More Open Letters to John Koskinen and his Replies : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

More Letters to John Koskinen and his responses - these are reposts from the Community Conversations e-list Reposted here by ExCop NOT by Steve Davis

In a message dated 11/5/99 5:22:54 PM Eastern Standard Time, steve@DAVISLOGIC.COM writes:

> > Mr. Koskinen does not receive messages posted to this list. As before, I > have passed this along to him. His response follows. > > Steve Davis > > > Subject: Re: An open letter to Mr. Koskinen Author: JGolter@AOL.COM at Internet Date: 11/6/99 5:01 PM


Please do me the favor of forwarding this mesage as well to Mr. Koskinen.

I appreciate the time and attention that Mr. Koskinen pays to our group.

He left the Congressional Committee hearing on Thursday before they were done questing him in order to make our conference call and takes the time to answer our questions in more than a cursory manner. During the conference call, he referred to some members of the group having suggested that we cut off communications and his unwillingness to do that. Actually I think I am the only person who advocated that. So it is appropriate for me to express my appreciation for his greater reserve of patience than I have and for his time and attention.

That said, I think that one response that Mr. Koskinen made to a question at the hearing clearly illustrates the divide between us. It is frustrating, not because the divide between us is so great, but because we are so close and yet so far. In the end, the administration always has come up short, wasting countless opportunities to exercise leadership. I wasn't taking very good notes during the hearing so I will grossly paraphrase the question and the answer. When I then provide the answer that I would have wanted to hear I think two things will be clear. 1) My answer is probably more in line with what the Congressman was looking for than Mr.Koskinen's. 2) I would be surprised if Mr. Koskinen in fact objected to my answer. However, the two responses represent two very different mindsets about Y2K, the public and the role of government. There is very little time to bridge the gap between the two views. (In fact, it probably is too late, but better late than never.)

The question, and I can't remember the name of the Congressman who asked it, involved his mentioning that January 1 is one of the shortest days of the year. It doesn't seem as if advocating that people have a flashlight and an extra set of batteries would be enough to compensate for the loss of electricity.

The answer was that the administration does not advocate that people buy generators (he may have said "at this time" -- I don't recall for sure) unless they have particular vulnerabilities to power failures such as people living in isolated areas.

The answer that I would have wanted to hear would have been along these lines:

"We are not expecting wide scale power outages, but it is possible that some locations will have problems. Since we can't predict with any precision which locations will be effected, everyone will have to weigh the costs and benefits of preparing for the possibility that problems will occur in their own communities. Losing electricity is a terrible inconvenience for anyone, but it effects different people in different ways. For a few individuals, for example people dependent on some medical devices, the consequences would be severe. Such people should already have backup power sources available because, even without Y2K, the continual flow of electricity is not completely reliable. For everyone, going to the extreme of buying a generator is probably not advisable because they are expensive, cumbersome and the storage of fuel is a complicating factor. In some cases, community based approaches would be useful. For example, insulin dependent persons need to refrigerate their medicine after opening a package. It is not practical for every diabetic to buy a generator for this purpose. However, many businesses already have installed generators as part of their normal contingency plans. We would encourage local Red Cross chapters, in coordination with local chapters of groups that support diabetics, to canvas local businesses, police stations, etc. Find out which of these organizations could make a refrigerator available for local diabetics to use to store their medication during a power outage. Let each diabetic know which nearby facilities would be available for this and let them make appropriate arrangements.

"Everyone should consider the many uses they have for electricity and think through alternative methods of accomplishing the same goals. For example, many of us require electricity for heat, light and cooking. Without electricity it is possible to do these things through other means. However, it is important to develop plans that involve safe alternatives. Often, when regions suffer weather related power outages some people end up starting fires in their homes while trying to cook or keep warm. This is especially problematic in urban areas because one careless resident could cause the evacuation of an entire high-rise building or row of townhouses.

"Persons with small children or pets should avoid using any methods that involve open flames, like candles or burning lamps. For these persons, it is much better to use battery powered devices like lanterns and flashlights. And to have an ample supply of batteries on hand.

"For cooking, it is important not to use outdoor cooking equipment, like charcoal grills, indoors. The purpose of preparing for emergencies is to reduce the level of risk in our lives, not to increase it. Safe alternatives for cooking indoors includes sterno cans and cooking devices powered with butane canisters. It is also possible to construct solar powered ovens, or even to cook food on the engine of a car if you are driving anyhow. (You should experiment with any method before relying on it.) For some people, it may be easiest to plan not to cook, but to have on hand food that can be eaten out of the box or can. People storing food that requires water to prepare, should be sure to stock extra water. The basic recommendation is one half gallon per person per day for fluid intake -- more for people engaged in strenuous activity. Another half gallon per day is needed for minimal hygiene, like brushing teeth and washing hands. If more water is required for cooking it should also be included in your family's plans.

"Staying warm could also be an important issue depending on the weather outside and how well insulated your residence is. Many home owners have fireplaces that can provide extra warmth, but it is a good idea to test this out in advance to see how large an area of the house is warmed by the fireplace. Check with your local fire marshal to find out what sorts of portable devices are safe for heating. Finally, it is possible to bundle up with layers of clothing. If your building is getting cold, close off some rooms and keep everyone together in one room to concentrate your body heat in one space. Finally, in the worst case scenario, in which there is a power outage and severe cold weather, you may want to build a dwelling within your residence. This could be constructed by putting up a camping tent in your living room and covering it with blankets, or even draping blankets over a dining room table. Place a mattress or cushions on the floor for comfort.

If you construct something of this sort, make sure that you don't burn anything for light or cooking inside this "dwelling." Because residents of high-rise buildings are especially vulnerable to the possibility that neighbors make poor decisions about these issues, we recommend that everyone make an effort to meet with his or her neighbors to discuss these issues together, and to make sure that every resident understands how to safely deal with an electrical outage. Again, we are not predicting widespread power outages. However, it is probably a good idea for every family to think through these issues and have plans in place. After all, every year, natural disasters always seem to leave some part of the country with extended power outages."

As I wrote, I don't think that Mr. Koskinen would have particular objections to my answer. However, the mindset behind the two responses is very different. His discourages actions on the part of the public "Don't buy generators!" and is motivated by fear of the public. My mindset is to provide useful information to the public upon which they can make well reasoned decisions.

I know that some of you are considering drafting a letter to President Clinton. Frankly, I don't know how he can deftly pull himself out of the Y2K box he has put himself in. However, I would suggest that leading a national workshop on emergency preparedness, both for individuals and communities would be the most effective use of his bully pulpit during the next two or three weeks.

 Jay Golter, NOVA Y2K

****************************************** John Koskinens response

Mr. Koskinen's response to Jay Golter

From: John Koskinen Sent: 08 November, 1999 9:43 PM To: Subject: Re: FW: An(other) Open Letter to John Koskinen

Dear Jay,

Thanks for your letter and the response you would have given to the question. Other than the fact that your answer would have used up the time alloted to the member asking the questions, you're correct in noting that I would not disagree with most of what you said. In fact, during the hearing I noted that those with emergency needs for power such as those on life support systems should have already arranged for backup power sources since there are a lot of other threats to power than just Y2K. If Y2K is what gets them to make such arrangements for the first time, that will be one of the silver linings of this problem.

I also noted that in many areas of this country people have already had experience of dealing with lenthy power outtages in the middle of the winter and the emergency plans used then are available now and should be updated for Y2K. In short, I noted, that we need to be prepared for Y2K as we would for other emergencies. In fact, if we could just get people to prepare at all we would be making great strides in light of the minimal preparedness most families have taken for emergencies generally.

I appreciate your willingness to keep the dialogue going.


More Messages and replies from John Koskinen

An(other) Open Letter to John Koskinen

Subject: An(other) Open Letter to John Koskinen Author: Doug Stewart at Internet Date: 11/6/99 6:24 PM

Dear Mr. Koskinen;

Like many others, I greatly appreciate your sharing time and effort with us in last Thursday's conference call. I believe it supports your observation that we all share the common purpose of preparing the American public for the potentially serious events that lie just ahead.

I would like to address Leysa Leland's thought-provoking question of why we are arriving at different projections of the future, although we share a common purpose and receive much the same information? It is a question common to such widely disparate fields as scientific experimentation, accident witnessing, and marriage counseling: How can participants in the same phenomenon arrive at sometimes radically different observations and conclusions?

The basic answer, of course, is that we have - both individually and collectively - a set of "filters" through which we pass the information available to us. There are three primary factors which can influence the "tint" of those filters. All are in action relative to Y2K:

1. Different personal and /or collective experiences * Our experiences as American public have been that "spin-doctoring" is an increasingly common phenomena with information released to us, with a resultant loss of public confidence in both the truthfulness and usefulness of that information. Witness Microsoft's attempts to show they were not a monopoly or the tobacco industry's attempts to cast doubt on the addictive qualities of tobacco.

* We've experienced the media's ability to slant public information to suit their own editorial biases. Witness the widely-ranging headlines coming out of the Senate Special Committee's final "100 Days" report.

* We've also observed the body-count of those now-headless messengers who brought ill tidings to those in power.

As a result of these experiences, we may have far less trust than you in the candor and veracity of the information supplied to you by industry groups, whose operations are funded by the same organizations they survey and whose day-to-day market value is dependent upon investor's perceptions and psychological sense of well-being.

As an example of suspect industry association information, in February, 1999, the American Hospital Association queried the Y2K readiness of 2000 of its members. Only 583 responded, leaving the status of 71% of their members to your speculation and theirs.

2. Distorted information The Y2K information being presented to our respective filters is conflicting, often internally contrary, and frequently downright muddy. For example:

* Rep. Horn's latest government Report Card gives the Department of Education an "A", while almost simultaneously the department released information indicating that more than one-third of elementary and secondary school districts are not yet Y2K-ready. Deputy Secretary Mike Smith in a late-October press conference stated that as many as 1000-1500 schools will have to shut down to fix Y2K-related problems with heating, security, and telecommunications systems. This rates an "A"? Not in our grade book.

* We do our math, too, and whereas your government colleagues are releasing PR reports to the effect that the government is "99.9% Y2K-ready," Rep. Horn's latest Report Card would indicate otherwise. In short, would any college admissions faculty consider a student whose academic record included 2 C's, 4 D's, and an F as being "99.9%" ready for grad school? I doubt it.

* Undercutting the ubiquitous "99.9%" [the latest "statistic du jour"] Rep. Horn also stated in his late-September report that "...the overall federal government improved its compliance rate by a measly one percent during the last three months. This performance rate is simply not acceptable. Five percent of the government's most critical computer systems are still not upgraded for the Year 2000." We've seen the transcript of your Thursday appearance before Rep. Horn's committee. Why was this apparently conflicting information not brought up? Are the government's Right Hands and Left Hands blissfully and /or naively unaware of such information discrepancies? Did no one do their homework?

* In your testimony Thursday you stated that "...vital areas such as international shipping and air transport are reporting increasing levels of compliance." In early September, however, when the US Coast Guard conducted a two-day check of ships from all nations approaching US ports, approximately 150 ships failed the Y2K-readiness inspection and were turned away from entering port. Don't you believe that a large number of ships, carrying vital parts and products and barred from docking by the Coast Guard, would not have "a negative impact on the overall US economy"? Ask any assembly-line employee who is waiting for those just-in-time parts, or retail store owner who needs the products to stay financially alive.

* In February, 1999, the Senate Special Committee report stated that "more than 50% of small and medium-sized businesses have yet to address the Y2K problem." In mid-October - eight months later - you apparently stated in a telephone interview that about 800,000 small businesses across the country still remain at risk for computer failures. Your comments, as reported, included "It's a great, free country, and you have the freedom to fail." Do you believe that the failure of a great number of small and medium-sized businesses - which supply approximately 50% of US private sector jobs and 400,000 of which supply more that 50% of our GNP - would not have a significant effect on the US economy? Ask the employees, families, customers, suppliers, and banks of those potential failures.

* Those of us in the community emergency preparation trenches across the U.S. are willing to do our math homework, but as you can see, when we do, we arrive at very conflicting answers from you and your Washington colleagues.

3. A difference in intended outcomes Our filters strongly reflect our personal and /or collective agendas. The agenda for those of us in the field is to prepare our communities for Y2K and other emergencies, including the potential for this cycle of solar flares to do their share of disrupting power and telecommunications, as they have in the past.

The apparent agenda for government, large businesses, and financial organizations is to keep the public calm and reassured to the extent that a "panicked" public will not cause their systems to be disrupted or otherwise left in dysfunctional disarray. The result is a decidedly mixed public message: Everything is [99.9%] fine - but, oh, by the way, do your bit by [your quote]"preparing for the long holiday weekend" - as if they weren't going to anyway. By any stretch of the imagination, this can hardly be considered a stirring call to action. Paul Revere, where are you when we need you?

Failing the unlikely reemergence of Revere, those of us in the trenches would settle for the emergence of public leadership by a certain lame-duck Senior Executive, with nothing political to lose and a great deal to gain by exhibiting the national bipartisan leadership we so obviously need. The time is short and the possible consequences of failed leadership are severe, but as Jennifer Bunker pointed out Thursday from Utah, when leadership comes from the top, very positive things happen. Franklin Roosevelt knew when to have Fireside Chats in the face of national adversity. Let's hope that the current senior executive - encouraged by yourself and others who have his ear - knows the same.

Again, Mr. Koskinen, thanks for listening!


Douglas Stewart, Ed.D. CEO, TechTouch Systems Outreach Coordinator, Eldorado Y2K Group, Santa Fe, NM Author, "The Power of People Skills"

Mr. Koskinen's reply

Steve Davis

> -----Original Message----- > From: John Koskinen > Sent: 08 November, 1999 9:32 PM To: Subject: Re: FW: An open letter to Mr. Koskinen >

Thanks for passing Douglas Stewart's letter on to me. I appreciate his analysis of the varied reports about Y2K coming out which help to create confusion or varying perceptions. Congressman Horn's "grades" area good example. The Congressman deserves great credit for having helped raise awareness about Y2K several years ago when there weren't many paying attention in the public. But his early estimates that agencies like Education and Justice would finish in the year 2012 and beyond obviously turned out to be more rhetoric than analysis. And those early statements have made it hard for some to believe that the agencies are indeed done with their work, with a couple of exceptions.

What all of us have to do is sort through the range of facts and opinions offered and then make our best judgments about what the future will bring. As noted in my last letter, we'll know very well where the truth-- or best estimates -- lay.

-- ExCop (, November 09, 1999


These messages and the others I have posted are from the Government hosted Community Conversations e-list and Teleconference forum sponsored by the Presidents Council on Y2K - Coordinated by GSA of which I am a member

-- ExCop (, November 09, 1999.

I find it an interesting and nauseating turn of events that the recent open letters to Koskinen, along with Steve Davis' column at Westergaard today, would arrive at the same time that Clinton, as of last evening, announced on his internet town meeting that there was no need for the average person to stockpile any food for y2k.

It is clear what he believes, or at least what he believes he must say.

So isn't it also clear by now that there will be NO, absolutely NO encouragement by anyone associated with this administration for any individual preparation whatsoever?

-- Brooks (, November 09, 1999.

Koffinsky certainly weasels out of answering or acknowledging Y2K. He refuses to address it! Incredible.

ExCop, thanks for all you do for the Forum.

-- Ashton & Leska in Cascadia (, November 09, 1999.

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