- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 23, 1999

The promises are in hand: The lights will work, the trains will run, chaos will be held at bay, Y2K is under control.
But there's no guarantee, and government officials at all levels advise everyone to take some basic precautions.
So are we? An informal survey of about 20 area residents by The Washington Times turned up examples of how folks are preparing to cope or not with eight days to go.
More than half say they believe the year-2000 computer problem will cause some disruptions, large or small, and have stocked up on bottled water and canned goods.
One suburban couple is learning how to pack heat, just in case. A pregnant woman, due around New Year's, says she has faith in God.
Only a few pshaw the question away entirely, dismissing the so-called millennium bug as just a scare that will go nowhere.
"The only thing that worries me is that I'm going to turn another year older," says Doris, a retired insurance agent with short gray hair and a gruff voice who doesn't want her last name printed. "I'm 60. I'm going to be 61. I don't like that."
Doris, taking a drag of her cigarette while waiting for a friend for lunch at Ruby Tuesday near Potomac Mills, rolls her eyes at the mention of the term "Y2K-compliant."
The Frederick, Md., resident is one of several interviewed who profess not to be worried and say they are not making any preparations for the changeover from 1999 to 2000. To be ready, she says, she is following the advice of a snide remark she heard on TV: "I bought a calendar that says year 2000 on it."
Doris stamps out her cigarette on the sidewalk. "And that's what I'm going to do about it," she says, walking off for lunch.
"There's a sense that anyone who's really concerned about Y2K is from some sort of fringe group," says Jay Golter, a researcher for the federal government. "That's not necessarily so."
Mr. Golter, 43, says he learned about the computer problem several years ago at work. He founded the Northern Virginia Y2K Action Group or NOVA Y2K at his home in Springfield in February 1998 after deciding that others were not taking the potential trouble seriously.
"The idea is, you don't go out and build a bunker, but you try to build a strong community around you," Mr. Golter says.
He is a family man who made it his personal mission for the past two years to educate others about the computer bug and its consequences. He handed out leaflets at bus stations, neighborhood picnics and anywhere else someone was willing to listen.
By now, most folks know the year-2000 computer problem originated when cost-conscious software programmers devoted only two spaces in a date field to designate the year. That older software assumes the year always will begin with "19."
If technicians have not carefully reprogrammed systems and replaced calendar-sensitive computer chips some computers could shut down or malfunction after midnight on New Year's when they read "00" as meaning 1900. For the past year or more, business and political leaders have tried to limit the effects in this country to isolated disruptions similar to a winter storm.
As government and business leaders announced increasing confidence in year-2000 readiness, membership in Mr. Golter's group sifted to just a few stragglers.
"I am very concerned that people will be caught by surprise, and then what will they feel? Will they feel resentful?" Mr. Golter asks.
And if nothing major goes wrong, how will he feel?
"You don't always know how things are going to turn out," he says, "but that doesn't mean you shouldn't act prudently."
So he, his wife and two sons, ages 6 and 9, finally will use the empty, two-liter soda bottles Mr. Golter has collected for months to store water. He's got extra food stocked in the basement and a camping stove.
"We're going to try to make it a fun night for the kids as much as possible," Mr. Golter says. "We'll order pizza, and I bought a bunch of board games so that if the power goes out and the kids go through Nintendo withdrawal, there will be something new for them to do."
If anyone has reason to be concerned about power failures and other inconveniences, it's Christine Messina.
She and her husband, Ray, are expecting a baby Dec. 30. She's not going to have labor induced early, though Ray thought it might be nice because of the tax break.
"We're not hunkering down and getting all kinds of stuff and preparing for a battle," she jokes.
Mrs. Messina, 30, says she is putting her faith in God. Besides, Loudoun, Va., Hospital Center assured her that all will be well. She stocked extra water, wood and food at home, where the baby will have a Y2K-compliant nursery with a Noah's Ark theme.
"Women have been having babies for centuries and centuries. There were no doctors back then, and the concept of giving birth is still the same," she says casually. "If there's lights or no lights, the doctor will still do the same thing."
Deborah Schneider, 28, likes to be prepared. A small fire extinguisher sits in a closet in her Northwest apartment. She's kept one in every home she's lived in since college, though she's never had a fire.
About six months ago, while getting ready to move to Washington to look for a job, she created a "Y2K" folder in a file drawer. In it she keeps newspaper clippings and checklists from government Web sites.
Miss Schneider wrote reminders to herself in a daybook calendar. She read her checklist over the phone to her mother in St. Louis. She got a copy of her credit report, put some extra cash in an envelope, bought candles.
She spent $45 in a computer store to ensure all is well with her 1996 laptop. She called Sharp to inquire about the readiness of her one appliance a new microwave oven.
"It's easy for me to be Y2K-compliant," she adds. "I don't have anything."
She has contingency plans. If there's any problem in her apartment building, she will check into the nearby Washington Hilton. She considered reserving a room, but decided that was going overboard. If she has to, she will stay with one of two aunts in the Maryland suburbs.
"Because I figure things will be normal in Maryland, if not in Washington," Miss Schneider says.
She will get nonperishable food, extra water and champagne.
"That's the least of my priorities because I find it difficult to imagine that there will be a food shortage," says Ms. Schneider, a non-practicing lawyer who works about 70 hours a week at an Internet start-up company that sells textbooks.
But she got batteries for her flashlight, a small model.
"I wasn't going to go crazy and get a huge flashlight," she says. "Although I did test it to see if it would illuminate anything."
The best way to find Les Collins this time of year is to stop by a mall: He's a slim man with long gray hair and a weathered face who's laughing "Ho, ho, ho" from under a big red Santa suit.
Mr. Collins, 62, plays the smile-and-wave sort of Santa; he does not hear wish lists from children. A self-described magician and entertainer, he says he does not give much credence to calamity scenarios.
"I think it will be inconvenience rather than drastic catastrophe," he says.
Just in case, he installed software upgrades for his checking accounts at home in Warrenton, Va. "It's easier to fix the problems when they're not broken," he says.
He suspects all the Y2K talk is a marketing ploy by the computer industry, Mr. Collins explains with a shrug, begrudging them nothing.
"If I were selling software for the computer industry, I'd be riding that horse all day long," he says. "You have to take advantage of every opportunity that comes along."
Paul Tallent is in a funk. The whole year-2000 problem depresses him. Makes him think of the fallout shelters when he was growing up in the 1960s. The Cuban missile crisis.
He's not too concerned about the United States. He used to live out in the country before moving to the Richmond suburbs for better job opportunities he sells professional horticultural supplies and better education for his two daughters, 11 and 16.
Mr. Tallent, 47, owns a generator and has a supplemental source of heat. Stocking up for winter is nothing new. And he updated his computers.
On a recent sleepless night, he tuned the radio to a Christian talk station.
"It was all doom and gloom and 'Hide your money,' " he says. "It's depressing. I think you can get carried away."
His daughters are anxious. They have asked him questions and he's truthful. In a way, he's glad they are living through something like this.
It's a reality check. They don't know what it's like to have parents store food in the neighbor's bomb shelter. His family won't go that far for this, though.
"I think what I'm really concerned about is China and India and everyone else that has nuclear weapons," Mr. Tallent says. "And whether they're prepared and where they're aiming."
His plans for New Year's Eve? At home with his wife and daughters, celebrating quietly and hoping for the best.

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