Mark Alexander / October 1, 1999

Y1K Began the Dark Ages

The “facts” being cited as predictors for the shutdown of the western world after New Year’s Eve were about 10% substance and 90% fragrance.

Publisher’s Note: Visit The Patriot Post’s substantial resource page to assist with your understanding of and planning for Disaster Preparedness, Response and Recovery. Start by reading our “Two Step Action Plan for Your Family,” a special report prepared for The Patriot Post by an Emergency Preparedness and Response Planning Committee, chaired by a member of The Patriot Post’s National Advisory Committee, who is Director of the Center for Public Safety Planning.

So, what about Y2K? The Patriot Post has not received a single inquiry this year regarding our lack of comment about the approaching Y2K “crisis.” That means most of our readers think the disruptions will be minimal – or their bunkers are fully stocked.

Needless to say, after reading this first of our three-part summary on Y2K, a few eschatologists who are convinced Y2K is the apocalypse will hit our Member Comments page. In fact, we will set up a special mailbox for those critics – but ask that you hold your comments and send them to us after January 1st, 2000 – if you still have power.

So, what about Y2K – really? Our Editorial Board has concluded for the last year – with some dissention – that the “facts” being cited as predictors for the shutdown of the western world after New Year’s Eve were about 10% substance and 90% fragrance. The “fragrance” part creates the perception of an impending crisis, and such perceptions alone can be problematic. Having said that, there is the remaining 10% of substantive concern.

While the probability of viable Y2K threats is low, their scope, if they in fact occur, could be very widespread.

So, what are the real threats? Aside from the sporadic problems that may occur with communication and power grids, we conclude that the most significant threat is posed by the unknown probability and scope of a degradation of computer and data management confidence in the financial sectors of our economy, and those around the world – particularly in Asia. Financial markets are perception dependent, which is to say, disrupt the perception and reality will follow.

The State Department’s inspector general has said, “The global community is likely to experience varying degrees of Y2K-related failures in every sector, in every region, and at every economic level.” The President’s Council of Economic Advisers concludes, “Even if disruptions turn out to be more serious than most analysts expect, they will most likely show up primarily as inconveniences and losses in certain sectors. … However, it would be unwise to state categorically that a Y2K recession is not in the cards.”

Because of interdependent economies, what affects some world markets affects the U.S. economy – with comparable severity. The caveat is the unknown probability for disruptions in financial markets with which the U.S. is, to varying degrees, interdependent.

“The truth is, it’s not possible to know how severe the impacts are going to be,” said Bob Olson, research director at the Institute for Alternative Futures. “It is too big to see. No one can have an understanding of all the ways that small failures in networks, interconnected computers and interconnected supply chains around the world might cascade to cause serious failures.”

Concerning the potential for the disruption of domestic economic continuity, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said before the Senate Special Committee on the year 2000 Technology Problem, “Historically, the fin de siecle has caused quite a stir…[among] doomsayers and apocalyptic fear mongers…. After studying the potential impact of Y2K on the telecommunications industry, health care, economy, and other vital sectors of our lives, I would like to warn that we have cause for fear.”

Sens. Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah) and Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), leaders of that Senate committee, said, “Make no mistake…we believe that disruptions will occur that in some cases will be significant. The international situation will be more disturbing. Those who suggest that it will be nothing more than a ‘bump in the road’ are simply misinformed.”

Committee chairman Mr. Bennett added, “It’s clearly a dilemma. You don’t want to add to a sense of panic. At the same time, you don’t want to be irresponsible in case there is a problem. I cannot be optimistic and I am generally concerned about the possibility of power shortages…. Supermarket supplies may be disrupted…. Pay attention to the things that are vulnerable in your life and make contingency plans…. Don’t panic, but don’t spend too much time sleeping, either.”

The House Y2K panel concluded, “The public faces a high (probability) that critical services provided by the government and the private sector could be severely disrupted by the Year 2000 computing crisis.” The General Accounting Office reports, “More than one-third of the most important [government] systems won’t be fixed in time.”

So, what do we suggest? What we don’t know about Y2K is a serious matter, and it has been an excellent catalyst for prompting Americans to think about their vulnerability and level of preparedness for all contingencies – continuity of government and commerce – terrorism here and abroad – disrupted oil supplies, etc. Some of us may have a recollection of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the notion of “Civil Defense,” but most Americans living today know nothing of a world war, and fewer still understand the effects of a severe economic depression.

It would be a disservice to our members if we did not advise you to take Y2K preparedness seriously, and provide a preparedness rationale beyond Y2K. Thus, we suggest, for those who have not already done so, a prudent consideration of the risks to your family posed by Y2K – and the emerging generation of new threats – and a program of preparedness.

Y2K – Part 2: So, Why Prepare?

Emergency preparedness is the key to the success of emergency response.

“The greatest antidote to worry, whether you’re getting ready for spaceflight or facing a problem of daily life, is preparation …the more you try to envision what might happen and what your best response and options are, the more you are able to allay your fears about the future.” –John Glenn

The most significant factor promoting a successful response to an emergency, particularly one that is catastrophic, is individual and community preparedness. This point cannot be overemphasized! Some of us live in areas of the country that experience weather or geologic phenomena, which periodically remind us how much we take for granted regarding our dependence on power and communication grids, not to mention running water and basic food supplies. But the notion of preparedness faces stiff opposition in the absence of such experience.

Discussing Y2K and other emerging threats to daily routine tends to cause discomfort because it reminds us that we are vulnerable to forces beyond our control. The greater the potential crisis, the greater the resistance to acknowledging and preparing for such a crisis.

When assessing vulnerability, one must consider the issues of “probability” and “scope,” and on that consideration, take informed steps toward preparedness. While the probability of serious Y2K-related problems might be considered low, the scope of their effect, both direct and collateral, on continuity of commerce and government can be very widespread. Translation: Service and material delivery in local communities may be interrupted for extended periods of time.

In Part 1 of this series, we noted, “It would be a disservice to our members if we did not advise you to take Y2K preparedness seriously and provide a preparedness rationale beyond Y2K.” If we can’t interest you in preparedness related to Y2K, let us entertain you with a rationale that presents a greater risk: The emerging threat of domestic terrorism – particularly biological and technological terrorism.

Again, while the probability of such attacks may be relatively low, the scope of their effect, both direct and collateral, on continuity of commerce and government can be very widespread. The extent of that effect depends on proximity and severity.

In the last twenty years, the media have entertained far too many “Chicken Little experts” proclaiming that terrorism is at our doorstep. For that reason, we have become somewhat desensitized to the issue and view it as a distant problem (unless, of course, you are from New York, where Islamic terrorists came very close to collapsing one of the World Trade Center towers with a bomb).

In the last decade, however, with the proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, and the rise of international terrorist groups such as that of Osama bin Laden (which are actively targeting the U.S.), the federal government and military have directed enormous emphasis and resources toward preparedness and response planning for such an attack.

Now, bin Laden’s rogues may not be targeting your hometown. But as we stated above, an attack on any major U.S. city could disrupt the delivery of basic services and necessities in an entire region. Because our power, communication and supply grids are so interdependent, what first appears to be a contained crisis can quickly become unconfined.

Indeed, a report issued in September by a federal advisory commission responsible for assessing terrorist threats against U.S. citizens concludes, “States, terrorists, and other disaffected groups will acquire weapons of mass destruction and mass disruption, and some will use them. Americans will likely die on American soil, possibly in large numbers.” Mr. Clinton even declared, “I would say [the threat of a chemical or biological attack] is highly likely to happen sometime in the next few years.”

The threat of terrorism is now estimated to be so high that in October, the Department of Defense announced it would replace the U.S. Atlantic Command with the U.S. Joint Forces Command, which will have the new mandate for responding to domestic incidents of terrorism. The most recent report on national security threats identifies biological terrorism – “unannounced attacks on U.S. cities” as “the most serious threat to our security.” Responding to the fact that our active duty military has not had a domestic response mandate since the Civil War, Secretary of Defense William Cohen noted, “[The military must] deal with the threats we are most likely to face.”

Several members of The Patriot Post Editorial Board have been involved, at the highest levels of government, in national security planning related to terrorism. We can assure you that one uniform response we hear from our colleagues when discussing the merits of Y2K preparedness is that such efforts have revived a much-needed citizen awareness of our vulnerability to threats from all vectors.

The false public assumption that help will be just a phone call away notwithstanding, the reality is that emergency response capabilities at the county, state (including National Guard) and federal levels are severely limited. Further, in a crisis that is regional rather than local, the military does not have sufficient resources to sustain large numbers of citizens for more than just days.

We again petition our members who have not already done so, to initiate a prudent consideration of the risks to your family posed by Y2K – and the emerging generation of new threats. We encourage you to initiate at least a basic program of preparedness, which will be the topic of Y2K – Part 3, “Who Ya Gonna Call…?” which will appear in Friday’s Volume 99-44 Digest.

Special Series: Y2K Part 3: “Who Ya Gonna Call?”

“Why prepare?” The Patriot Post asked in the last installment of this series. We don’t like to answer a question with a question, but remember the theme song from the “Ghost Busters” movie: “Who ya gonna call…?”

In Part 1, The Patriot Post emphasized that individual and family preparedness is the critical foundation of community recovery efforts in any crisis. In Part 2, The Patriot Post stressed that Y2K has been a catalyst for a renewed interest in preparedness and noted that emerging threats to continuity of commerce and government posed by terrorist groups targeting the U.S. is a rationale – more serious than Y2K – for preparedness. We also noted that no level of government has the ability to provide the basic needs of an entire region of the country for more than a matter of days.

So, “who ya gonna call” if a crisis of regional proportions occurs?

What follows are the basic steps necessary to protect and provide for your families in the event the distribution of goods and services is disrupted for an extended period of time. Preparing to protect and provide for your family in the event of a crisis is not difficult.

To begin this process, make an assessment of your needs and how dependent those needs are on functioning power and communication grids and the normal distribution of basic necessities. Make a list of those items that are essential if you could not restock them for up to four weeks. After careful deliberation, The Patriot Post Editorial Board recommends that every individual or family be able to sustain itself for a minimum of four weeks (considering that most households have the ability to be self-sustaining for up to two weeks). To assist in this process, consider these skills and necessities.

  1. WATER – An average consumption of water per person, per day is one gallon. This is for drinking and food preparation. An additional one gallon per person is estimated if you include washing of dishes or clothes. If you can anticipate a crisis that might affect water supplies, fill clean bathtubs with water. If not, consider other sources of water such as that stored in your water heater, a neighborhood swimming pool, or rain runoff. To begin a program of water storage now, thoroughly rinse plastic milk containers or 2-liter soda bottles, and fill them with water. To safeguard it against bacteria, put water in an open container and add scent-free bleach 24 hours before consumption. Use approximately 2-3 drops of bleach per liter. Water from a tub or pool should be boiled if possible, or filter water through forced water purifiers available from camping goods suppliers. Choose a water purifier that can filter up to 0.002 microns.

  2. FOOD – After water provisions, food is the next most important concern, and will take careful planning. Because of “just in time” inventories, stores no longer maintain more one or two days of shelf inventories. In other words, the shelves will be empty in the first hours of a crisis. One method for accumulating a food surplus is to purchase extra quantities of your family’s favorite foods each week. Be sure to purchase food types that will store well. A cool, dark place is best for food storage and will almost double the extended shelf life of some foods. Store extra pasta, rice, beans, and canned meats. (Some of The Patriot Post’s Editorial Board members carry their four-week food supply around their waistlines at all times!)

  3. HEALTH – If you or a family member have specific medical needs or medication requirements, check with your doctor about maintaining enough supplies on hand for an additional month. Be sure to check for expiration dates on medications and rotate your supply, first using those that expire earliest. Also, purchase or put together as comprehensive a first aid kit as possible, along with an instruction book to administer first aid in an emergency. Get hard copies of your medical files, x-rays, etc., so that an emergency caregiver can have a comprehensive knowledge of your medical history. Another consideration in this area is supplies for sanitary needs: diapers, toilet paper, feminine hygiene products, etc. Consider alternatives for disposing of garbage and human waste.

  4. HEAT – Take inventory of heat and power sources in your home. If your central gas or electric heat system is not operational, do you have a fireplace and wood to burn? If possible, the installation of a wood-burning heater in your fireplace provides an excellent alternative heat source. Make sure you have the obvious – extra warm clothing and blankets. Without electricity, what source of power would you use for lights, cooking, or running essential equipment? Don’t overlook the basics such as batteries for flashlights and propane for outdoor grills or camping stoves.

Other considerations are: Self-Defense – Before all else, the ability to defend your family and community is essential. Combine your families or neighbors into a central location so that you can work together for security and safety. Communication – Do you own a portable radio? Keep sufficient batteries on hand to operate a radio for four weeks. Transportation – Gas pumps don’t work without electricity. If you could not obtain gasoline for a period of time, what would be the alternatives? Currency – Banks may be closed. What will you use for negotiable currency?

Discuss emergency preparedness with your neighbors. Above all, encourage neighborhood preparedness and avoid the “bunker mentality.” Opt instead to be prepared for assisting others who may be without resources. The Patriot Post’s Editorial Board has an abiding faith in the people of our great nation – our ability to come together to serve one another in times of tragedy or crisis.

And a final note: Remain vigilant – a patriot first – in any crisis of national magnitude. There is great opportunity for all kinds of mischief when a society is under duress. (See Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal.”) If ever there were political opportunists, they are Bill Clinton and his ilk of Sociocrats. Given their propensity – vis a vis executive orders – for turning any “crisis,” real or perceived, into a government growth opportunity, do not sell out individual rights for the promise of short-term comforts.

(Note: John Koskinen, chairman of Mr. Clinton’s Council on the Year 2000 Conversion, will release the government’s final report on the nation’s computer readiness Wednesday, November 10th.)

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