Originally created 02/18/99

Y2K worriers ready for 2000



JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Vikki Crosby's home resembles something between a soup kitchen and a family camp at the lake.

Boxes of canned goods, buckets of flour and paper towels are stacked along walls. Hurricane lamps are scattered along shelf tops. And a woodstove is angled into the corner.

Outside, six cords of wood are piled next to the shed, which holds two new generators. Past the hand-pump well is where Ms. Crosby is going to plant a one-acre garden this spring.

Ms. Crosby isn't preparing for vacation. Rather, she's getting ready for the Y-2-Khaos, better known as the Millennium Bug.

Computers not programmed to recognize the year 2000 when the calendar rolls from "99" to "00" are causing concern worldwide.

"I've been canning and jarring out the ying-yang," said Ms. Crosby, 42, a mother who lives in rural Macclenny, Fla., just down the road from a restaurant she owns called Mama's Kitchen.

If the computer bug hits and systems go down, Ms. Crosby and her husband, Marcus, 34, want to be able to take care of their family. They are taking part in seminars addressing the issue.

Nationwide, an estimated 200 community groups have formed to deal with the problem.

New Y2K Web sites are popping up. The Utne Reader, an alternative magazine, distributed 260,000 of its Y2K Citizens Action Guides in December to subscribers and printed 100,000 more. Paloma O'Riley launched a low-key, commonsense Web site called "Cassandra Project" from her home in Lafayette, Colo.

The government and national organizations have also been getting into the act. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will hold the first of 10 regional sessions this month in Atlanta. The American Red Cross began offering year 2000 information and advice on its Web site.

In theory, a Y-2-K-alamity would occur if computers fail to recognize "00" as the 2000 date and cause failures in networks that control banks, airlines, utilities and other essential services.

Scenarios run the gamut from chaos -- widespread blackouts and food shortages -- to minimal problems such as a phone glitch here, a power failure there.

The United States is better prepared than most countries, said Lou Marcoccio, a Y2K expert with Gartner Group in Connecticut. So far, it looks as though problems in the United States should be isolated and minor, except for moderate problems with government services, said Mr. Marcoccio, whose firm monitors compliance of 15,000 companies in 87 countries.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman has said food supplies will remain "reliable," but acknowledged "glitches" that could cause minor market disruptions by region or food product.

USA Today reported more Americans are heeding the potential threat. A poll in December found that 65 percent reported being worried enough to say they would probably get copies of financial records in case bank computers fail.

Thirty-one percent said they would probably withdraw large sums of cash; 26 percent would probably stockpile food and water; and 17 percent would probably buy a generator or woodstove.

Steve Hunt, an employee of Zabatt Inc., which sells generators, has seen a steady stream of customers at the Jacksonville business, specifically because of the Y2K problems.

"Makes you kind of wonder if someone knows something you don't know," Mr. Hunt said.

While Ms. Crosby is preparing for the worst, others are simply being cautious. Dick Sidney, a retired Navy officer in Jacksonville, developed an interest in the Y2K problem after buying his first home computer about a year ago.

He started studying the issues and became so concerned he began giving awareness talks to church groups across the state.

Instead of bunkering down, Mr. Sidney advises people to become more self-sufficient and less reliant on technology.

"It's not a bad idea, even if we weren't facing this problem," he said.

Despite the growing awareness, many people seem to be going about their lives believing everything is going to be Y2-A-OK.

Fran Lukens of Ponte Vedra, Fla., laughed when asked if she's preparing for the supply shortages from the Millennium Bug.

"No, we just stockpile like this all the time," she said as her husband, Reaves, loaded a big box of paper towels and laundry detergent into their car outside Sam's Club.

"We're not doing anything," she said. "We survived without computers before. I don't know why we can't now."

Ms. Crosby agrees people can survive without computers, but she's taking steps to guarantee it.

She bought two 80-gallon tanks to fuel generators that will power refrigerators. Her garden will contain vegetables as well as medicinal herbs. Hand pumps will access a nearly endless water supply from her backyard wells.

"Expect the worst. Hope for the best," is Ms. Crosby's motto, echoing what many other millennialists say.

Neither she nor her husband drinks coffee, but they are stocking up anyway.

"It's for bartering," she said.

Although she runs a restaurant, Ms. Crosby said: "I'm telling people: `If you're not prepared, don't come running to me for food."'