The Y2K Neighborhood

A Briefing

Begin with a sweltering Monday afternoon on August 31, 1998. The date is noteworthy only because this story orbits the calendar, giving each moment a stature it wouldn’t otherwise have.

Hope Findley is briefing the City Council on efforts to prepare Spokane for possible trouble from the year 2000 computer problem. Findley is Mayor John Talbott’s assistant, and this is the mayor’s regular council briefing prior to the evening session.

‘We’re approaching community awareness as though something will happen come January 1, 2000,’ says Findley. ‘There will be some disruption. We just don’t know what it will be.’

Talbott echoes her remarks: ‘We want to be sure people can react calmly.’

When the mayor and his assistant ask for comments from council members, only Roberta Greene speaks. She urges Findley and Talbott not to scare people. The council promptly turns to other business.

Known variously as the millennium bug, the millennium bomb, and Y2K–for year 2000–this programming flaw is widely expected to cause some computer malfunctions. The difficulty, as Findley says, is that it’s impossible to know just how big a threat Y2K really is.

The millennium bug, or bomb, is nothing if not unnervingly ambiguous. Some experts dismiss it–David Starr, former chief information officer of Reader’s Digest Association, has called Y2K a fraud. Many close observers, however, don’t take it lightly, especially decision makers who must put their money where their beliefs are. Many insurers offering business interruption policies now exclude Y2K because of the perceived risks. The few companies offering Y2K policies levy a $330,000 annual premium for $1 million of coverage. Lloyds of London, the company that enabled international shipping by insuring boats and cargoes, has announced that it won’t insure any vessel without certification of Y2K compliance. Dr. Edward Yardeni, one of Wall Street’s most respected economists, says Y2K could cause food shortages in the U.S. because of the dangers it poses to the nation’s highly computerized agricultural industry. On August 2, 1998, The New York Times editorialized: ‘It makes sense to prepare for the worst.’

The exchange at the Spokane City Council meeting epitomizes the discussion of Y2K in America. At a national conference on the subject held in Boulder, Colorado, just a week before Findley’s presentation, I heard Jim Lord describe this situation as one of the most baffling climates of opinion in U.S. history. ‘There are two kinds of people,’ said Lord, ‘those who don’t think Y2K is a problem, and those who work on Y2K and are terrified.’ A retired U.S. Navy officer and electronics specialist, Lord has become one of the country’s leading advocates of grassroots preparedness on the chance that some Y2K worries are valid. He thinks The New York Times is right, and that any individual or community failing to make provisions for possible interruptions of electricity, food, water, emergency services, life-supporting prescription drugs, and other services, is taking a needless and potentially ominous risk.

While those in the burgeoning Y2K surveillence industry have different views about how bad it will be, all agree that it is a problem. The staggering sum of money being poured into managing it is proof enough of that. By some estimates, Y2K remediation efforts are currently costing the U.S. as much as national defense.

What Is This Thing?

On the one hand Y2K is as simple to understand as a broken clock. On the other, it’s as complex as the interconnectedness of life itself. Computers are machines that do mathematics–they add, subtract, multiply, divide. That’s it. All of the millions of dazzling services they provide are based on those four functions. Registering time is an essential part of many of those functions, and so Y2K is about time. It’s also about that most human of acts: a mistake. Just an innocent mistake, accidentally designed into these machines to which civilization has been entrusted.

Early programmers, products of a culture that understands The Summer of ’42 to be a love story set in 1942, simply used this common shorthand. Without thinking, they abbreviated the long past and future–the concept of millennium and century–out of the computer’s database. That left only the truncated digits of a decade. This was erroneously programmed into billions of lines of computer code in mainframes. The shorthand contaminates many PCs, and infects an unknown but significant percentage of the world’s 20 billion to 70 billion microchips. The latter are tiny computers the size of a fingernail, ’embedded,’ as they say, in the world’s computer systems. That means they’re part of the warp and weave of the Earth’s economic and social systems, too. Regulating the pulse of life, they control the function of devices ranging from nuclear missiles to wristwatches to traffic lights to offshore oil platforms. (The average offshore rig has 10,000 embedded systems, some under water, some encased in concrete.) By one estimate, if only five of every 10,000 microchips failed because of Y2K, the result could be 12.5 million to 35 million critical computer failures worldwide.

On September 10, 1998, when Rep. Stephen Horn (R-Calif.), chairman of the technology subcommittee for the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, issued the federal government one of his periodic report cards on its management of Y2K, anachronistic embedded systems were much on his mind. He noted that water pumps on the fire trucks of Baton Rouge, La., aren’t affected by the year 2000 problem. It’s just that the truck ladders won’t work without Y2K repairs. Horn gave the government a ‘D’ for effort.Even so, Y2K really isn’t a complicated problem. It’s just a big simple problem. Lord explains it this way: ‘If I gave you a shoebox full of marbles on Wednesday with a cloth and a can of polish and asked you to polish all the marbles by Saturday, you wouldn’t have any difficulty. Now imagine the same assignment, but instead of a shoebox, the Grand Canyon filled to the brim with marbles. That’s Y2K. It’s a simple problem of overwhelming magnitude.’

It’s as though a moment, an era, a world finds itself suddenly isolated by the mad clock’s hand. A manmade wrinkle in time. When December 31, 1999, becomes January 1, 2000, many of the world’s unrepaired computers will simply register two zeroes and they won’t know what time it is. Some computers will stop working. Some will make big mistakes that, while they might be messy, will at least be noticeable. Others will commit sinister little errors that could slowly befuddle the nervous system of the global economy. Food, water, electricity, fuels, telecommunications, financial services, transportation, health care, world trade of every kind–the list of critical systems that could be impacted is endless.

Could small numbers of Y2K-triggered computer failures cascade into major social disruptions? That’s the worry, and it’s taking its toll on the public’s nerves. At the Boulder conference, several presenters noted increasing reports of marital stress and even breakups over differences of opinion about the subject. (Respected business author Margaret Wheatley joked that any day she expects an Oprah show about ‘Men who love women who love Y2K,’ or ‘Children of Y2K-obsessed parents.’) What emerged in Boulder was the picture of a society looking to its technological priesthood for answers much as primitive peoples once turned to their shamans. What does it all mean?

A Sounding Alarm

To an increasing number of people, the meaning of Y2K can be summed up in two words: National Emergency.

Item: On September 14, 1998, the former CEO of United Press International, James Adams, announced the creation of ‘the world’s largest Y2K Web site’ in order to ‘sound a public wake-up call.’ Dubbed ‘Y2Ktoday’ (www.Y2Ktoday.com), it will feature a daily feed of some 500 stories from a special reporting team, plus wire reports. ‘It’s time the public worldwide had access to accurate and timely information,’ said Adams.

Item: On October 7, 1998, a national townhall Y2K meeting was conducted via free satellite broadcast to help communities and citizens get ready. Sponsored by the National Association of Counties, the National League of Cities, the International City/County Management Association, and Public Technology, Inc., its featured speakers included, among others, John A. Koskinen, chairman of the President’s Council on the Year 2000 Conversion, and a representative of Montgomery County, Maryland. Y2K czar Koskinen is the nation’s top source on the subject, and Montgomery County is a national leader in Y2K readiness.

Steve Davis, Montgomery County’s budget manager, began leading his community, located northwest of Washington, DC, in the fight against the millennium bomb in 1995. Davis’ Web page, ‘Dealing With The Year 2000 Problem’ (www. erols.com/steve451/impact.htm), is a popular resource among local government officials working on Y2K. I met Davis in Boulder–where he was a speaker and also interviewed by ABC Nightline–and I was as impressed by his cool, unflappable manner as I was by his technical expertise.

‘I have a standing answer,’ Davis told me, ‘for any public official who says he doesn’t have a Y2K problem: show me your report. Until you methodically inventory your systems, it’s meaningless to make any claims about Y2K. This is hard work, and it’s absolutely essential. Any community whose officials are not performing this analysis, and who are not regularly reporting on their progress, could be in serious trouble.’

A barrel-chested man of six-two, Davis has the demeanor of a big city battalion fire chief accustomed to giving high stakes direction under pressure. He doesn’t like to talk about worst-case scenarios for Y2K, because he doesn’t expect them to happen. He senses that the country is on the verge of a Manhattan Project­level assault on Y2K and he won’t give reporters looking for sensational survivalist stories the time of day. (A recent e-mail message he sent to a Swiss journalist working that angle: ‘I’m sorry but I will do nothing to promote news coverage of the Y2K survivalist mentality. I think that it would be much better if you were to do a story on what needs to be done to minimize the problem.’) Still, Davis doesn’t pull punches about how serious he thinks Y2K could be without adequate preparation. He says worst-case scenarios can be avoided if government at all levels puts itself on a war footing and if all citizens take preparation seriously.

One of the most frequently consulted sites on Davis’ Web page, ‘What Government Should be Doing About the Y2K Problem,’ contains such admonitions as:

Government has a moral obligation to make Y2K its top priority. Governments should immediately take a ‘Manhattan Project’ or ‘Marshall Plan’ approach and deal with this as the potential crisis that it is. The basic concept is that we must quickly pull public and private-sector leadership together to organize efforts to mitigate and prepare for Y2K impacts. The year 2000 problem is:

· A bug that will potentially impact many electronic systems

· A risk to our power, water, sewer, and telecommunications systems

· The greatest challenge ever to face government in modern times

· A complex threat that will be a tremendous test of leadership

· Something that must be fixed quickly in the face of dwindling resources

Without solid processes for a coordinated response to emergency situations, loss of life and widespread suffering are very likely to occur. Put the considerable logistical capabilities of the national and state armed services, guards, and militias to work planning solutions to problems.Based on the kinds of problems found and corrected in Montgomery County–the 911 emergency system, among others–Davis concludes that the world isn’t yet anywhere near ready for Y2K.

‘I’ve run into tons of people who say that their city is doing nothing,’ says Davis. ‘If tomorrow were New Year’s Day 2000 it would be horrific, in my view. You would have mass systems failures, probably power failures–telecommunications, water, sewer–and all the ugly things you can imagine, resulting from a shortage of food and so on. Economically, it would be a depression…. The economic and personal loss [of wealth, not life] from year 2000 would be as devastating as World War III.’

Davis is by no means alone in that view. Economist Yardeni was invited to give the keynote address at a recent gathering of the G-8 industrial leaders in Basel, Switzerland, and he urged them to regard Y2K as a coming war, and to unite in battle against it.

Because of that, Canadian Joe Boivin thinks a preemptive peaceful use of the military is the world’s best hope. A veteran information technology executive, his $200 million Y2K repair for the Canadian Royal Bank of Commerce (the country’s second-largest bank) was successfully implemented among 140 divisions worldwide and is considered one of the most sophisticated remediation efforts yet.

‘We have global threat here,’ Boivin told me, ‘and the vast majority of countries around the world have only recently begun to look into it. If you look at infrastructure failures within many of the developing nations, who are hard-pressed today with all kinds of other natural disasters and financial crises, there’s a very high probability that, never mind how well we do in Canada and the U.S., other countries are going to take a big hit.’

As a result, he said, Y2K threatens a foreign policy nightmare that creates strong self-interest on the part of every nation to pull together to prevent the worst from happening. Boivin believes that Y2K constitutes more of a common enemy to humanity than any space invasion science fiction ever dreamed up. He advocates the immediate creation of globally coordinated task forces in order to sustain delivery of power, water, food, and other necessities in every country via Y2K-immune means.

Like many who have studied the issue closely, Boivin sees a possible silver lining in Y2K’s dark cloud. Because of population pressure and the destruction of natural resources, he contends, humanity today faces a stronger mandate for cooperation than ever before in history, with little time remaining before the collapse of natural systems begins threatening civilization.

‘Maybe the year 2000 is the opportunity,’ he suggests. ‘This is possibly the last chance we have to grab [Y2K] as the common enemy and put aside previous differences. If we don’t do that, the outcome doesn’t look very
good. I believe all of this is very much focused on survival of the species.’

In a June 2, 1998, C-Span broadcast, Senator Robert Bennett (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate’s Y2K subcommittee, advised the public: ‘Don’t panic, but don’t spend too much time sleeping, either.’

Garv Brakel, Spokane’s director of management information systems and Y2K coordinator, says that’s good advice. Like Steve Davis, Brakel says he doesn’t expect worst-case scenarios, but he thinks it makes sense to treat Y2K with the seriousness Davis recommends.

‘There will be problems,’ he warns. ‘There will be things that will be missed. There’s no question about that.’

Brakel, who was recently made Spokane’s Y2K chief, says he is most concerned about where Spokane’s computer-linked infrastructure interfaces with the outside world–that’s where the biggest questions lie. He says all the city’s critical systems are being vigorously reviewed and updated as needed and that the kind of regular public reporting Davis advocates will soon begin.

Y2K and The Human Psyche

Because media coverage of Y2K has been so sparse, such conclusions may surprise readers who haven’t been tracking the issue on the Internet. The Worldwide Web fairly buzzes with discussion of the issue.

At the most basic level, Y2K raises just two questions:

1. Could it weaken computing power enough to seriously threaten the infrastructure?

2. Can the problem be managed?

Strong consensus exists that the answer to the first question is maybe, to the second, yes. Why, then, haven’t such basic conclusions been more widely reported? The answer to that question seems to lie as much in Y2K’s exotic personality as in the modern world’s faith in technology. Creating a detailed strategy for managing Y2K brings communities face-to-face with the unprecedented vulnerability that technology has brought to their lives. Although it’s a modern myth that technology has set humanity free, frank review of Y2K implies the opposite to many. At the standing-room-only Boulder crowds that attended her lectures on what Y2K means to agriculture, Cynthia Beal described how she came to grips with the issue.

Owner of The Red Barn Natural Grocery in Eugene, Oregon, a retail outlet of organic foods with annual sales of a million dollars, Beal explained that for a long time she flatly rejected claims of Y2K’s dangers. Finally she began analyzing the various systems upon which her business depends. She was stunned by what she learned. To illustrate, on the blackboard she drew a pictogram of how a potato grown in South America must migrate through a daunting gamut of interwoven computer and social systems to find its way into a sack of potato chips on her store’s shelf. In the event of cascading Y2K disruptions of the type that can’t be ruled out, it became clear the likelihood of the potato’s uninterrupted journey was roughly that of a snowball’s chance in hell. The same is true for most of the merchandise in the modern supermarket, of which there is an average of three days’ supply.

‘When I finally ‘got it,”said Beal, placing a hand over her solar plexus,
‘I got it here. It was like, UUUOOOHHH.’ She made the low moan of a woman with a case of food poisoning. Throughout the audience heads bobbed knowingly. ‘That’s it,’ a voice agreed.In the five days I spent interviewing people who had gathered for the Boulder conference from all over America–listening to physicians, stockbrokers, computer engineers and others–I learned that stories like Beal’s are common.

Nevertheless this is an experience the media tends to discount. Typical is a column that ran in the September 6, 1998, edition of the Dallas Morning News under the headline: ‘A Cave In Arkansas–Will Y2K usher in TEOTWAWKI? [The End Of The World As We Know It.] Bryan Elder is sure it will–so sure that he’ll be deep beneath the ground on Jan. 1, 2000.’

The story began: ”As soon as I get a cave, I’m going to live in it,’ Mr. Elder vowed, wending his way through one Arkansas cavern. ‘I’ll be the world’s next caveman.’ Y2K is the pop-culture moniker’

The October 1998 issue of Scientific American carries a similar piece under the title: ‘The End of the World as We Know It.’ It begins, ‘Every religion has its doomsday prophecy, and it turns out that computing is no exception. (If you doubt that computing is a religion, just try mentioning Windows to a Mac owner.)’ The story goes on to compare Y2K to other notorious End Times–the 1524 deluge that didn’t drown London, the 1719 comet that never struck, the Cold War we weren’t supposed to survive but did, Kevin Costner’s apocalyptic film operas. ‘About the only people in the U.S. who might escape all effects are the Amish,’ jokes the article. It concludes with the biographical note that the author ‘has stockpiled several dozen bags of chocolate chips.’

And then there’s coverage such as Fred Moody’s ‘Day of Reckoning’ article, which ran in The Inlander’s July 15, 1998, edition. [The Inlander is the newspaper that first carried the story you are reading.] Where Jim Lord divides Y2K opinion into camps of the indifferent and terrified, Moody suggested the categories of ‘Owls,’ and ‘Roosters.’ He cited the Center for Millennial Studies, a Web page founded by Richard Landes, a professor of medieval history at Boston University, ‘where Y2K is studied in its proper context: not the world of technology, but the world of religion’s ‘apocalyptic time’–defined, writes Landes, as ‘that perception of time in which the End of the World (variously imagined) is so close that its anticipation changes the behavior of the believer.’ ‘In Landes’ conception, the rooster is ‘the apocalyptic believer,’ the owl, ‘the antiapocalyptic skeptic.’

The tone of such reporting reassures the reader that all is right with the world, and that God is still in heaven–along with the communication satellites that let people reach out and touch one another via cellular phone. But it’s misleading if it suggests that Y2K is just an example of humanity’s quirky psychology, or that the only sufferers of TEOTWAWKI are those who either expect the rapture or are holed up with guns and bullion. Where, in this view, does The New York Times fit with its suggestion of planning for the worst, just in case? And what to make of the Canadian Parliament?

As it happened, the day after Hope Findley’s city council presentation in Spokane, the Ottawa, Canada Edmonton Sun reported, under the headline, ‘Military Preparing to Take Over After 2000 Bug Bomb’: ‘The National Defense Department announced yesterday it’s preparing for war against the ‘year 2000 problem’ that some experts predict will foul up computers and wreak havoc worldwide. Defense documents released yesterday show the department is preparing for the worst–a kind of martial law that will see soldiers, sailors and air personnel play a major role in keeping Canada working during a massive computer crash.’

Moreover, from reporting that simply spoofs Y2K, you’d never guess what people such as Gail Coopee, of Redmond, Washington, are going through. A data resource management veteran with more than 20 years experience before becoming an independent consultant, Coopee spent her last eight years in industry with Snohomish County Public Utility District. She headed up the company’s strategic planning, which also included investigating Y2K.

‘We looked at the year 2000 problem as a technical problem we didn’t want to be too public about,’ she says. ‘We knew about it, and we were very serious about dealing with our own information systems, but really had no concept of all the embedded systems that are out there. This is something I’ve only learned about in the last week,’ she told me. It was September 8, 1998.

Coopee had been suspicious of the religious tone of some Y2K information. She attributed advice to create emergency provisions of food and water to ‘those nuts out in Montana and Idaho, those survivalists.’ After dismissing Y2K to friends and relatives as no big deal, she succumbed to a friend’s pressure to review a set of reports. ‘There was great resistance inside me to even look at this stuff,’ she says. After she did, however, she realized that, ‘I was the one who had been blind and not really seeing the whole problem I’m starting to feel the emotional effects of it. It’s actually kind of hard to talk about it without crying at this point.’

When I asked her what concerned her, she said she was shocked to learn
the pervasiveness of embedded computer systems that perform cycle calculations based on a calendar date. ‘It’s amazing the, uh, impact
on our’ She apologized as she softly wept.

After a moment I asked her what she saw that might escape someone without her technical background.

‘I’m seeing the very real possibility of the end of the lifestyle as we know itour lives–I’ll just go ahead and cry–our lives, I feel, are never going to be the same. They may be vastly better if we do pull this off in terms of coming together as a community, and really facing this, and coming up with alternativesto being so blindly dependent on technology. I mean it could be really a wonderful change, but it is going to be different. I was sitting on a dock yesterday, on Lake Washington, and I looked up and I saw
there’s the blue sky, and below there’s this beautiful waterand well, that won’t be changed. But it’s almost like everything else in our lives is going to change. Even if it’s changed for the better–you know?–it’s going to take a lot of work to get there. And when we’re there it may take a lot more workhaving to live in a society where we have to relate to each other and be dependent on each other and communicate on a daily basis for our survival is not something that–as wonderful as it sounds–it’s not something that most of us have any experience or preparation to do

‘My mother and I were talking about this. She’s 79. She said, ‘It’s taking us back to the horse-and-buggy days.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, minus the horses and the buggies.”

That’s what TEOTWAWKI actually sounds like. Is media satire of such painful soul-searching a sign of callousness? Not necessarily. In a recent essay, Margaret Wheatley and her colleague Myron Kellner-Rogers wrote of Y2K: ‘It reveals our very human tendency to deny and hide from issues when they are too complex to comprehend.’ The media, notes Dr. Kent Hoffman, a Spokane psychotherapist who is helping to launch a community-preparedness initiative called ‘Y2K Neighborhood,’ is no more immune to Y2K’s inescapable psychological challenge than anyone else.

‘Dealing with Y2K honestly does bring us face-to-face with certain aspects of our lives we’d maybe rather not look at,’ suggests Hoffman. ‘Uncomfortable forces can be involved, like when magnets face the same pole–the force of repulsion and denial when we ‘get’ the potential danger of Y2K is overwhelming. Of course our psyches run for cover. Anger, disbelief and even devaluation of the issue are almost inevitable.’

Hoffman, however, also sees the silver lining glimpsed by Coopee, Boivin and many others. ‘In time, especially when we see how community can support us through this, we can transition into hope and action.’

A Way Through The Rapids: The ‘Y2K Neighborhood’

Nancy Schaub, a Spokane philanthropist who is working with Hoffman to launch the Y2K Neighborhood project, describes it as a process of educating the community so that neighbors can collaborate, on a door-to-door basis, to create resilient, overlapping networks of support. She says the challenge of the Millennium Bug reminds her of one of her passions: whitewater rafting. An accomplished boatwoman, every summer Schaub leads friends on adventures down the Northwest’s great waterways.

‘You never run a technical and potentially dangerous rapid without first scouting it,’ explains Schaub, a youthful and athletic mother of three grown children. ‘You get out of the boat and look for a high place where you can study the river. Before you commit yourself, you have to see the ‘line,’ your way through. I see many parallels with Y2K. In addressing a rapid, the most critical time is the setup, and you must have ample time for that. If you enter the rapid a little too far to the right or left, you’ll never find the right way through.

I like the opportunity right now, with Y2K 16 months out, to be thinking. I’m scouting the problem. I’m preparing myself psychically, emotionally, spiritually, and I’m actually physically preparing my environment, my relations in the neighborhood, et cetera. This is the setup time. If we use it to gather the food and equipment we need, create the right plans with our neighbors, we’ll enter this period of disturbance, which is just like big whitewater, in the best possible way–we’ve already seen a way through–and that gives us the best prospects for coming out [okay in] the end.’

Paloma O’Riley, America’s high priestess of Y2K community preparedness, agrees with Schaub. She also used a wilderness metaphor to make the same point at one of her Boulder presentations. Formerly head of Y2K compliance for Land Rover, the British car maker, O’Riley and her husband raised their children for a time in the Alaskan wilderness, 100 miles by air from the nearest settlement.

‘We lived with the worst-case scenario, because we had to,’ she said with a chuckle. ‘That doesn’t mean you expect the worst, you’re just ready for it. Alaska requires that.’

One of her favorite examples of worst-case scenario planning involved what could have been a tragic encounter between her toddler son and a grizzly bear. As O’Riley worked in the kitchen, the youngster slipped outside without her knowing it. Through the window she saw him halfway across the pasture, trundling toward the horse corral. At that moment a huge grizzly rose on its hind legs in brush beyond the corral. The boy was walking directly toward it.

O’Riley explained the helplessness she felt. She couldn’t have reached her son, nor even have gone for her rifle, in time to do any good. But the boy simply froze in his steps, just as his mother had taught him to do if he ever heard a strange sound. After a moment, the bear dropped to all fours, turned and vanished.

That moment, explained O’Riley, epitomizes the spirit of her Cassandra Project Web page (millennia-bcs.com/casframe.htm). This prize-winning site has become a national clearinghouse for personal and community Y2K preparedness efforts, offering exhaustive detail about how and why to get ready for possible service interruptions. Just as Alaska is bear country, she reasons, the world–at least for the moment–has become Y2K country. Living in it unprepared makes no sense, she says, because in a climate of disrupted infrastructure, relatively minor mishaps could produce a domino effect of needless emergencies unless contingency plans are in place.

At the same time, O’Riley considers individual survival efforts worse than foolish. They would be impractical if some of Y2K’s more serious disruptions came to pass, because of the risk of civil disorder if a critical mass of society were caught off guard.

‘The best security you have is a prepared neighbor,’ she told Boulder audiences. Even in the event of truly worst-case scenarios, she said, ‘If we pull together we’ll come through this with flying colors.’ That is the point Dr. Hoffman emphasizes in explaining the idea behind the Y2K Neighborhood. While the Millennium Bug may be a new kind of challenge, it has an old-fashioned solution, he says. It reminds him of Garrison Keillor’s story about ‘storm families.’

‘Each child in Lake Wobegon has a family, other than her or his own, to go to in a time of emergency,’ explains Hoffman. ‘The heart of the story is that we all need a ‘storm family’ in difficult times. That’s what Y2K Neighborhood is setting out to do–create storm families, like miniature villages, among every five or six houses on every block in the county. It’s a way in which we can come together, plan together, look out for each other during this time of uncertainty. Who in each storm family has special medical needs? Who has special skills, and how can our talents be pooled for the mutual benefit of these small units? How can we make certain that each household is safe, whether the hardship lasts for days, weeks or even months?’

The point, says Hoffman, is to help citizens take initiative in advance in order to deal with uncertainties and to keep pressure off emergency services. That will let them be held in reserve for the most critical situations. He acknowledges that while it may at first seem intimidating to plan for such possibilities, it needn’t be. ‘All we’re really talking about is polishing up our neighboring skills,’ he says. ‘If they’re needed, we’ll be ready. If not, we will have created goodwill and community enrichment on an unprecedented level all around us. What do we have to lose?’

Larry Shook is a freelance investigative reporter and coeditor of Awakening: The Up Side of Y2K(Spokane, WA: The Printed Word, 1998),available at Amazon.com and The Printed Word, (509) 624-3177. See also Larry’s Media, The Millennium Bug and The Stories We Tell (Earthlight: Magazine of Spiritual Ecology, Fall 1998) where he describes what he left out of this article.

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