will happen, but that there is the potential for very, very serious problems. Tell the American people that the government cares about them and their communities. And to demonstrate this, give full and total support to the communities. Give them the money, resources and other backing that they need to get through this.
Show them that the traditional concept of "mutual aid" does not apply in this situation. The idea of a community hanging on for 72 hours until help arrives from the outside is not a Y2K-compliant idea. There will be no cavalry coming to the rescue. The cavalry is going to have its own problems. As John Koskinen, head of the President's Y2K Council, stated recently in Singapore (and as an aside it's interesting to note that he is never quite as forthright when he speaks in this country), "we've told our local governments and our state governments that they need to be prepared to handle emergencies on their own, since the federal government can't be everywhere dealing with every problem in light of the large number of problems that we are likely to have.."
We are told that the national infrastructure will continue to function after Y2K and there will only be localized problems. Senators, local is where we live. It is in local communities where the American public dwells. And we are in great danger unless you take action.
The communities can do their own planning and determine their own needs. But first they must be aware that this is necessary. The federal government has told them that it is not. This is not true. There is potentially great danger. You must tell them that. And you must help them prepare.
This has the potential to be the greatest challenge this country has ever faced. And you are faced with your greatest challenge. To recognize just how serious this is. And to act now, in advance, before anything happens in order to prepare us for that which is likely to occur.
Have you checked lately on the status of the Y2K compliancy of the infrastructure of the District of Columbia? Do you think the federal government can operate smoothly if the city in which it resides is falling apart? It may be very difficult to do anything about this problem after January 1st, 2000. Now there is still time.
This is a time for leadership. It is only leadership at the federal level that can make the difference. There is no leadership from the Executive Branch, so it must come from the Senate and the members of your committee. The government must speak with one voice. It has done such a good job of preventing panic that now the American public believes there is no concern. This is not true, and you know this to be not true.
As Winston Churchill said, "Give us the tools and we will do the job." Give us the tools and the moral support. Tell the American people the truth, and they and we in the communities will do the job.
Mick Winter Chair Napa Valley Citizens for Year 2000 Preparedness
Napa Valley Y2K http://www.y2knapa.com // http://www.y2kdates.com
_ _ _ _
This is a plea from a career journalist, editor, author, teacher of writing - and leader of Santa Barbara Y2K:
Please, please, guys: You have valuable things to say, as in Mick Winter's letter to Sen. Bennett.
BUT you are not going to get the real attention of the power people if you write endlessly - no matter how important and vital the subject is.
Keep your message to the bare-bones minimum. If you have a lot of material that absolutely has to come out of you, include it in an attachment to your punchy cover letter. Or prepare a hard- hitting executive summary of our main points to top the body of your text.
That way, you/we stand a chance of getting the message to where it counts.
Bayard Stockton <firstname.lastname@example.org> SB Y2K
A good example of a "bare-bones" message:
May 17, 1999
Senator Bob Bennett
Senator Chris Dodd
Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem
U.S. Senate SD-B40, Suite 3
Washington DC 20510
Dear Senators Bennett and Dodd:
The federal government has focused on protecting the government's own computers from the Year 2000 design flaw, and on protecting American businesses from American lawyers. It's time to focus on protecting American communities from the likely consequences of Y2K.
People are not making adequate preparations for potential Y2K emergencies because the government says there is no emergency. We're told that the main Y2K problems are expected to occur in local communities.
Don't shrug us off that way. Local communities are where we live. My particular community is not doing at all well in solving Y2K problems. We are in great danger unless you take action.
This is a time for federal leadership. Please tell the American people the truth: you don't know what will happen, and there is a potential for very serious problems.
601 S. Butler, #4
Lansing, MI 48915