Y2K—Preparing Yourself, Your Family, Your Business and Your Community
It’s good to prepare for emergencies, Y2K or not, as our world becomes increasingly wired. Hackers could disrupt the energy and defense systems any time.Human error is always a possibility. Weather extremes are increasingly common with global Climate change. Accidents, illness or unemployment could impair your ability to earn money. You just never know...
The impending rollover to the year 2000, however, is unique, and Bill Getty and I discussed this situation at the Maine Agricultural Trades Show in Augusta in January. Getty, former owner of Snow Pond Farm Supply, has operated as an independent computer consultant for five years, installing networks and doing custom database programming for small businesses. He has studied Y2K issues for the past year.
Getty gave a brief overview of the technical problem of Y2K—i.e., the problem of programs that have used two digits to indicate the date instead of four, and that, thus, may not work when the calendar changes from 1999 to 2000, because ‘00’ will be interpreted as 1900 in some cases. Getty said that the date discrepancy could affect large mainframe systems, virtually every PC and network, and embedded systems (computer chips that are embedded in copying machines, oil drilling rigs, security systems, etc.). "Everyone will be affected," Getty concluded.
He talked about the "Iron Triangle" of banking, power grids andtelecommunications that have become so interconnected through computers, worldwide, that small problems with small components of those interconnected systems can result in large, wide-scale problems with any or all three. He also discussed the slow pace of remediation of these systems. The banking industry, for instance, said that it would be "fixed" by Dec. 31,1998, and then would have a year to test its fixes. However, only 10% of the banks had completed their remediation by that date. Interruptions in the workings of the Iron Triangle could affect shipping, trucking, railroads, seed production, refineries, factories and more.
The Federal Government is no better off than the banks. Sen. Bennett (R-Utah), who calls himself the "Paul Revere of Y2K" and is one of the government’s most outspoken critics, issued a report card on Nov. 23, 1998, giving a grade of D to the government. "Overall," according to Bennett, "the Executive Branch of the Federal Government has earned a D. Unfortunately, the Federal Government has not made enough progress since the last report card when it also received a D. (Before that was an F.)
Executive Branch departments and agencies are responding too slowly in assessing and repairing their mission-critical systems, their telecommunications equipment, their embedded chip systems and their data exchanges. This includes their interaction with other Federal agencies or the clients they serve, be they states, localities, or non-governmental sources. More important, over one-half of the agencies have not completed contingency plans to ensure that service will continue, should their mission critical systems fail." The Medicare system has received a failing grade.
Getty also discussed other dates that could set off problems before the new year. The 99th day of the year, for example, and the 9th of September could be problematic, because many computer programs use series of 9s to indicate the end of a program. August 22, 1999, could be problematic because the Global Positioning System (GPS) of the U.S. Navy is to be reset then—and users of the GPS, if they don’t coordinate their own GPS receivers, may have inaccurate date information or incorrect navigation solutions displayed. The GPS is used for may purposes worldwide, including navigating ships and traffic control, banking, trucking and defense systems. Changes in fiscal years could also set off problems, as federal and local governments begin their 1999-2000 fiscal years at various dates in 1999.
"You can’t fix the big problems, but you can think about how they’re going to affect you," said Getty. He said that farmers and gardeners should think about the possibility of not being able to get fuel or fertilizers, not being able to use UPS, to renew credit lines, etc., but added that Y2K presents opportunities for local markets, too, and for renewing local communities. "Hope lies in personal preparation, communities, neighbors and families working together, and in the knowledge that we can live simpler lives. Success will come from local economies. Chances are good that local economies will become the top of the economic chain again." He believes that "spontaneous simplification"—a term Getty coined—may save our communities. Whatever happens to computers, "I know that the sun’s coming up," said Getty, "and the sun grows plants."
Being prepared for emergencies means relying more on your local community—something that is good to do even in "normal" times for economic, environmental and social reasons. Some of the following ways to prepare for Y2K are specific to that event; some could relate to any time.
Preparing Yourself and Your Family
Food & Water
Personal Supplies and Medicine
As an overall strategy, start buying nonperishable necessities when they are on sale; or when you run out of one bottle of shampoo or cooking oil or whatever, replace it with two—storing the second one for the millennium. To the greatest extent possible, buy these goods from local producers and suppliers so that they will have the added income they’ll need to produce or stock even more this year. As 1999 progresses, read the papers regularly or check the internet to keep abreast of the seriousness of the Y2K problem, of progress being made (or not) toward its solutions, and adjust your plans accordingly.
Preparing Your Business
If your business relies on frequent delivery of materials, stock up on The materials used most often.
*Many of us rely on computers or computer chips for our billing, inventory, automated feeding, watering, milking equipment, food processing, refrigeration, and more. The following could be affected by Y2K problems: telephones, answering machines, microwaves, VCRs, television systems, cameras and camcorders, burglar and fire alarms and fire control systems, sprinkler systems, security cameras and security systems, calculators, copiers, fax machines, desktop and mainframe computers, photocopiers, postage machines, clocks, air conditioning, heating, ventilating and other climate control systems, including thermostats, door locks, elevators, escalators, lighting systems, ATMs and other banking systems, vehicles (Date sensitive chips may affect security systems or cause malfunctions when they try to track scheduled maintenance times.)
Six Steps toward a Fix
1. ***Awareness***--Make everyone you deal with—employees,suppliers, service companies, etc.—aware of the potential Y2K problems and what it’s going to take to get your systems in compliance.
2. ***Inventory***--Conduct an inventory of every automated system in your operation—automatic feeders, irrigation systems, utilities, communications,accounting, conveyors, etc. This inventory should include hardware (mainframe, mid-range and personal computers), software (including operating systems and database systems), and embedded chips (including all machinery in your building and your transportation and production systems).
3. ***Assessment***--Contact the manufacturers of the systems you’ve inventoried and ask if the system or device is Y2K compliant. Ask for written confirmation through an official letter from the manufacturer if it is. If it isn’t, ask for instructions on how to proceed to make it compliant. (Some businesses may refuse to give written confirmation out of fear of being held liable if their products fail when they said they would not.)
4. ***Solutions***--If you cannot get an official letter of compliance in a reasonable time, move on. Consider which areas in your business are most critical and need immediate attention. Set priorities, then address them by upgrading systems, if possible; replacing systems; or scanning all systems and programs to check for date routines or date storage fields and fixing them.
5. ***Testing***--Reset the system date on the computers to 01-01-2000 and run them for an extended period. Make sure your systems calculate leap year dates correctly (2000 is a leap year).
6. ***Contingency Planning***--Try to plan for all conceivable scenarios. Plan ways to back up and protect your business’s data (print out data or put them on floppy disks, for example), ensure continued production, ensure cash and product flow. Delineate the responsibilities of key employees during any Y2K mishaps. Consider the potential impacts to your business if support systems—banks,supply warehouses, transportation, etc.—malfunction.
Preparing Your Community
Town offices are being told to be ready to provide food vouchers and information.
If you have food or other supplies to offer, let your town office know. Start holding meetings in your town to educate townspeople. Jhym Phoenix and Peter Baldwin have done this in Belfast. They initially held one meeting a week, providing basic education about Y2K. Now they hold two meetings a week—one continues the basic education; the other is more in depth, telling people how to prepare. They are also working with the Waldo County Emergency Management Agency to put together a workshop for other emergency management workers, and in return, the Waldo County agency is letting them use its space and equipment for meetings, copying information, and so on. In addition, Jhym is organizing a bulk food buying club; people will be able to buy directly from the club at a reduced rate, or they can buy from the club via the Belfast Food Coop at a higher rate if they want to continue to support the Coop.
Jhym believes that Y2K will be the end of society as we know it—and that that can be a good thing, if we rebuild better social structures after Y2K: structures that do not make weapons production a priority; that do not institutionalize crime; that provide better education, local food production, and so on.
To push Anna Edey’s book again, ***Solviva*** has designs for local, ecological methods of recycling, processing waste, creating recreation centers and schools, and more. All rely primarily on solar power—even in the Northeast. Community leaders should be reading this book. One of my favorite sections deals with putting up community buildings: Edey says that the military should be enlisted to help with and even oversee these projects, because the military has the organizational capacity and the manpower to do such things, and because erecting solar heated and powered buildings will contribute to the national defense by limiting our dependence on foreign oil.
If you are a farmer or gardener, consider changing your operation so that it’s more community oriented. If you grow primarily for distance markets, think about what you could do to be a local supplier instead. If you are a gardener, how could you expand your garden so that you’re growing extra storage crops for neighbors? If you’ve been thinking of putting up a hoop house, for instance, this would be a good year to do so. The example given previously of John Pino, with his hoop houses, hens and gardens, would be a good one to emulate in as many neighborhoods as possible.
Like Pino, Anna Edey has found ways to incorporate animal agriculture with crop production. She raises sheep, angora rabbits and laying hens in ways that their body heat and manure can be used for crop production, and her greenhouse shelters the animals from harsh weather. The sheep and rabbits also provide fiber.***
Members of MOFGA, growers who sell locally, and others already provide good models for surviving and even thriving under Y2K-like conditions. Our philosophy of promoting strong local communities should serve our region well—and our legislators and state leaders should finally awaken to the reality that catering to fickle, distant export markets and funding huge, precarious weapons stockpiles and equally huge, precarious energy systems puts their electorate at great risk; while supporting local, environmentally sound food, fiber and energy production safeguards us during all times.
***Some of the information for this article came from the booklet***Essentials of Home Production & Storage,*** published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1978; Thanks to the Belfast Branch of The Church for providing this booklet. More information was taken from Univ. of Maine Cooperative Extension fact sheets on Y2K. The rest is from various newspapers, the Internet, MOFGA’s long-term philosophy of encouraging strong local communities, and common sense.
Another excellent resource is the ***Y2K Citizen’s Action Guide,*** a 120-page booklet. Single copies are $4.95 at bookstores and from on-line booksellers; bulk orders in increments of
50 copies can be purchased by sending $1 per book plus $7.50 per 50 copies for shipping and handling to Y2K-Utne, Bulk Order, Utne Reader, 1624 Harmon Place,Minneapolis, MN 55403.***
***Anna Edey’s book,***Solviva, ***copyright 1998, is available from Trailblazer Press, RFD 1 Box 582, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568; Tel./Fax: 508-693-3341; and from some local stores (such as the Green Store in Belfast).