Small Town's Y2K Strategy: Educate and Cooperate

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SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.VA. -- If some communities' response to the possibility of Y2K-induced outages has been a go-it-alone defense strategy, 5,000-population Shepherdstown, W.Va., is depending on cooperation to see it through.

Members of citizens' group Y2K Shepherdstown are helping the local Federal Emergency Management Agency director by drawing up checklists of all local fuel storage areas and freshwater springs in case the water supply is disrupted, said Mara Ashelman, one of the founders of the group.

The group is also working with the local FEMA office on a series of preparation lectures called Y2K 'Nuts and Bolts' that teach people how to react if their utilities aren?t working. For example, the series explains how to get water from a well, how to heat and light a house without electricity and what to look for in a generator.

Shepherdstown is a bedroom community of about 5,000 people, counting residents in the surrounding areas. It is a small town 90 minutes from Washington, D.C., that hosts a large retired population and a college. Like many small towns, the community does not have the funding to adequately insulate the entire infrastructure against possible Y2K-induced problems , said Ashelman.

So the Y2K group is trying to devise contingency plans. The first priority is to spread awareness, trying to convince people to take preliminary precautions, such as buying a little extra food. The group is also working with local churches on plans to buy and store food. The fire department is trying to come up with funding of about $50,000 to buy a generator to power a community shelter.

Ashelman and another member of the group are also working with the Red Cross, getting training on how to deal with emergencies. So far, they have gone through some of the group?s standard disaster simulations.

Ashelman said she is also researching scenarios specifically related to Y2K and has bought a Y2K computer simulation game to use to help prepare other organizations.

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