That's what's happening in Santa Cruz County, Calif., where more than 50 citizens have formed the Santa Cruz Y2K Community Task Force. Spawned from a somewhat unlikely alliance of grassroots organizers and the business community, the task force has become a leader among national Y2K community preparedness groups.
William Ulrich, a member of the president's national Y2K Council and president of a consulting group providing Y2K-related assistance, helped found the task force and credits diversity of membership with much of its progress.
'Many community groups have a narrow vision -- teaching people how to cook on wood stoves,' he said. 'We have a much broader focus based on a broad diversity of group members.'
The task force considers its main goal to inform and empower its community around the Y2K issue. Members include staff of not-for-profit agencies, doctors, lawyers, psychologists, communications specialists and businesspeople.
With the help of a written charter and formal structure - now used by groups across the country, Ulrich said -- members volunteer to focus their efforts on either awareness or research. Awareness includes orientation of new members, public events, media coordination and emotional support and outreach. Research includes working to determine the potential level of disruption in the power supply, telecommunications, the food supply and transportation that could take place when 2000 rolls in.
Michelle Robbins, executive director of an environmental group, said the task force's mixed membership has allowed it to address this wide variety of issues. 'We're really a diverse organization and pretty unique in that way. Bill Ulrich put out a call to the computer, software, embedded chip industry at the same time we put out a call to the activist community. Since then all types of people have joined.'
In addition to providing information to the broader community, Ulrich said, the task force plans to break down into subgroups to assess individual neighborhood needs and talk to neighbors one-to-one.
'We're concerned about the elderly and disenfranchised, people who are shut in at home and could run into food and water problems, or experience problems with medical equipment due to embedded chips,' Ulrich said, explaining that neighbors are the best people to know and care about such individuals.
He said he plans to work as a task force representative in his own neighborhood. 'The worst time to get to know your neighbor is in a disaster situation. We should know our neighbors (beforehand),' he said, noting that the task force has given him great opportunity to do so. 'If nothing happens regarding the Y2K problem, I'll still have had a chance to meet fifty to a hundred really interesting people. In fact, I've met more people in the past six months than in the past ten years. I'm more a part of the community now than in the past ten years. I don't see what could be wrong with that.'
In fact, Michelle Robbins sees the organization's community spirit as one of its great strengths. 'A lot of groups don't hold as strongly to seeing this as an opportunity to come together as a community -- to know neighbors, to know who's vulnerable, to become more resilient,' she said. 'I know a lot about the activist community. This provides an opportunity to know others.'
One of those Robbins would have been unlikely to know outside the task force is Rachmat Martin, a vice president of a Silicon Valley telecommunications firm. Martin said he was urged by a friend to attend task force meetings but at first resisted because of time constraints. 'I think I was typical of mainstream America. I figured I was too busy to deal with this Y2K thing -- that it was just a computer issue.'
Out of respect for his friend and his own curiosity, Martin finally attended a meeting. Struck by the quality of the group and reading material they provided, he soon came to see Y2K as a problem with potentially serious consequences and became involved.
'I was really struck at the first meeting by the strong sense of purpose and obviously well-educated people with a high degree of moral and spiritual content,' Martin said. 'There was a strong sense of mutual respect and desire to serve the needs of the community.
Though the task force represents a broad spectrum of perspectives and styles, Ulrich said, members have in common a desire to provide credible information and support a reasoned, nonalarmist response.
'For example, when people ask how much food they should store, I
refer them to the Red Cross and FEMA,' Ulrich said. 'We're not saying to run out and store a year's worth of ammunition. One of the key reasons we exist is to counter that sort of mentality.'
Michelle Robbins agreed. 'It seems the media characterizes the Y2K issue as either 'the end of the world as we know it' or that nothing is going to happen at all. If seems anyone with any concern at all is put into the former category. I'd like to broaden the spectrum to include intermediate concerns.'
Rachmat Martin, member, Santa Cruz Y2K Community Task Force, Santa Cruz, Calif., 831-475-2814, 408-557-1904. Michelle Martin, member, Santa Cruz Y2K Community Task Force, Santa Cruz, Calif., 831-465-1081. William Ulrich, member, Santa Cruz Y2K CommunityTask Force; president, Tactical Strategies Group, Soquel, Calif., 831-464-5344.
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