With the District of Columbia behind on plans for Y2K readiness, churches and community groups are stressing the need for a community-based response to the Year 2000 challenge.
'Congregations need to emphasize these kind of community responses -- even if people can only make small gestures, such as buying extra food for the church food pantry as well as for their families,' said Clark Lobenstine, the executive director of the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington. Lobenstine's group has held meetings to help organizations get prepared and distributes Y2K information through its newsletter.
This kind of preparation could become important because the District of Columbia, like many other local governments, got a late start in ensuring that the city's computer systems are Y2K-compliant.
In fact, officials have said that remediation efforts got under way too late to guarantee that all the systems will be compliant in time for Jan. 1, 2000. In an interview with the CBS news program '60 Minutes' last May, the head of the city's 2000 program said the focus will be on fixing the critical computer systems and coming up with contingency plans to do things manually, if necessary. That could mean writing out welfare checks by hand, for example.
While Washington is not the only municipality to begin working on Y2K at a late date, the city's slow start has gotten a lot of attention for the obvious reason that it is the home of the federal government. Along with the '60 Minutes' story and numerous newspaper articles, the city's preparations have been reviewed by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress.
The strength of the city's preparations will also stay in the public eye past midnight Dec. 31 -- the White House plans to host three days of millennium celebrations in Washington at the end of December and early January.
This summer, a couple of community groups working on Y2K preparations gave the city an 'F' for its work so far. In large part, the grade was a reflection of the city government's failure to tell the public what its plans have been so far.
But Philip Bogdonoff, one of those who devised the report card, said the city has since hired a new director of its Emergency Management Agency and appears to be moving ahead with contingency plans. For example, Bogdonoff said the city is doing a better job fixing its critical systems and plans to do more community outreach.
Bogdonoff also said that the emergency management agency plans to open 120 'warming' centers around the city to help the most vulnerable people.
But he and others made it clear that church and community groups aren't waiting for city government to solve the problem. Some are beginning to provide their members with tips about preparing for any problems and coming up with contingency plans to help the elderly people and others who would be at risk if there are significant problems this January.
Other suggestions include developing plans to check on at-risk people if the phone lines are down and keeping members alert to possible Y2K scams.
At the Unity of Love Praise Temple in Southeast Washington, Pastor James Bell Sr. said he has held several meetings to get members of his congregation interested in the millennium bug.
While encouraging individual preparedness, Bell said he is working to ensure the church provides for those who might need help during an emergency. Another church in Virginia has agreed to loan heaters, blankets and water to distribute.
The church has also been stocked with a generator and would be able to house up to 40 people overnight, he said.
Carter Echols, who heads community ministries at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, has been working with religious and other groups, as well as the local city government, to help organizations prepare to help others, if necessary. Last March, the cathedral sponsored a seminar for about 400 people to answer questions about emergency services and methods to organize neighborhoods.
'If Y2K ends up being a small blip, it will just strengthen our communities. But the down side of not doing something is a lot worse,' said Echols.
While many organizers report an increased interest from community and church groups, not everyone perceives a real need to spend time on Y2K. Lisa Marshall, a technology consultant, has tried to bring up the issue at Quaker meetings she attends in suburban Maryland to no avail.
'Nobody thinks it's worth spending any time on. But I do plan to start again, to encourage people to think about it a little bit,' she said.
Contacts: Philip Bogdonoff, co-chair, Northwest DC Year 2000 Group, Washington, D.C., 202-775-3157; web site: www.swampnet.org/y2k. Clark Lobenstine, executive director, InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, Washington, D.C., 202-234-6300; web site: www.interfaith-metrodc.org. Carter Echols, canon missioner, Washington National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., 202-537-2186; web site: www.cathedral.org/cathedral/events/y2k.html. James Bell Sr., pastor, Unity of Love Praise Temple, Washington, D.C., 202-563-6434
Background: Gordon Davidson, president, Center for Visionary Leadership, Washington, D.C., 202-237-2800. Year 2000 Computing Crisis: The District of Columbia Remains Behind Schedule,
February 19, 1999, Statement of Jack L. Brock Jr., director, Governmentwide and Defense Information Systems, Accounting and Information Management
Division, General Accounting Office report; web site: http://www.gao.gov/y2kr.htm.
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