Prepare today, but don’t panic

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 20, 1999

Twelve days and counting until all this Y2K uncertainty is over.

Monday, December 20, 1999

Twelve days and counting until all this Y2K uncertainty is over.

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Will there be disruptions, however small, when the clock strikes midnight Saturday, Jan. 1, 2000, and noncompliant computers read the date as 1900?

Most experts say there will be only minor glitches, these quickly fixed. Given the billions of dollars that have been invested into fixing the problem, Jan. 1 should arrive as any other day.

Still, the Federal Emergency Management Agency suggested this week that people prepare for minor disruptions today, rather than wait until the last minute.

It is sensible advice: Prepare for Y2K as one would prepare for a winter storm. But don’t panic.

FEMA Director James Lee Witt said, &uot;Everyone should always have on hand the supplies they’d need in the event of a winter storm or other severe weather. While we don’t want people to over-react, everyone should take care of their preparations in advance so there won’t be problems.&uot;

Consider that.

This is Minnesota, after all. Remember that big ice storm awhile back? How many people were caught unprepared by that mess?

Regardless of Y2K, it makes sense to keep some food on hand during a Minnesota winter – you just never know.

But, with Y2K it is important to do so today, rather than contribute to a last-minute rush on supplies. Don’t wait until New Year’s Eve to buy groceries for the week.

So what’s sensible?

FEMA suggests having three-days’ food and water on hand, including special foods for infants or the elderly. Note that this is not hoarding – FEMA certainly isn’t recommending people string barbed wire around their homes, stockpile weapons caches and sit on a year’s food supply – but rather exercise sensible preparation.

FEMA also suggests having a battery-powered radio and first aid kit ready. For more, see FEMA’s web site at

Personally, I plan to have a box of dried milk for our infant daughter, some canned food and some water. Plus our normal groceries. Nothing more out of the ordinary for Y2K, really.

Others are apparently emptying, at least in part, their bank accounts for fear of Y2K – or even more scary, charging items in the belief they won’t have to pay once financial records are lost.

Think about that.

First, banks have invested substantially in Y2K compliant computers. So have the state and federal governments, which say they’re ready in all essential systems. Failures seem unlikely, or worst case, only temporary.

Second, isn’t it likely banks and other financial institutions will have not only backups of their data, but paper printouts of records as well? What about those monthly paper statements the banks send their customers, for example?

I’m not about to close my bank account, but I may stop by an ATM and print out my balance on paper. Seems only prudent.

Another piece of advice is to not pick up your phone and listen for a dial tone at midnight Jan. 1. If everyone does this, the phone systems will become overloaded.

The really interesting thing to see will be how other nations handle Y2K come Jan. 1; travel overseas Dec. 31 at your own risk.

At home in the U.S., some who’ve chosen to stockpile and retreat from normal life for Y2K are waiting to say &uot;I told you so.&uot; But it seems a safe bet that come Jan. 1, they’ll feel a little sheepish, stuck with a lot of supplies they’ll never be able to use.

As for the rest of us, FEMA’s advice is sound.

The important thing is to start today and get a few extra supplies bought – either three day’s worth as FEMA suggests, or a week’s – just don’t contribute to a last-minute rush.

And then relax for New Year’s. Have some fun. You’ve earned it.