One person's drill, another person's apocalypse : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread,2294,500046185-500075422-500181946-0,00.html


One person's drill, another person's apocalypse

Copyright ) 1999 Nando Media Copyright ) 1999 Scripps Howard News Service

From Time to Time: Nando's in-depth look at the 20th century


MEMPHIS (October 16, 1999 2:47 p.m. EDT - What do you need to be prepared if computers abuse their power over us when 1999 becomes 2000 on Jan. 1?

Gerrit Verschuur, a physicist and astronomer who lives in Lakeland, Tenn., doesn't mind contemplating calamity and chaos. His 10th book is called "IMPACT! The Threat of Comets & Asteroids," and he has envisioned how civilization could disintegrate if a near-Earth object slammed the planet.

So how is he preparing for the millennium bug, also known as Y2K?

"I can sum up my reaction in a few words: The current state of the Y2K problem is mostly hype and nonsense. I will lose no sleep whatsoever on New Year's Eve. I have no particular provisions, apart from that which I have to forestall tornado disasters."

The fear which Verschuur doesn't share is that computers that aren't Y2K-compliant are going to wreak havoc in our lives when they read 01/01/00.

To save data storage space in computers of the 1950s and 1960s, the year was expressed in two digits. For instance, Jan. 1, 1959, was 01/01/59. Even after storage space was no longer prohibitively expensive, the two-digit year was kept to ensure compatibility as hardware and software improved.

Time-sensitive computers whose two-digit codes and chips haven't been located and replaced with four-digit ones by New Year's Eve might read the date 01/01/00 as an error, a reference back to 1900. How or whether those computers will function at that point is unpredictable.

There's hardly an aspect of daily life that computers don't regulate to some extent: Currency transactions, communication, food distribution, power and water supplies, transportation, health care. The Gartner Group, a Y2K consulting firm in Stamford, Conn., has estimated that $600 billion will be spent on Y2K corrections by the end of this year.

"At the end of every century, people get a little crazy," says Verschuur. "At the end of a millennium, they get really crazy. I'm sort of glad they focused their craziness on the Y2K problem because that's innocuous."

"I'm more worried whether I'm going to lose data on my Word Perfect than whether I'm going to have water and heat and food," said Brother Stan Sobczyk, president of Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tenn.

Recalling the ice storm of 1994 and a day he saw 2-by-4s swirling in tornado winds around a flagpole outside his CBU office, Brother Stan said, "We have a lot more to fear from the disruption in our lives from Mother Nature than from computers."

In August, the CBU administration sent Y2K survival kits to about 150 alumni, with a lighthearted poem attached. The bags included a flashlight, bottled water, peanuts, raisins, candy and a mini-bottle of Christian Brothers brandy.

But one person's preparedness drill is another person's apocalypse scenario.

At you can get some practical information, such as recommendations by the Cassandra Project and the American Red Cross, or you can fuel your worst fears.

Under "Personal Preparations," you can click onto the subject "Avoiding Envy-Based Retaliation While Living in Comfort With 16 Weekends to Go" (dated Sept. 3). North advises readers to abandon urban life to avoid the chaos and subsequent martial law he believes are inevitable with the new year.

"Once you change your geography to avoid the worst threats of a failure of public utilities, you must think about people. People will be your problem in 2000 if you have assets," he writes.

North, a Texan who identifies himself on his Web site as having a doctorate in history, recommends you live your new rural life in camouflaged luxury.

"What if your home looked lower middle class on the outside and upper middle class on the inside? What if your home looked like what other locals live in, but is in fact very nice - even luxurious - on the inside?"

He advises having a wood-burning stove insert in the fireplace slot and all gas appliances. Because the home is mobile, he says, you'll have options after the computer-generated holocaust has played out. "Buy in a Y2K location today, but reserve the right to move closer to town in, say, 2005."

Such survivalist approaches to Y2K and the proliferation of Y2K disaster-preparation books prompted The Wall Street Journal to publish a summer reading guide to seven of these primers, with a Chicken Little Rating: "How alarmist are the books? We rate them on a scale of one chicken to five."

The headline for a cover story in the Sept. 23 issue of The New York Review of Books - "Y2K Specter" - is written in blood red with bullet-riddled edges. The author, James Fallows, writes, "Even if the computer disruptions prove to be as mild as most programmers now expect, the effort to forestall disruption has turned Y2K into a major commercial, political and cultural event."

In May, Consumer Reports advised readers to start keeping paper records of bank accounts, automatic deposits, investments, health insurance cards, credit-card purchases and travel reservations. It also published parts of the Red Cross Y2K readiness checklist, but concluded, "While anticipating inconveniences is appropriate, panicky stockpiling of essentials or a drastic rearrangement of your personal finances is not."

Somewhere between the scientist and the doomsayer are the scouts (Boy) and the saints (Latter-day), practical people who think it can't hurt and it might help to be prepared for interruptions in supplies of food, water, heat and cash. After all, they say, Y2K aside, Memphis, Tenn., is near the New Madrid fault, and the ice storm of 1994 - with some power outages that stretched beyond a week - still shivers in our memories.

"A little preparation is good for us all the time," says Alfred Klug Jr., owner of Camp and Trail Outfitters in Collierville and Military Surplus Supply in Southaven. "Earthquakes are always a possibility."

Klug has been involved in some aspect of scouting for 45 of his 56 years, he says. He was a troop leader. Both of his sons are Eagle Scouts.

His stores stock lanterns, gas and water cans and Meals Ready to Eat (for instance, cheese tortellini in tomato sauce, applesauce, crackers, strawberry jam, a chocolate-covered oatmeal cookie, instant coffee and condiments, all freeze-dried in a brown paper container, $7.95).

Klug says he probably can attribute only a 1 percent change in his business to Y2K preparations, though he thinks a few people have gone overboard.

"They're buying generators. You can only get half a day's worth of heat with the amount of fuel you can store."

What should a family of, say, four people who live in an urban area do to prepare for Y2K?

"Get as far away from town as possible," Klug said, mostly joking. "On farms and rural areas, they know how to take care of themselves. Of course, they're gonna be standing in the driveway with a shotgun."

His more practical advice is to "Think about what you do every day. You drink water, eat food, need heat."

He keeps water and canned goods in air- and water-tight storage containers, maintaining an inventory of the contents and expiration dates.

Bill Kratz, Klug's co-worker who's also a longtime scouting participant, recommends kerosene for emergency heat.

"It's an efficient fuel if you keep the wick trimmed. And get propane to cook on a grill outdoors, that's a prudent thing to do."

Klug himself is more than a little prepared to live for a while without food, water and electric power supplies. He estimates he and his wife could sustain themselves at home on their current stockpile for 30 to 45 days. They buy gallon jugs of water by the case. He has wood in the back yard and a kerosene heater he bought during the '94 ice storm. Once a week, Klug and his wife spend an extra $10 to $15 on food and other provisions.

"Let's see, what did I get last night," he said recently. "Brillo pads, dehydrated milk, six cans of ravioli, some Kool-Aid."

Klug, who has a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and a master's degree in engineering administration, believes the power companies will make the switchover to 2000 with no trouble. He and Kratz are more worried about people who aren't prepared for aberrations in grocery stocks, for instance, if there are computer-based disruptions in shipping and delivery.

"A panic could empty these stores in half a day," Klug says. "It wouldn't take much to whip it up."

They also fear that those who aren't prepared could prey on those who are. Klug's business has a "Y2K Supplies" list that includes "knives (defense, hunting, fishing)" and "military long arms/rifles."

"Learn how to shoot a shotgun," Klug says. "That's the most effective home-defense weapon."

"People are scared of a shotgun," Kratz agrees. "Just the sound of the slide on a shotgun will make people truck."

Entertaining variations on the theme of electricity-free living are available among the camping supplies at Outdoors Inc. When asked, Hunter Browndyke, manager and resident "Y2K nerd" at the Memphis store, points out goods such as a water-powered clock and a solar-powered radio that also can be charged for 15 minutes with 1-3 minutes of hand-cranking. Outdoors Inc. also stocks a variety of portable cooking devices and freeze-dried potatoes au gratin, green beans almondine, spicy cheese omelettes and peaches and cream pie.

Y2K won't alter home life as usual for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"A year's supply of food has always been a tradition," said Dr. Craig Langstraat, first counselor in the church's Memphis Stake as well as interim associate dean for academic programs at University of Memphis. "Church leaders have always stressed not needing to rely on other people in times of emergency. It's part of church theory and doctrine, and scouting is one of the premier programs we use."

Langstraat's family keeps a large pantry stocked with wheat, rice, water and sugar, among other goods, in pressurized containers. They also have a "48-hour kit," enough provisions to support them for two days stored in a rolling garbage can.

Joanne Hunter, president of the relief society for the Memphis Stake, said the church provides guidelines defining adequate food supplies.

"For instance, we encourage adult males to have 300 pounds of wheat stored for a year, females 200 pounds, children 70 to 200 pounds," said Hunter, who lives in Senatobia, Miss. "We encourage families to start their food supply that is applicable to them, to put $5 to $10 a week toward something to put into the store."

And if you haven't given thought to putting aside water before the need arises, there are some unorthodox sources to keep in mind. Kratz would look to his neighbors' swimming pools in a pinch. Hunter said waterbeds and water heaters can serve as emergency water supplies if you have purifiers.

Mark Heuberger, manager of corporate communications at Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division, believes people who are preparing for Y2K should not focus on the loss of electricity, gas and water.

In addition to the fact that LG&W, like most big electric utilities, declared in July that its mission-critical systems are Y2K-compliant, "Our systems are not totally reliant on computers," Heuberger said. "Our fallback position, if there is a problem with the computers, is to operate the electric, gas and water systems manually.

"Every day, 24 hours a day, we are operating our system at different points manually. We always have," Heuberger said. "We can operate all of it manually if we wanted to, the way it's set up."

And fuel-driven backup generators at water pumping stations ensure the flow of water and maintenance of water pressure, Heuberger said.

Rick Nunn, marketing and communications director for SCB Computer Technology Inc., said he noticed a sign on a bank in Paragould, Ark., that said, "Yes, we are ready."

"That's a strong statement," Nunn said. More to his taste is the phrase, "We are as prepared as we can possibly get."

A conference he'll attend this month features a question-answer panel called, "Did We Get It All Wrong?"

"I don't think anybody can say they're 100 percent ready," Nunn said. "It depends on how late they were starting" to locate potential computer problems.

Debbie Bonner, sales director at SCB, points out that Sept. 9, or 09/09/99, was considered a "stop-date" because some programmers signal the end of an operation with the numbers 999 or 9999.

"There were no repercussions, none whatsoever," Bonner said.

"I don't think it's scary," Nunn said. "I will prepare, get water, some cash and different things, but not like it's going to be the end of the world."

Peggy Burch writes for The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tenn.

-- Homer Beanfang (, October 19, 1999


Eventually we will all experience y2k.

And if it's more than that tiny-weany, little ole BITR, then the denialists will ask themselves, "What caused all of these failures? It couldn't be y2k because that was a nothing event. It must be that three day tornado they were talking about."

Perceptions, opinions, spin, lies and smoke screens have nothing at all to do with not having any water to drink.

You either have it or you don't.

-- no talking please (, October 19, 1999.

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