Some organizers of grassroots Y2K task forces say public interest in the issue is waning, and they also think some federal government messages are blunting the impact of local preparedness efforts, according to a recent survey.
A four-question Y2K Grassroots Community Preparedness Survey of community leaders, conducted on-line May 8 to 19, asked respondents to rate the work of their groups, the public interest level, their relations with local government and any other concerns in terms of Y2K.
An estimated 3,600 people received the survey questions, and the 100 people who responded represented 29 states, the District of Columbia, Canada, and Australia. Many used the fourth question to convey concerns about the federal government.
The survey reflected task force leaders’ fears that the public seems to be losing interest in Y2K and found wide discontent over the federal government’s handling of the whole situation.
Forty-three percent of respondents reported that their Y2K community organizing work had been less effective since January 1999. Twenty-four percent said it was going better, and 23 said it was about the same.
‘It’s almost like we need internal cheerleaders — someone to carry the torch and keep us going in an optimistic, charismatic fashion,’ wrote Stephanie Jo Kent, a member of the Vermont Y2K Preparedness Committee.
More than 50 percent reported a decrease in the public’s Y2K preparedness interest. Twenty percent reported an increase, and 11 percent reported no change.
Many who reported decreased interest identified March as a turning point.
‘The lack of public interest in Y2K is distressing to our task force,’ wrote Judy Laddon of Washington’s Spokane City/County Y2K Task Force. ‘We hold public meetings and very few people come.’
‘We had eight people at our last meeting,’ wrote Nell Levin, director of Nashville PREP2000. ‘Our previous meeting, held in April, attracted 75 people.’
Helen Gabel of Seattle, Wash., commented that ‘not only are no new people showing, but old regulars are not coming either.’
Blame it on summer, wrote Robert Riversong of Readsboro, Vt. ‘The weather got nice, and disaster is not what’s on peoples’ minds.’
Organizers say they expect a resurgence of interest as the year 2000 approaches.
Only 12 percent of respondents felt their relationship with local government on Y2K matters had diminished. Just under a third, 32 percent, replied that the relationship had moved ahead well. Thirty-seven percent reported no change.
The last survey question gave respondents an opportunity to make any additional comments regarding Y2K community work. More than half criticized federal officials.
‘The government and major industry leaders have done a remarkable job in calming the public about the potential risks associated with Y2K to the point that there seems a disregard for the need for any preparation,’ wrote Ronald Cornish of Flagstaff, Ariz. ‘My concern is that in our haste to avoid panic, we have instead induced a state of complacency. Danger exists with either extreme, let us not substitute one overreaction with another.’
Referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s recommendation of stocking a three-day supply of food, Sherry J. Stultz of Ocean Springs, Miss., wrote: ‘The three-day FEMA recommendation is nonsense, since most people have three days’ worth of food and water in their pantries anyway.’ She believes the federal agency should be recommending citizens gather a 6-to-10-week food and water supply.
John and Diana Strausbauch, a couple from Great Falls, Mont., alluded to Kosovo and Iraq in writing, ‘Our country is too involved with international events and natural disasters to give Y2K the proper attention that is needed. All of these issues are important; however, it is quite clear that our government cannot focus on several peacekeeping missions and be steadily working on Y2K. Our attention and resources are spread too thin…. If our government is concerned now about a lack of resources, manpower, and international threats, what is going to take place the first of the year and how vulnerable are we going to be?’ Janet Weber of Rockland County, N. Y., suggested a government-sponsored public relations campaign to educate citizens on contingency planning for Y2K. But she said the announcement needed to be official for citizens to take notice.
‘People ignore grassroots groups aiming for public awareness,’ she wrote.
The grassroots survey was summarized and distributed by David Sunfellow, director of The Sedona Y2K Task Force. It can be viewed on-line at http://www.nhne.com/y2kgrassrootssurvey/index.html.
The survey results were sent to Bob Bennett, chairman of the U.S. Senate’s Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem.
At a Senate special hearing on Y2K preparedness on May 25, Bennett addressed the issue of public dissatisfaction with federal leadership, saying the government has ‘taken every measure to extract the necessary information to satisfy the public’s right to know.’ He emphasized that ‘no one knows exactly what will happen on Jan. 1, 2000.’
David Sunfellow, director, The Sedona Y2K Task Force, Tucson, Ariz., 520-203-4892; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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