Critics say Y2K awareness lags in U.S.greenspun.com : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread
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Critics say Y2K awareness lags in U.S.
By JIM ABRAMS Associated Press writer
WASHINGTON -- Sen. Robert Bennett, the Senate's leading expert on the year 2000 computer problem, wants Americans to know that Y2K is an "unpredictable event that may have life-altering consequences."
But he says they must also know that Y2K "will not be the end of the world as we know it."
Striking a balance between those two messages has been a delicate task.
Critics say the government is sending out mixed messages and lulling Americans into a false sense of security by playing down the possible crises from computer systems that fail because they can't read the year 2000 date.
"They are erring more on the side of fear," said Liza Christian of the grass-roots Rogue Valley Y2K Task Force in Oregon. "Fear that the American people will act with a lack of intelligence, that they will take bizarre measures."
John Koskinen, head of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion (www.y2k.gov), said that it hasn't been easy to convey their central theme, that national systems -- power grids, telecommunication networks, air traffic -- are safe, but people should be prepared for some localized, temporary disruptions.
"It is confusing, but we are trying to make it as clear as we can," he said.
His council has created 25 working groups to make sure industries around the country are talking to each other about the computer problem and recently began a nationwide campaign, with a Y2K tool kit, to promote community conversations on the subject.
The key, he said, is for people to make cool, informed decisions.
"I told some of the doomsayers from the start that sometimes people in a well-meaning way drive the argument to the extremes."
James Adams, head of Infrastructure Defense, a technology firm that runs a Y2K news Web site (www.y2ktoday.com), praised the council's efforts but said Koskinen is underfunded and the United States is well behind such countries as Canada and Britain in making people aware of the possible consequences.
In recent testimony before Sen. Bennett's special committee on the Y2K problem, Adams cited a survey taken last year revealing that two-thirds of Americans did not know what Y2K was. Some thought it was a tooth whitener, a movie rating, a stain remover or a brand of petroleum jelly.
People are now more aware of the problem, but "the level of ignorance remains alarmingly high," he said.
Bennett, R-Utah, who chairs the Y2K panel with Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., (www.senate.gov/~bennett/y2k.html) agreed with Koskinen that there will almost certainly be isolated disruptions, but predicting where the problems will arise can be a risky business.
He recalled that when "Tonight Show" host Johnny Carson joked in 1973 that toilet paper was disappearing from grocery store shelves, the next day 20 million viewers rushed out to stockpile supplies and caused a real shortage.
"The antidote to panic is always accurate information," Bennett said in an interview. "But some of the accurate information can be pretty scary."
Bennett's Internet site advises people to check with police, doctors, pharmacists and grocers about their services, keep on hand batteries, warm blankets and "a couple of extra cans of food," save copies of financial transactions and beware of Y2K con artists.
Bennett said that at his own home he has filled a 55-gallon drum with water and has stored food. "That's prudent in modern life. There's so many things that can interrupt your life."
Koskinen's council offers similar "common sense" suggestions such as preparing a three-day supply of water and nonperishable goods, filling up on gas and keeping copies of bank statements.
The Web page assures people that major national disruptions are unlikely, that planes are safe and that coffee makers, microwaves, elevators and other equipment without calendar functions should not be affected.
Others, such as Rogue Valley's Christian, say these guides seriously understate the problem and that people should have at least three weeks of basic supplies. She said President Clinton needs to take the lead in organizing a national fire drill this fall.
But Bennett said there is a limit to what Washington can do.
"I don't think it's John Koskinen's responsibility or mine to run around to every local community and say the federal government is checking on you," he said.
(Copyright 1999 Associated Press.
-- Arlin H. Adams (email@example.com), June 10, 1999
Welcome back, Arlin :) Been missing you.
-- Mercy (firstname.lastname@example.org), June 10, 1999.
Hey Arlin, welcome back.
-- J (email@example.com), June 10, 1999.
Bennett said that at his own home he has filled a 55-gallon drum with water and has stored food.
That says it all, in my opinion.
-- Linkmeister (firstname.lastname@example.org), June 10, 1999.
"And at the end of summer..I'm going to advise people that if in your community, no one's bothered to talk to you, then I would say you may have a reason to say, I'm going to make more precautions."
John Koskinen, April 22, 1999
-- none (email@example.com), June 10, 1999.