Y2K Scare: About the Millennium Bug

From city services to the electrical grid, this is a manual for sensible Y2K planning in the few months left before the year 2000.

| August/September 1999

We've all heard the Y2K predictions: The grid will go down. Banks will close. Oil refineries will fail. Grocery store shelves will lay bare, faucets will spout out unuseable water, plumbing will revert to medieval standards as wastewater systems grind to a halt. The result will be chaos in the streets, economic ruin, total societal collapse, the end of the world as we know it. And all this because of that most techno-pestilent of pests—the millennium bug.

Okay, now take a deep breath. Take another if you need it. You may recall that last December we predicted the sky is likely to stay right where it is. That's our story and we're sticking with it.

A Y2K Scare Briefing

But that's not to say Y2K is not presenting some very real and serious challenges. In March, MOTHER EARTH NEWS attended a conference in New York, where John Koskinen, chair of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion, predicted that the national infrastructure—including the power grid, telecommunications, banking, transportation and government—would be ready to field most anything Y2K might hurl its way. He did, however, express concern about the level of preparedness among small, local utilities. But his biggest worry seemed to be the possibility of an overwrought response on the part of the American people. "Overreaction by the general public will result in a self-fulfilling prophecy," he warned, suggesting that the hoarding of food, fuel and money by a couple hundred million Americans could prove more disastrous to the country than any potential computer glitches.

But what's a citizen to do? While it's comforting to know that the man overseeing the nation's Y2K readiness efforts is not anticipating a national meltdown, it's disconcerting to hear him say, as he did at the conference, "We are concerned about ... every local power company [and] the same thing goes for telecommunications."

The conundrum was not lost on Koskinen. "We can provide national reassurances," he noted. "But everybody still wants to know: What about me? What about my bank? What about my power company? What about my telephone company? What about my local government?''

Y2K has thus become (like all of politics) local, making it our challenge to present you—scattered though you are in all 50 states—with the strategies you need to investigate the risks you may face, wherever you are, as we enter the new millennium.

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