State warns against Y2K food hoarding : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

State warns against Y2K food hoarding

By JOHN GREGG METROWEST DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER WESTBOROUGH -- The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency will mount a public relations campaign this fall to discourage food hoarding and panic over potential consequences of the Y2K computer glitch on New Year's Day.

Part of the campaign will be designed to offset the possible impact of Hollywood movies set to be released near the start of next year, portraying dire, dramatic consequences from computer malfunctions on Jan. 1, 2000.

"We want the public to know there should be a general preparedness, but don't go overboard," said John Tommaney, deputy chief of operations for MEMA, which is headquartered in Framingham.

"We've heard stories of people who want to stock up on a 30-day supply of food, or take thousands of dollars out of the bank. There's not a need for that."

Tommaney, speaking last week at MEMA's annual hurricane awareness conference with local electric companies, said state officials believe most agencies and utility companies have taken the needed steps to avoid possible Y2K problems.

Because of old software programs that only record the last two digits of the year, experts have warned that some computers will confuse 2000 with the year 1900 and malfunction on New Year's Day.

"The last thing we want is the public to be upset, scared or frightened about what may happen," said Stephen McGrail, MEMA's new director. "We think we are in pretty good shape in the commonwealth."

"All indicators right now (are) that we are not going to have any major problems with Y2K," Tommaney added. "Frankly, our largest concern right now is the public perception of the Y2K problem."

While calm currently prevails, public service announcements on Massachusetts radio, which will coincide with a federal public relations campaign, may be needed to counter Y2K worries fueled by Hollywood hype, officials said.

"We've been getting indicators that Hollywood plans on releasing three movies related to Y2K, and I'll mention that one involves a nuclear power station, which is going to raise the concern level of the general public again," Tommaney said.

Actor Chris O'Donnell is developing a movie called "Y2K," and Arnold Schwarzenegger is slated to release a movie called "End of Day" around New Year's Day, according to reports.

Public safety officials also fear the public on New Year's Eve will blame minor problems, such as a local power loss should a vehicle strike a utility pole, on the Y2K glitch, and then panic.

And phone lines could be disrupted if millions of residents, right after midnight, attempt to call family members or check that 911 service still works.

"That's the sort of thing that is going to drive the fears of the public," Tommaney said.

Stocking for a storm

Charles Henderson, the former head of the Massachusetts State Police and now director of corporate security for Westborough-based New England Electric System, said homeowners should have water, food and flashlights on hand, as they would for any possible emergency. But he expected no major problems.

"I think the majority of utilities are ahead of the curve," Henderson said. "There's always issues that can come up, but I think I see most people are pretty well-prepared."

MEMA's Internet Web site includes a check list of items to help residents "prepare for unlikely, but possible, consequences from Y2K disruptions," akin to preparing for a winter storm.

Among the suggestions are storing a week's supply of non-perishable food and potable water and to have extra cash on hand. Financial records should also be on paper, the agency recommends.

Robert Fichter, a senior vice president with the Massachusetts Bankers Association, said financial systems have been upgraded and people should be confident that there money is "safe."

At the same time, Fichter said traffic jams and long lines could develop near New Year's Eve if the public makes last-minute efforts to "get an extra quart of milk" or withdraw cash.

"What makes this so different is the apocalyptic frame, the millennium," Fichter said of Y2K craze. "That gives it a little dramatic flavor, but if someone said there was a snowstorm (coming up), they would take it more in stride."

Fichter also said the public should be wary of Y2K-related phone scams, where callers try to get the elderly and other vulnerable residents to divulge personal financial information under the guise of protecting their assets from a computer glitch.

Concern about Y2K power losses and shortages flared this spring when there was a run on generators. But public fear over possible catastrophe appears to have abated, for the most part.

Over in the Sudbury post office, a digital Y2K clock counting down the days and minutes to the new year celebrates the new century as much as it marks the computer deadline, said Postmaster Bill Ponte.

"We're lucky enough to be in the generation to see the year 2000," Ponte said. "I don't anticipate anything myself."

Julie Somers, the spokeswoman for BJ's Wholesale Club based in Natick, said the 100-store chain had not seen any significant changes in food purchases.

"We have seen an increase in sales of generators," Somers said. "Pretty much across the board, our sales (of all products) have been strong, but would I credit it to Y2K? No."

As he was leaving a Home Depot last week, Westborough resident Ed Levy Jr. said he had no worries about the Y2K bug and was not stockpiling supplies.

"Money is going to work out. The charge card is going to work. If they don't, that's their problem," the 73-year-old Levy joked. "I have no trepidation at all."

But Buzz Rummel, a veteran sales associate in Home Depot's electrical department, said he expected the demand for Y2K backup systems to increase once the hot days of summer wane.

"We're going to be inundated with people looking for generators, transfer switches and extension cords," Rummel said. "People are hot right now. What they're asking for are fans."

And the owner of a Needham-based bottled-water distributor said some residential and corporate customers stockpiled 5-gallon jugs in case the water supply was disrupted by Y2K outages.

"I know a nursing home took a bunch of 5s to have in the cellar just in case," said Dan Roman of Nature Springs Water Co. "It was a little while back. I haven't seen it too much lately."

Calm but concerned

Meanwhile, a small Muskegon, Mich., group called Americans Warning Americans Relatively Early (AWARE) sent out a flier listing a "Y2K 100 scarcity list."

"We believe that Y2K is a looming national disaster. That families should prepare in their homes for power and water outages NOW," said the AWARE mailing, which included apocalyptic warnings and calls for religious repentance.

Joseph Almond, a retired typesetter who distributed the mailing, predicted a stock market crash this fall, followed by a bank run and "chaos in the supermarkets."

"You know as well as I that there will be panic," said Almond, who acknowledged his mailing had not attracted much response. "This is a once-in-the-world time event, and no one on Earth knows precisely what will happen."

But many observers don't anticipate a public run on food and other supplies. Henry Tischler, a Framingham State College sociology professor, said the notion of Y2K disruptions is too abstract, unlike the energy shortage of the 1970s, when motorists had to wait in line for hours to buy gasoline.

"If you said to the average person, `What does the Y2K problem mean to you?' you're going to get as many answers as there are people,"Tischler said.

And the professor discounted any comparisons of Y2K problems to Cold War-era movies that depicted vigilantism following a nuclear disaster.

"Maybe I'm going to pick up my phone and I won't have phone service," Tischler said. "I might be annoyed, but I'm not going to go out and attack my neighbor."

But better safe then sorry, MEMA officials say.

"Y2K could just be another bump in the road. We don't anticipate major problems, because of the progress and work that has been done on Y2K, but we always have to plan just in case," said Doug Cope, MEMA's spokesman. "The only thing definite about Y2K is the date."

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- For Discussion Purposes Only

-- Count Vronsky (, July 24, 1999


NO NEED for a 30 day supply of food? We've ALWAYS had a 30 day supply other than milk and a very few other items. My husband has been paid monthly for YEARS. We have three children and their friends! What a bunch of bunk. Maybe this guy has never done the family shopping. They should have quoted his wife! I could see him suggesting no need for 300 days worth (my personal safety net), but *30*? Phewwwwwww

Thanks Count. Lot's of other reasonable points, just too tired to delve into commentary!

-- Will continue (, July 24, 1999.

The y2k problem is two parts-- the code, and the people problems. it always has been. the code, and human behavior.

read the report above, and it's not hard to see that pandemonium is coming, whether or not mission critical systems are fixed....

-- SuperLurker (, July 24, 1999.

Isn't this the state that is storing tons and tons of rice and beans?

-- FLAME AWAY (, July 24, 1999.

Winter storm preps in Mass. could very sensibly be a three month supply.

-- Army Girl (, July 24, 1999.

OOooooooooh, mommy, look those AWARE people are apocalyptic warnings and calls for religious repentance, those weird fanatics, they're so backwards, it's not *our* problem, don't bother getting ready, nothing going to happen, how did those weirdos make it past Y1000?

-- ignorance is ticket (forflaming@train.wreck), July 24, 1999.

"hey boys, cut down that last one, we just caught the next bureaucrat, John Tommaney, deputy chief of operations for MEMA, he's trussed and tied and ready to swing."

We don't know what will happen = vague assurances = don't prepare.

They had better hope nothing happens! Wonder if they have read "The Maddness of Crowds?"

-- Mitchell Barnes (, July 24, 1999.

I have three words for the propagandists and statist PR lackeys who will be trying to "quell panic" by ridiculing or otherwise discouraging preparedness:


-- coprolith (, July 24, 1999.

"All indicators right now (are) that we are not going to have any major problems with Y2K..."


Do public officials HONESTLY believe that if they keep saying Its all okay that magically it will be? Do they NEVER pay attention? Do they never look over the rim of their self-imposed boxes?

Why cant the media ask them what if all indicators were NOT that rosy? (They are CLEARLY not). See how they respond, then write about it. If they waffle... then journalists may have a story indicator that the locals *could* have a problem their officials dont want to face head-on.

Does the media blindly trust *all* officials to tell the truth? Why cant they be skeptical and become pit-bulls for the convincing Y2K details?

Sometimes it just seems like journalists NEVER consider the source, the vested interests, do their homework, ask the pointed questions of local service providers and really DIG deep to uncover the truth about the local area, and PROVE that it REALLY appears to be in good shape--enough to weather a winter ice storm. Or not. And they almost never look at the local situation in the context of the national and international Y2K situations. Why are they so consistently blind?

Get so tied of being reassured by the media ostriches in our society. Rather have a superb investigative journalist do the diligence and convince me with irrefutable facts... than opinions and bureaucratic P.R.

The media is gonna have a lot to answer for... at some point! Sheesh!


-- Diane J. Squire (, July 24, 1999.

This warning from a state where the pastime of the leading family consists of giving various VEHICLES...Swimming Lessons!!!

-- K. Stevens (kstevens@It's ALL going away in, July 24, 1999.


That's because the modern-press/media are nothing more than facillitators of press releases.

They simply report what they're told....unless it disagrees with their political viewpoints or objectives. Ie: The Time Magazine article that depicted Y2K worrywarts as fanatical Christians.

In todays Journalism, polls are manufactured news and press releases/ conferences are the filler.

Another check of the system of balances in this country gone to pot.

Tyranny is not far behind.

-- INVAR (, July 24, 1999.


By studying the Y2K issues and international systemic complexities since last October, Ive learned more about how things dont work in our global society, and have become increasingly more pessimistic... and Im an optimist by nature!

(Time for *another* latte break).

Just find the whole sad story of Y2K lies and obsfucation on the part of our elected officials, non-elected bureaucrats (Koskinen on down), the corporate management, the newsmedia and our industrial/defense complex, et. al., to be the single most depressing story of the millennia, uh, century.

My hope for the future of our civilization rests with the few awake ones who may be able to help those around them and within smaller communities.

My greatest fear is that we will NOT learn the upcoming Y2K lessons and that we will NOT learn to be better, wiser, kinder more cooperative human beings.

Oh well... cest-ce la vie. Or not.


See also...

Is the media initiating realistic Y2K coverage in your area? 0018I2

-- Diane J. Squire (, July 24, 1999.

I wonder whether there's a particular reason--or not--why the tone of the article on Massachusetts is different from this July 1st article about Georgia:

[Fair Use: For Educational/Research Purposes Only]

Y2K: Prepare early for a week of woes

State says you should put aside water, food and a little cash

By Ron Martz

Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writer

Federal and state officials, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Red Cross and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency are urging everyone to have a three- to five-day supply of food and water on hand and enough emergency supplies such as warm clothing, blankets, flashlights and an alternative heating source to tide them over should there be problems as a result of Y2K.

"You should be prepared for Y2K for three to five days just as you might be prepared for some other natural disaster. But the key is to prepare early and don't panic," said Donna Martin, Y2K manager for GEMA's Contingency Management Planning Team.


Federal and state governments have been working for years to try to solve the problem. But there are still a number of unknowns. Some tests of various systems in which the computers were pushed ahead to Jan. 1, 2000, have gone well. Others have been disastrous.

Among the more notable foul-ups was one two years ago at a Chrysler plant in Sterling Heights, Mich. When the computers were rolled over to 2000, the security system shut down, not allowing anyone in or out of the building. In New Jersey earlier this year, food stamp recipients were given $30 million in unexpected credits when state officials ran a Y2K test. And in a suburb of Los Angeles in June, a Y2K test at a sewage treatment plant resulted in nearly three million gallons of raw sewage being dumped into a nearby park. That failed test prompted Los Angeles officials to indefinitely postpone a Y2K test at its sewage treatment plant, which is six times larger than the suburban facility.

Even office supply giant Office Depot has now agreed as part of the terms in settlement of a lawsuit to post signs at its checkout counters informing customers that their computers, software and other electronic products may not work properly after Dec. 31.

At the direction of Gov. Roy Barnes, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency is responsible for developing Y2K contingency plans for the entire state.

"We may have some interruptions,'' said Gary McConnell, director of GEMA, ''but from all indications they will be minor."

Some believe the problem will be far worse than government officials are admitting.

"If the state says three to five days (of problems), you can figure three to six months. The state is notorious for underestimating these things," said Tom Miller of Cedartown, who, along with wife, Sharon, runs an emergency supplies business known as Rainy Day Supply.

Started more than four years ago as a sideline for Sharon, Rainy Day Supply catered to "hunters and campers and the occasional gloom and doomers,:" Tom said. "But when Y2K came along last July and August, it was like an explosion hit."

Although business has tapered off in the last few months, the Millers believe it will pick up significantly as the end of the year approaches. What the Millers say they find interesting is that many of their customers include mid-level managers for public utilities and communications companies plus military personnel. Two Air Force officers each recently purchased a year's supply of food and emergency supplies, the Millers said.

"The customers who are coming in here and buying the most supplies are the ones who know that there are going to be problems," said Sharon.

The Millers are regulars at Y2K seminars and shows, as are Jason and Peggy Mead of Marietta. The Meads began stockpiling emergency supplies in the event of tornadoes or snowstorms four years ago. When people started asking them for advice, they turned it into a business they call ?RUREDE?

"I look at people in my neighborhood and they're not getting ready. But I think that's typical of people in Atlanta," Jason Mead said.

Ernie Reams, of Columbus, Miss., who runs a prepared foods business known as F&E Distribution, said stockpiling food for emergencies is a form of insurance and something of a lost art.

"We are the only generation who have not done it," said Reams as he stood behind stacks of prepared foods at a recent Y2K and gun show at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds. "Our fathers did it and our grandfathers did it and our great-grandfathers did it. It was a form of insurance for them and that's the way people should look at it now."

And if nothing happens on Jan. 1, Reams said, "you can always eat it. It's the only form of insurance that gives you your money back."

"I would rather have it and not need it than not have it and need it," said Tom Miller.

State and federal officials look at preparations for Y2K, especially early preparations, much the same way. They and the wholesale distributors are recommending people prepare gradually, buying an extra can or two of food when they go to the grocery store and putting away bottled water for emergencies.

"We're not suggesting people go out and buy a whole big supply of anything," said GEMA's McConnell.

But early preparation will cut down on last minute-panic, hoarding and impulse buying said GEMA's Martin.

There are other concerns secondary to Y2K problems about which GEMA is trying to alert the public. Martin said there is concern that people who buy generators to supply heat and electricity in the event of a power outage may hook them up incorrectly and electrocute themselves or burn down their houses. People are canning foods and there is concern that if done improperly the process could produce botulism poisoning, she said.

And while most emergency preparedness officials are recommending people have a supply of cash on hand at the end of the year, officials are worried that those who have too much money at home could be vulnerable to home invasions.

Georgia's approach to the Y2K problem is similar to those of other nearby states. Alabama and Florida are basically following FEMA and Red Cross recommendations for disaster preparedness. Gov. Jeb Bush has put together Team Florida 2000 to coordinate efforts around the state, which plans public service announcements and a series of public forums over the next few months.

But in a state well-seasoned by hurricanes, wild fires and tornadoes, many long-time residents don't need to be told of the importance of preparation, said Jim Loftus, spokesman for the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

"The people who have experience with hurricanes don't have to be told twice what to do. It's the people who move to Florida from some other place and are not prepared we have to get the message out to," said Loftus.

McConnell believes Georgia is uniquely positioned to deal with any Y2K problems because of its efforts prior to the 1996 Olympics to prepare for any sort of disaster, natural or man-made, and because of the floods of 1994 and the blizzard of 1993.

"We have a distinct advantage over people in other states who have not prepared for these things or experienced them," McConnell said.


-- Linkmeister (, July 24, 1999.

Someone with a fully stocked extra freezer in the garage and a carefully stocked pantry and food cupboards could easily have a 30 day supply of food. What country do we live in anyways? I'm getting a little sick and tired of the mind control crap being spewed out in an attempt to make us guilty or nervous about having some food in our homes. What the h*ll does that make a Mormon with a religiously mandated year's supply of food? A traitor?

Wake up, folks!

-- OR (, July 25, 1999.

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