Individual Preparation for Y2K

Somewhere between predictions of technological doomsday and those who say that Y2K is the invention of rabid money-hungry consultants, lies reality. In the absence of hard facts and data, we are left with only one option–to take precautions. When it comes to health and safety we must always err on the side of caution and skepticism, and take what we feel are necessary and appropriate steps to safeguard our family, friends and neighbors.

Preparing for the worst doesn’t mean you believe it will happen, it means only that you accept that the possibility exists. You don’t need proof that your house will burn down before you buy fire insurance, nor that you will have an automobile accident to purchase car insurance. In the same way, you do not need to believe worst-case Y2K scenarios will happen to take out another kind of insurance–emergency preparedness.

Ed. note: Paloma O’Riley recommends that you make a thorough assessment of what you have before determining what you need. For her detailed advice on how to do this, see the longer version of this article on the Cassandra Project Web site, which is listed at the end of this article.

The following preparation information is based on worst-case scenario. Our belief and purpose is it is always best to prepare for the worst, and hope for the best. (See disclaimer below.)

I. Food and Other Basic Supplies

1. What to Do When the Electricity Goes Off (courtesy of FEMA)

* First, use perishable food and foods from the refrigerator.

Then use the foods from the freezer. To minimize the number of times you open the freezer door, post a list of freezer contents on it. In a well-filled, well-insulated freezer, foods will usually still have ice crystals in their centers (meaning foods are safe to eat) for at least three days.

Finally, begin to use nonperishable foods and staples.

2. What You Need

Long-Term Food Supplies (courtesy of FEMA)

The best approach is to store large amounts of staples along with a variety of canned and dried foods. Bulk quantities of wheat, corn, beans and salt are inexpensive and have nearly unlimited shelf life. If necessary, you could survive for years on small daily amounts of these staples.

Stock the following amounts per person, per month:
Brown rice or whole wheat–20 pounds
Powdered milk (for babies and infants)*–20 pounds
Corn–20 pounds
Iodized salt–1 pound
Soybeans–10 pounds
Vitamin C**–15 grams
* Buy in nitrogen-packed cans
** Rotate every two years
Also include:
* Ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits and vegetables
* Canned juices, milk, soup (if powdered, store extra water)
* Staples–sugar, pepper
* Vitamins
* Ready-to-eat cereals and uncooked instant cereals (in metal containers)
* Dry, crisp crackers (in metal container)
* Potatoes (fresh or dried flakes)
* Foods for the elderly or those on special diets
* Comfort/stress foods–cookies, hard candy, sweetened cereals, lollipops, instant coffee, tea bags, cocoa, chocolate bars, canned nuts
* High energy foods–peanut butter, jelly, crackers, granola bars, trail mix
* Vegetable oils
* Dried spices (garlic, onion, oregano, chili powder, etc.)
* Baking powder
* Beans
* Non-carbonated soft drinks
* White rice
* Bouillon products
* Dry pasta

If these staples comprise your entire menu, you must eat all of them together to stay healthy. To avoid serious digestive problems, you’ll need to grind the corn and wheat into flour and cook them, as well as boil the beans, before eating. Many health food stores sell hand-cranked grain mills or can tell you where you can get one. Make sure you buy one that can grind corn.

3. Ways to Supplement Your Long-Term Stockpile (Courtesy of FEMA)

The above staples offer a limited menu, but you can supplement them with commercially packed air-dried or freeze-dried foods and supermarket goods. Rice, popcorn and varieties of beans are nutritious and long-lasting. The more supplements you include, the more expensive your stockpile will be.

The following is an easy approach to long-term food storage:
1. Buy a supply of the bulk staples listed above.
2. Build up your everyday stock of canned goods until you have a two-week to one-month surplus.
3. Rotate it periodically to maintain a supply of common foods that will not require special preparation, water or cooking.
4. From a sporting or camping equipment store, buy commercially packaged, freeze-dried or air-dried foods. Although costly, this will be your best form of stored meat, so buy accordingly.

4. Storage

No power means no refrigerators or freezers. Prepackaged foods store best, as they won’t spoil until opened. Cans, boxed food, beans, rice, pasta and other nonperishables will all survive without refrigeration. Military rations (MREs) can be bought at army surplus stores, and camp food (dried and dehydrated) at a camping supply store. Note: MREs were designed as short -term emergency rations, not meant to be eaten for an extended period of time. Do not rely on them as your sole source of food as they have been known to cause digestive problems.

Milk may be purchased in cans, vacuum-packed containers, or in powder form. Eggs can be bought in a powdered form (canned), though the taste can leave something to be desired. Baby formula can be bought canned or powdered (check the expiration dates carefully). Word of caution–if you do purchase canned perishables, be sure they are sized for use. You won’t be able to store opened cans of milk, etc., without risking food poisoning if you don’t have refrigeration. Another benefit of canned foods is that they don’t require cooking, water or special preparation.

One option for keeping foods cold are coolers, though you need a ready source of ice. However, those that live in cold climates have an advantage. If the temperature outside is consistently below 40 degrees, a Styrofoam cooler outdoors will work well for items like milk, margarine, cheese, etc. Just protect it from animals and curious passers-by.

Store wheat, corn and beans in sealed cans or plastic buckets. Buy powdered milk in nitrogen-packed cans. Leave salt and vitamin C in their original packages. Use only food-grade plastic containers for long-term food storage.

Storage Tips (Courtesy of FEMA )

* Keep food in the driest and coolest spot in the house–a dark area if possible.

* Keep food covered at all times.

* Open food boxes or cans carefully so that you can close them tightly after each use.

* Wrap cookies and crackers in plastic bags, and keep them in tight containers.

* Empty opened packages of sugar, dried fruits and nuts into screw-top jars or air-tight cans to protect them from pests.

* Inspect all food containers regularly for signs of spoilage, and before use.

* Use foods before they go bad and replace them with fresh supplies, dated with ink or marker.

* Place new items at the back of the storage area and older ones in front.

5. Purchase

Most of us buy our food at supermarkets. If there is a breakdown in the supply chain, we could experience shortages or store closures. The best alternative is, of course, buying what you need ahead of time. Start laying in nonperishable basics today, such as toilet paper, tissue, dry and canned goods, and so forth.

The cheapest way to purchase goods is by case-lot. It’s not always easy to find, but talk to the managers of your favorite store, and see if they’ll order them for you. If the local market closes, you may be able to turn to the local barter market. For more information about it, see section V. Financial.

6. Preservation

For favorite foods such as strawberries, bananas, or other perishables, you might consider purchasing far in advance and dehydrating. Today’s dehydrators are simple to use and very effective. Storage can be as simple as Ziplock bags or vacuum-seal jars. To extend shelf-life, you can store dehydrated foods in your freezer until needed. Rehydration is simply a matter of adding water, or you can eat them as is, or add to your morning cereal, or in your baking.

You can also use your dehydrator or oven to make jerky. If you’re more ambitious, you can try canning. However, make sure you follow USDA guidelines carefully to avoid any contamination or later spoilage.

7. Preparation

You can treat emergency situations as an unplanned camp-out. A propane or kerosene stove works fine for most stove-top cooking. The only problem is enough fuel, and proper ventilation. Fire danger increases as well. Make sure you have one or more multi-use fire extinguishers always close at hand–small canister, ABC type. (These can be purchased at most hardware stores.) Also, never leave an open flame unattended, especially when small children are nearby.

An outdoor charcoal or propane grill can do double duty, as well as your woodstove and fireplace (as long as it is wood burning). You can also heat food with candle warmers, nonelectric chafing dishes and fondue pots. Canned foods can be eaten right out of the can and don’t require cooking, water or special preparation (though it may affect taste). If you heat the food while in the can, be sure to open the can first and remove the label. Putting a sealed can on an active woodstove, for instance, may give you a very explosive and messy surprise!

Most camping-supply stores have quite a wide variety of devices with which you can cook–from solar, to the old sterno cans. Ask them for what would be appropriate for your needs. Also, make any purchases well in advance. Prices may go up, and availability may go down as ‘the day’ approaches.

B. Basic Supplies

You might want to store the following in large covered plastic storage bins until needed.


* Mess kits, or paper cups, plates and plastic utensils (you don’t want to waste drinking water washing dishes!)
* Disposable baby bottle liners

* Flashlight and extra batteries

* Manual can opener, utility knife

* Matches (a waterproof container is useful as well)

* Aluminum foil (better than dirtying pans)

* Plastic storage containers

* Needles, thread

* Medicine dropper

* Shut-off wrench (to turn off household gas and water)

* Candles, lamps and lamp oil

* Battery operated smoke alarm

* Plastic sheeting (in case of leaks, etc.)


* Toilet paper, towelettes (especially for babies)

* Soap, liquid detergent (antibacterial soap that doesn’t use water is available)

*Feminine supplies

* Personal hygiene items (especially deodorant!)

* Baby needs (diapers, ointments, etc.)

* Contact lenses and solution

* Denture needs

* Extra eyeglasses

* Plastic garbage bags, ties, various sizes (for personal sanitation uses, etc.)

* Plastic buckets with tight lids (serve as great potties!)

* Disinfectant

* Household chlorine bleach

* Room deodorizer (spray or solid. No wall plug-ins!)


* Food (canned and dried)

* Chew toys

* Vitamins

* Litter

* Bedding

II. Water

A. What You Need

A normally active person needs to drink at least two quarts of water each day. Hot environments and intense physical activity can double that amount. Children, nursing mothers and ill people will need more. Store one gallon of water per person per day (two quarts for drinking, two quarts for food preparation/sanitation). And don’t forget your pets need clean drinking water as well.

B. Water Treatment (Courtesy of FEMA)

There are three main methods for treating water: boiling, disinfection and distillation. For additional methods of purification, contact your local Red Cross.

Boiling is the safest method of purifying water. Bring the water to a rolling boil for 10 minutes. Let the water cool before drinking or storing. Boiled water will taste better if you put oxygen back into it by pouring it back and forth between two containers. This will also improve the taste of stored water.

Disinfection: before storing your water, treat it with a preservative, such as chlorine bleach, to prevent the growth of microorganisms. Use liquid bleach that contains 5.25 percent sodium hypochlorite and no soap. Some containers warn, ‘Not For Personal Use’. You can disregard these warnings only if the label states sodium hypochlorite is the only active ingredient; and if you use only the small quantities in these instructions. Add four drops of bleach per quart of water (or two scant teaspoons per 10 gallons), and stir. Seal your water containers tightly, label them and store them in a cool, dark place.

Distillation involves boiling water and then collecting the vapor that condenses back to water. The condensed vapor will not include salt and other impurities. To distill, fill a pot halfway with water. Tie a cup to the handle on the pot’s lid so that the cup will hang right-side-up when the lid is upside-down (make sure the cup is not dangling into the water) and boil the water for 20 minutes. The water that drips from the lid into the cup is distilled. Store as directed.

C. Storage

Store water in thoroughly washed plastic, fiberglass or enamel-lined metal containers. Never use a container that has held toxic substances, because tiny amounts may remain in the container’s pores. Sound plastic containers, such as soft-drink bottles, are good. You can also purchase food-grade plastic buckets or drums. Avoid using containers that will decompose or break, such as milk cartons or glass bottles. Rotate stored water every six months.

D. Sources of Drinking Water

Two good sources of water is large containers you can purchase at your grocery store, and from your own tap. Since there is some debate of the purity of tap water, make sure you treat it before storing it long-term.

Hidden Water Sources in Your Home (Courtesy of FEMA)

If a disaster catches you without a stored supply of clean water, you can use water in your hot-water tank, in your plumbing and in ice cubes. As a last resort, you can use water in the reservoir tank of your toilet (not the bowl), but purify it first.

Water beds hold up to 400 gallons, but some water beds contain toxic chemicals that are may not be fully removed by many purifiers. If you designate a water bed in your home as an emergency resource, drain it yearly and refill it with fresh water containing two ounces of bleach per 120 gallons. You may use the water for toilet flushing only.

To use the water in your pipes, let air into the plumbing by turning on the highest (elevation) faucet in your house and draining the water from the lowest one.

To use the water in your hot-water tank, be sure the electricity or gas is off, and open the drain at the bottom of the tank. Start the water flowing by turning off the water intake valve and turning on a hot-water faucet. Do not turn on the gas or electricity when the tank is empty.

Do you know the location of your incoming water valve? You’ll need to shut if off to stop contaminated water from entering your home if you hear reports of broken water or sewage lines. Also, in cold climates, frozen pipes may burst if there is no heat. Shut off the water and drain the pipes if there’s a strong possibility of this occurring.

Emergency Outdoor Water Sources (Courtesy of FEMA)

If you need to find water outside your home, be sure to purify the water before drinking it. Avoid water with floating material, an odor or dark color. Use saltwater only if you distill it first. You should not drink flood water. Outdoor water sources include: rainwater, streams and rivers, ponds and lakes, natural springs, and snow.

D. Wastewater

Wastewater- and sewage-treatment facilities are highly automated, and environmental emissions monitoring and control systems depend on year-2000-vulnerable embedded controls. Malfunctions due to year 2000 problems could lead to polluting releases and emissions that could endanger local residents. One mission-critical program where work on year-2000 issues was lagging, according to a recent status report, was the pump-station network–a system that monitors stations to keep track of sewage and waste-water flows.

Be wary of tap water, and ‘gray’ water used for outside purposes. Home water testing kits can help you check. The best defense is a store of emergency water.

III. Sanitation and Refuse

As for solid waste, expect delays in garbage collection and other services. Rodents can be a major health threat where garbage accumulates; so make sure you have enough sturdy, lidded containers to hold refuse produced over a two-week period. Be prepared to keep your yard clean if other peoples’ refuse finds its way to you.

Don’t allow garbage to accumulate outside your home. In some rural areas, trash can be a particular attractant for a variety of wildlife–some dangerous. Store paper and other flammables away from any heat sources or open flames. If waste builds up, consider burying bags in pits and use lime to cut down on smell and contamination.

As for personal waste, use water straight from the tap to flush the toilet after every use. Don’t use your drinking water if you can help it. Filling up the bathtub ahead of time should provide enough water for a week or more. If your shower works,

don’t let all the water drain afterwards. Bleach can be used to deodorize and disinfect the toilet when added to the water; just don’t let your pets use it for drinking!

If the local sewage system fails, consider buying chemical or composting toilets. Portable ones are great for camping and can be used in RVs. Outhouses may be an alternative in rural areas, but they must be built and the waste treated properly to avoid health problems and contamination.

IV. Health

A. First Aid Training

Maintaining your health is extremely important during an crisis, and minimizes the need to call for emergency services. We strongly urge you do the following:

* Take at least a basic first-aid course, with more advanced courses later

* Learn CPR

* Take an EMT course, if possible

* Take a fire safety course

Many of these courses are available from the Red Cross, local community colleges and fire departments. Some are available on the Internet.

B. First Aid Kit

Put together a basic first-aid kit. You can obtain a first-aid manual from your local American Red Cross chapter. Include the following:

* Sterile adhesive bandages in assorted sizes

* 2-inch sterile gauze pads (4-6)

* 4-inch sterile gauze pads (4-6)

* Hypo allergenic adhesive tape

* Triangular bandages (3)

* 2-inch sterile roller bandages (3 rolls)

* 3-inch sterile roller bandages (3 rolls)

* Scissors

* Tweezers

* Needles

* Moistened towelettes

* Antiseptic

* Thermometer

* Tongue blades (2)

* Tube of petroleum jelly or other lubricant

* Assorted sizes of safety pins

* Cleansing agent/soap

* Latex gloves (2 pair)

* Sunscreen

* Nonprescription drugs:

* Aspirin or nonaspirin pain reliever

* Antidiarrhea medication

* Antacid (for stomach upset)

* Syrup of Ipecac (use to induce vomiting if advised by the poison control center)

* Laxative

* Activated charcoal (use if advised by the poison control center)

C. Medical and Dental Care

Try to schedule needed exams, tests, and other procedures so that results will be returned well before the end of 1999. You may also want to make sure your immunizations are up to date, and even get shots that you would get if you were traveling to a third-world country. If you have any medical or dental problems you’ve been putting off, take care of them now.

Doctors who have not paid attention to the Y2K problem may ‘misplace’ medical records. Get hard copies of your medical file, X rays, and other records. If you require medication, ask if the doctor will give you a prescription in advance. Some HMO’s will not allow doctors to write advance prescriptions. You’ll need to discuss alternatives with your provider and local pharmacy.

Consider postponing any elective surgery just before or just after the turn of the century. Elective meaning not required for treatment of a life- or health-threatening or sustaining condition.


The greatest concern in an emergency is reaching someone who can help. If the phone lines are down, you might be able to reach emergency services by CB. However, even if phones work, there’s no guarantee that the machines and equipment emergency personnel use will work, and correctly. That leaves it up to you.

Find out what to do in a variety of situations, such as a knocked-out tooth, fever, broken bones, falls, and other emergencies. Make sure you have all the medications needed, and extra prescriptions filled. Learning how to deal with such situations yourself will reduce the likelihood of panic, and increase the chances of survival for the ill or injured person.

If you can’t contact an ambulance, you’ll need to transport the person yourself, properly and safely. Make sure you know the location of the nearest emergency facilities, and try to contact them before you go. Check with such places before the turn of the century to see what their contingency plans are in the event that ambulance service, communications, and power fail, or if emergency personnel are unavailable.

Remember, don’t expect the same quality of care you are used to if there is a general emergency in your community. Try to help out, not demand immediate treatment.

D. Medical Devices

If you or anyone you know is dependent on medical devices, it is important to contact the manufacturer. Get their assurance–in writing–that the device will function correctly and safely. Also, speak to your doctor and express your concerns about the devices. Ask your doctor what alternatives there are to electronic or electrical medical devices, or what you can do if the device fails for any reason. Education is really your only option in this area.

According to FEMA, anyone requiring any type of life support that uses electricity should register with their local Emergency Management office–regardless of possible circumstances.

Devices that may be affected include:

* Infusion pumps in intravenous drips

* Heart defibrillators

* Pacemakers

* Intensive care monitors

* MRIs

* CT and PET scans

* Dialysis

* Chemotherapy and radiation equipment

* Laboratory, radiology and other diagnostic systems

* Monitoring and control systems, including environmental and safety equipment

E. Medical Conditions

The frail, elderly, people with particular medical problems requiring a caregiver, and people with other disabilities must make special plans for their safety in the event that emergency services fail.

Those who have the following conditions may be especially at risk and should take special precautions:

* Acute or chronic respirator illnesses

* Heart aliments

* Unstable or juvenile diabetes

* Dependence on tube feeding

* Epilepsy

* Tracheotomies

* Urinary catheters

* Colostomies

* Dialysis dependence

F. Pharmacies and Medication

Your pharmacy maintains its records on computers, as do most businesses; and they are subject to the same problems. If you take medication regularly, ask your doctor to write you an additional prescription. Pharmacies may experience any number of problems or delays filling prescriptions.

Potential problems: prematurely expired prescriptions, old file information no longer current, recently changed medications or dosages; they may also ‘lose’ your information, or have trouble processing it with your insurance carrier. Don’t forget to bring cash (see VI: Finances) with you when it’s time to purchase.

If you do get medication during and immediately after the date change, review the information on the prescription carefully. Check to see that your name, drug name, dosage, quantity, expiration date–that everything is accurate. Errors are always possible, and it’s a good habit to check these things anyway.

V. Communication/Entertainment

A. Phone

Communication is extremely important, often invaluable, especially in emergencies. If there are phone communication failures, you could be cut off from emergency medical, police, and fire services. Therefore, prepare as if you will have no communication.

One way of maintaining some form of contact within your family or the outside world is a CB radio and/or a family-channel walkie-talkie. Of course, you must make sure than none of these will be affected by the Y2K problem. As a backup, you can always use children’s walkie-talkies, as they are the most likely to work. However, they are only toys. Don’t count on them for any significant use. (And make sure you have adequate batteries!)

B. Pager

If phones are not working, it’s likely pagers aren’t either. We could not come up with anything that works as a substitute (signal flares, maybe? Pacifiers?).

C. Television

If there are power failures, plan for life with no television for at least a couple of days. If you have young children, prepare by having plenty of games available, and be willing to play. This may be a good time to read to them, or teach a new craft. Do expect to be the sole source of entertainment for yourself and your family.

D. Radio

During any sort of an emergency, information becomes extremely important. Radio is more likely to be available. Make sure you have a portable battery-operated AM/FM radio with good reception, and enough battery power for at least a week of continuous play. How many batteries you will need will depend on the type of radio you have. Check with the manufacturer or test it yourself. By inserting fresh batteries and leaving it on, you can time how long the radio will operate and buy batteries accordingly.

If a family member will be away for more than a couple of hours, they should have a means to communicate with them (i.e., walkie-talkie, CB, or something).

Ham Radio

Ham radio equipment can operate on electricity, batteries, or solar units. With batteries and portable solar units, the transmitters and receivers can be carried from place to place, so that Ham operators can be ‘stationed’ in various locales during an emergency. Hand-held devices are also available.

For more information on Amateur Radio see: Beginner’s Guide to Ham Radio, on-line at:; Amateur Radio Relay League, Colorado Public Information Coordinator, Erik Dyce, Phone: (303) 751-4605; and Cassandra Project research available at our Website.

E. Other

Entertainment systems, Walkmans, VCRs, etc., may or may not be affected directly by Y2K problems, but make sure they can run on batteries. Do not rely on these to entertain you. There’s nothing like having a few simple (nonelectronic) instruments around for fun.

VI. Financial

A. Banks/Financial Records

It’s extremely important that you get hard copy receipts for your records because if there is ever any question about an account the burden of proof–as always–will be on you. Keep hard copies of all bank statements, mortgage, car and rent payments, IRAs, and other financial records. Keep canceled checks or carbons.

B. Getting Paid

The best defense is a good offense. Because most accounting systems are automated, expect some interruptions or problems with paychecks, government benefits, and the like. If you live from paycheck to paycheck like many people, you may be severely hit if the money does not post to your account as scheduled. However, preparing in advance will make it easier to get through periods when income may be interrupted. Getting checks delivered by mail rather than by automatic payment to your account will not ensure that you receive it.

C. Paying Bills

Do not count on your bills being paid for you if you have automatic payment plans. Pay them manually at least three to four months in advance, for a two-month period, extending into February of 2000. Make sure you keep track of all payments and have receipts. If there’s a problem, it’ll be up to you to prove you made the payment.

If there are penalties associated with pre- or advance payments, discuss this with your creditor. Ask if they will waive penalty fees even if only for a few months. If they won’t, try to work out an agreement of suspending any late fees if automatic payments fail to work. Get any and all agreements in writing.

D. Cash

Cash is often best in an emergency. Expect prices to go up, especially if there are shortages of any goods like food. Put any cash in a safe place in a discrete, readily accessible. As difficult as it can be, set some cash aside for emergencies. Checks may or may not be accepted, nor may credit or debit cards.

How much should you set aside? Monitor your expenditures for a month, all of them, even the incidental. Barring unusual expenses, that will give you a approximation of how much you spend in a month. You can then decide if you want to set aside more or less as your finances permit.

Expect prices to go up if shortages occur. Inflation is caused by many things–not the least of which is greed. Make sure you know of more than one source to purchase goods, and that they are reliable. However, do expect shortages. Even with enough money, some things just may not be available. The best hedge against inflation and price hikes is purchasing in advance. Don’t allow yourself to be caught short.

E. Barter

If you aren’t able to put aside as much cash as you like, look into the barter economy. Barter is common practice in many areas.

For more information about bartering, we recommend

* ‘Les French’ (one of the oldest bartering networks),

* ‘Trade World,’

* ‘The Barter Station’ provides barter services at no charge,

* Survival Bartering, by Duncan Long (Loompanics Unlimited, retails for about $8.00), a good starter book.

F. Credit and Debit Cards

Even if retailers have managed to work out their problems with credit cards using ’00’ in the expiration date, they still need power, and for the telephones to be working. The stores need to be open and operating and willing to accept them. Debit cards have the same liabilities as credit cards. Expect to use cash or barter for most purchases.

VII. Power, Heat and Light

A. Alternative Power Sources

Generators can be expensive, temperamental, and noisy. The power generated is often not ‘clean,’ with frequent spikes and surges that can damage equipment. Fuel needs to be stored for it, which can be hazardous, and many fuels don’t store well long-term. Because of these reasons, unless there is a clear medical need for one, we suggest looking for low-tech alternatives such as woodstoves, kerosene heaters, propane refrigerators.

Solar power is on the rise. There are many good companies out there. Solar power devices can be expensive to install, and they do need to be maintained. Batteries and converters are some of the peripheral equipment you may need. It’s a good long-term solution to reduce your reliance on the electric grid.

B. Heating and Cooling

In cold climates, lack of heat can be life threatening. The ill, the elderly and small children are particularly susceptible. If the power goes off, it’s likely you will not be able to heat your house. If power does not go off, you may still be vulnerable if your home temperature-control system shuts down.

If heat is cut off, a fireplace, wood stove, or freestanding kerosene or propane heater may serve as an alternate heat source. Since heat circulation without fans is difficult, restrict heating to one or two rooms of the house and shut the doors on the rest. Try not to enter or exit the house from the room of the source of your primary heat. However, do make sure there is adequate ventilation to prevent the buildup of carbon monoxide, other gases or smoke. Buy a battery-powered carbon monoxide detector.

Pile up mattresses, sleeping bags, thick blankets and pillows across from the heat source, but not too near it. Expect to wear additional clothes indoors, such as sweaters or sweatshirts, and thick socks, even to bed. If you have children, have them sleep together, between you and your spouse, and/or with the family pet. Dogs, in particular, are great sources of heat. (Ever hear of a three-dog night?). They also make great alarm systems if there are any problems in the night.

The same is true of very hot climates. If you depend on air conditioners, fans or other cooling devices, you face the same problems. A cool, darkened basement may be good refuge during the heat of the day. Also, battery-powered fans should help keep the air circulating, making you more comfortable.

Always drink plenty of water to combat dehydration in hot climates, and dress accordingly. Restrict activity to the cooler parts of the day. Cover the inside of windows with aluminum foil to reflect the heat away from the house, or use a blanket or sheets. You can also rig a shelter on the shady side of the house using a large tarp; or rig a tarp to shade the front of the house to keep interior heat down.

C. Light

Though not necessary to our physical survival, light is very important to our emotional health and stability. Light sources include: candles, hurricane lamps, flashlights, and battery-powered camping lights. Fireplaces and wood stoves also make cozy evening light. Don’t expect to light a room to the degree you are used to with electric light. It won’t hurt your eyes to use subdued lighting, even for an extended period of time.

Make sure any open flame is well away from children, pets, or flammables, and secure from accidental contact. Always keep a fire extinguisher close at hand. For safety, carry a flashlight when using the stairs or accessing darkened cabinets or rooms.

If you need light close to children (to change diapers, for example), battery-powered is by far the safest. You might consider giving them their own small flashlights for fun and as a way to make them feel more secure (but have plenty of batteries!). Light sticks are marvelous, they are easy to carry, tough, and safe to play with. Be sure they are nontoxic.

Whatever light source(s) you use, be sure you have an adequate supply of fuel or batteries. Store them where they are easily accessible, safe, and away from children and pets.

VIII. Safety

Do everything you can to prevent accidents, injuries and fires in your home. Check for frayed or loose rugs, unnecessary objects on stairs, halls and walkways, and protruding objects on walls (that may be bumped into in the dark), and other hazards. Common-sense safety precautions become doubly important when emergency services are uncertain.

Preventing Accidents

* If you use candles, place them in a safe place away from any flammable material.

* Be sure all children know the dangers of candles, chafing dishes, potpourri scent pots, the fireplace and space heaters.

* Never leave children alone near an open flame or with matches.

* Keep clutter away from the stove while cooking.

* If grease catches fire, do not throw water on it. Cover the pan with a lid. Be careful. Moving the pan can cause the fire to spread. Never pour water on grease fires or try to beat it out with a towel.

* Always keep a fire extinguisher close at hand.

* Do not store combustible materials in closed areas or near a heat source.

* In order to avoid injury, turn pot handles away from the edge on the stove, and never wear loose clothing while cooking.

* Don’t leave cooking food unattended for extended periods of time–this is the most common cause of cooking-related fires.

* Only burn wood in the fireplace, and small amounts of paper at a time, to avoid a chimney fire.

* Have your chimney cleaned and flue checked before using.

* Buy a battery-operated smoke detector. If you already have one, clean and test it. A working smoke detector can double your chances of survival.

* Practice home fire drills: designate two exits from every room, make sure all family members are aware of an outside meeting place, and get out quickly.

* If your house catches fire, do not attempt to put it out. Fire spreads faster than you can possibly imagine–in a matter of seconds. Evacuate immediately. Contact the local fire department after you have left the building. Even if you can’t reach the fire department, do not try to put out the fire yourself.

* Never go back into a burning building to retrieve belongings or pets.


Security systems include CCTV, motion and heat detectors, and pressure pads, to name a few. These systems all depend on electricity–whether from the grid or backup power systems. Since backups kick in if the power goes out, make sure your backup system will function. The only way to know is to ask the manufacturer. Don’t assume anything, and get it in writing.

If the security system is for your home or office, be prepared to make a physical inspection of the site to ensure security if power fails. It is also possible to hire temporary security personnel. Security specialists are available for advice, though hiring their services can be expensive. Your local police department is probably the best source of information if you have questions or special needs. Don’t forget, however, that in an emergency, home or office security is not a police priority, so don’t expect it.

Install residential steel doors with deadbolts; good locks on your windows, sliding doors and gates; and motion-detection lighting. Talk to your local hardware store or locksmith for more information about securing your home. There are now very good exterior solar lights that are equipped with motion detectors. Many last a week or more without charging.

If you are concerned about valuables, remove them from your home or business. Bank vaults are still the safest place to keep them. Use vaults only if you won’t need the items for a week or so. Office equipment is usually covered by insurance if stolen, but don’t expect replacements for at least 4­8 weeks, if not longer. Check with your insurance agent on this, never make assumptions.

If security is still a concern, consider a watch dog or manual alarm device. (Teenagers seem to be very clever at rigging their rooms to prevent unwanted parental intrusion.) The best security is probably a well-lit area, the presence of a number of people, and the possibility of animal protection. Dogs, ‘Beware of Dog’ signs, very large bones and food bowls left where they can be easily seen, are proven deterrents.

1. Electronic Locks

If electronic locks rely on electricity, it’s likely they either won’t open, possibly locking a person in or out; or fail in ‘safe mode’ by releasing the lock. Check to see if there is a manual override; if there is, make sure you have the key or information to use it. If not, you may need to force the door if entry or egress is necessary.

If you feel it’s likely the lock will fail, you can keep the door open or block the locking mechanism from engaging. This may cause an alarm to go off. It’s best to notify police and fire in advance that you will be testing, or be prepared to explain it to them when they show up!

2. Key Cards or Code Locks

Key cards are likely to suffer the same problems as electronic locks. Locks into which you punch a code may also fail to operate, depending on whether they are manual or electronic.

C. Weapons

Whether or not to ‘arm’ yourself for crisis situations is a hotly debated topic. The only one who can decide if the benefits are worth the risk is you–but only if you’ve done the necessary research. If you believe that just having the weapon in your house makes you safe(r), then more research and study is needed. It takes many hours of professional training to use a weapon safely, correctly, and under stressful conditions or in crisis situations. If you wish to buy guns, it is absolutely essential that you spend the time and money on good weapons handling, maintenance, training and regular practice.

We recommend as an alternative working with your neighbors and local police department to establish block watches, and develop contingency plans for possible security situations. Don’t overlook the fact that the best security is often the simplest: attentive neighbors, good doors, locks, lights, a dog.

IX. Transportation

A. Auto

Anyone who says software in cars isn’t a problem has forgotten the recent General Motors recall. About 292,860 Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles and Buicks from the 1996 and 1997 model years were recalled due to an engine software problem. GM said a faulty engine system sequence can cause a backfire during start-up, possibly resulting in a cracked intake manifold, which could erupt in a fire.

Could your car fail to function? Once again, you’ll need written assurance from the manufacturer. Even with that, start considering alternate transportation such as bicycles, low-tech motorcycles, low-tech cars. Of course, walking is a healthy alternative. If you live in a rural area, horses and carts might be an option.

Another aspect may be lack of fuel. Gas stations may experience a variety of electrical or electronic problems, and/or delays in fuel delivery. Storing gas can be extremely expensive and hazardous, and we don’t recommend it.

B. Public Transportation

Busses trolleys, light-rail and any other form of mass transit will likely experience the same problems as cars. Alternate transportation would be the same as above.

C. Airplanes

Several airline companies have publicly announced that they may not fly if they are not confident that every aspect of flight control, monitoring, communication and so forth will function and do so correctly at the turn of the century. Don’t plan plane trips over the century change, or, if you do, leave at least two weeks ahead of time, and plan an extended stay.

Also, several insurance companies such as Lloyds of London have said they may not insure air carriers if compliance at every phase of a trip cannot be proven. This will effectively ground airplanes more surely than the possibility of controller problems.

D. Train

The rail industry is already experiencing severe problems due to computer malfunctions not related to Y2K. Don’t expect trains to be any more likely to run than other public transportation. Beware of rail crossings. It has been reported that some microprocessor-based gate and signaling controls have experience Y2K problems during testing.

E. Traffic Systems

Many traffic systems are microprocessor controlled. If driving, treat every light as if it were a stop sign–even if green. Also be wary of express lanes that use gates to control the flow of traffic. Personally, I’d avoid them completely. As a pedestrian, distrust crossing lights and fall back to ‘looking both ways’ first.

IX. Other Preparations.

A. Your Neighborhood

The best security is a prepared neighbor. Talk to your neighbors. You don’t have to convince them Y2K is a problem. Merely explain that it’s something you’re concerned about, and give them information or materials to review when they wish. Let them know that you are preparing, and if they wish to talk about it, they’re welcome to talk to you any time.

If several neighbors become interested, then start holding regular meetings. Discuss some of the problems Y2K may cause and how you can pull together to handle them, and how you can share resources to help those who are physically or financially unable to prepare.

B. Your Community

Offer your services to the local police, fire and emergency services. You can assist by helping to raise funds for compliant equipment, alternative and/or backup energy, and communication sources and equipment. Get several neighbors together and speak at city council meetings, public hearings and other functions.

C. Some Final Thoughts on Preparedness

Many people who prepare for Y2K are labeled ‘survivalists,’ ‘alarmists,’ or worse. They see no difference between taking prudent precautions and extreme lifestyle changes. Those of us who prepare are in good company!


This publication is designed to provide general information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is distributed with the understanding that neither the author nor publisher is engaged in rendering legal, medical, or other professional services; it is not be used as a substitute for professional legal, medical, or technical advice or services.

The author permits individuals to copy or distribute this document–in whole or in part–with accompanying credits. It is not to be sold.

Questions or comments to:

Paloma O’Riley, The Cassandra Project, PO Box 8, Louisville, CO 80027-0008; 303-664-5227



The Cassandra Project is a nonprofit whose focus is Y2K public health and safety related issues, and community preparedness. It promotes at-home grass roots participation in contingency planning for individual and community preparedness activities. It does not charge for any information or services. Donations, made out to The Cassandra project, are welcome.

The project has helped foster development of (currently) 100 community preparedness groups in the US and Canada; is working with Colorado State and Governor’s office to enhance their current Year 2000 Project.

The website was launched in September 1997, and attracts over 500,000 visitors on average a month.

Paloma O’Riley spent part of her life homesteading in Alaskan bush; has been head of computing security for Boeing’s human resources division in Seattle, Wa.; served as a Division of Emergency Management volunteer. Most recently she was a year 2000 project manager for Rover Group, Ltd., in England. Paloma cofounded

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