WASHINGTON -- Almost one-third of Americans, anticipating problems from the Y2K computer bug, plan to stock up on food, water and other supplies, and one-quarter of the population will take extra money out of the bank, an Associated Press poll found.
Most Americans -- 66 percent -- expect only minor problems when computer programs try to deal with the new millennium, but many are joining Julie Alexander in playing it safe.
"I thought I might keep my shelves better stocked," said the woman from Strafford, Mo., among the 31 percent planning to set aside provisions. "We probably will have extra cash on hand."
Don Haynes, an Elmira, N.Y., construction worker, plans to be even more cautious with his money.
"I'm going to leave the minimum in the bank to keep the account open," Haynes said. "When I get my first statement in January of 2000, I will say, 'OK, I guess I'm going to trust you guys' and put it back in."
The poll of 1,008 adults, conducted for the AP by ICR of Media, Pa., found that women (38 percent) were much more likely than men (23 percent) to stock up on supplies. In addition, 42 percent of blacks planned to take precautions, compared with 29 percent of all others.
The federal government has been working to fix potential Y2K problems in its computers and advising state and local governments and private businesses to do the same.
Without fixes, many computers -- originally programmed to recognize only the last two digits of a year -- will not work properly beginning Jan. 1, 2000, when those machines will assume it is 1900.
Overall, 66 percent said they expected the Y2K bug would cause only minor problems in the United States and 18 percent thought there would be no problems at all, while 11 percent expected major problems. People 65 years old and older were twice as likely as those under 35 to expect no problems from the computer glitch, with about one-fifth of the older Americans saying there would be no problem.
While a majority didn't expect the problems to be serious, there was widespread belief they would be pesky. Thirty percent said they expected Y2K problems would last for a week or two at the start of the year, while another 32 percent said the problems would persist longer.
Fears about the banking system may not be warranted because that is one business that has worked hard to prepare, said a government expert on the Y2K bug.
"If we're confident about any industry, we're confident about the banking industry," said John Koskinen, chairman of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion.
Still, the poll found three out of 10 respondents said banks would be most at risk because of the Y2K bug. Nearly as many said they believed the power supply would be the most at risk.
" I expect in the year 2000 ... computers are going to be a little haywire," said 46-year-old Rosalinda Tostado, a Chicago health clinic administrator. "We work with a lot of computers and we always have problems."
At her clinic, the staff is preparing to dispense medicine and keep records by hand rather than relying on computers at the start of the year, if necessary.
But for 68-year-old housewife Sarah O'Farrell of Montgomery, Ala., the publicity about Y2K seems exaggerated.
"Everybody is preparing for it," she said. "But I don't think it will have too much effect."
Mrs. O'Farrell says she doesn't use computers and "doesn't intend to because I have a brain," though her daughter has a degree in computer science and her grandchildren use them.
The experts say it's prudent to be prepared for some problems, even if they aren't major.
"We don't think there will be significant failures in the national infrastructure," Koskinen said. "The power grids look like they will hold, telecommunications nationally will function ... and the Federal Aviation Administration is announcing that they're done."
But he said it's harder to tell what will happen locally.
The telephone poll was taken July 16-21 and has an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
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