The power went out in Hardyville last week. The stoplight stopped.
People got cold. The whole business lasted just three hours, but for some
folks, that was tough. A taste of things to come in 2000? Who knows?
After the lights came up, Mike Carty, president of the Sportsmen’s Club,
called the first meeting of the Quasi-Unofficial, Highly-Unorganized
Hardyville Y2K Preparation Team. Carty, being a recently retired military
guy with a flair for logistics and unaccustomed time on his hands, figured
he was going to do it if anyone was. No one else was. He did.
So there we sat in the back room of the Hog Trough, our little group of
random nobodies, cogitating and planning.
Yeah, you’re probably sick of hearing about Y2K. I know I am. But
there’s one aspect of it that hasn’t been talked about much, amid cries for
dried food and self-sufficient fastnesses in the boonies — how we might
still benefit by living “in civilization.” Just living a little differently.
There’s a lot of information out there about individual preparations for
Y2K, like Boston T. Party’s
very detailed new survival manual. That’s good. But unless you’ve got
mega-bucks, mega-skills or mega-ingenuity, you quickly find that
some preparations are out of reach for ordinary folks. Providing
your own electricity, water and sewage disposal for anything other than
short-term emergencies is expensive. And complicated. And even if
you can afford that $20,000 solar power setup or that composting toilet,
the question is, is that the best option in your circumstances?
If you’re concerned about Y2K, why not check what’s already around you
and see what you might be able to do with it? That was Carty’s idea.
“The four most important things we can do as a group,” Carty said, “are,
first, educate people who aren’t listening yet so they can start taking
care of themselves — especially some of the retired people; second, make
sure we’ve got water and waste disposal taken care of if things crash;
third, see if we can keep the electricity running; and fourth, beef up
community defense in case things get nasty.”
“Well, four’s easy,” laughed Dora-the-Yalie. “Everybody around here’s
Carty nodded. “Yep. And I hereby delegate myself to put the screws to
every member of the Sportsmen’s Club to turn them into the Hardyville
Supplemental Security Patrol by next fall.”
“Are the cops going to like that?” Dora asked.
Several of us grinned. In Hardyville, the cops are all members of the
Sportsmen’s Club. They’re “us,” not “them,” and will probably appreciate
the help if things get seriously dicey — which, frankly, they probably
won’t around here. Problem four is easy in Hardyville, though it
might not be in other places.
“Oh, yeah,” Carty added. “I’ll make sure the Sportsmen’s Club
and the Police Department get a bulk rate on storage foods, so the cops
and the security patrol won’t turn into the Hardyville Raiders if food
supplies break down.”
Everybody laughed — though a bit uneasily — at that.
“Item one is doable, too,” I offered. “Well, I don’t actually know if we
can get people to pay attention to any sort of education effort. But at
least we can put out some HREF="http://www.greenspun.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg.tcl?msg_id=0005qy">p
amphlets, give presentations at the Chamber of Commerce and the senior
center, places like that. If the Hardyvillian won’t print an
article, we could maybe take out a couple of ads, giving directions for
simple preparations — like buying extra canned goods every time people go
to the store in the next year.”
“Okay, you’re delegated,” Carty nodded. “That leaves problems two and
three: water and energy.”
Everybody turned to look at a large, rough figure in the back of the
room. Rocky, who looks just like his name, is the town facilities manager
– the guy who keeps everything working. He was the only government person
invited to the meeting because, as Carty opined, “He’s the only one who
knows how to do more than make noise.”
“What we want to know,” said Carty, “is what’s going to work and what
isn’t when the Y2K bugs hit.”
“Well, in some ways we’ve done it right around here,” Rocky drawled,
“just because we didn’t have enough money to do it wrong. There’s no HREF="http://www.greenspun.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg.tcl?msg_id=0006ro">c
omputer-controls at the water and sewage plants like a lot of places.
We’re not waiting for software to open valves or add chemicals. We still
flip switches and watch gauges. So that part’s good. The big problem is if
the power grid goes down so there’s no juice coming in to operate the plants.
“We’ve got a backup generator and another one coming, though. So we’ve
got electricity as long as we can pump gas into them.”
“How likely is it that the grid will go down?” Asked Dora.
“A better question,” Bob-the-Nerd added, “is for how long?”
“And how likely is it that we’ll be able to keep fuel coming in for the
generators if the grid stays down more than a few days?”
Shrug again. “I don’t think transporting the fuel will be a big problem.
But producing it might be, and ordering it might be, since that’s
computerized. And the gas stations will need electricity to pump it out of
their tanks, so if they don’t have backup generators, we’re out of
luck. There’s probably going to be some gas, since this is oil country. But
the mayor might have to invoke some emergency powers to see who gets what’s
available, and that’s not going to make him a popular man. ‘Course the big
government might nationalize all the fuel first, so they mayor wouldn’t
have to take the heat. A little place like this just plain wouldn’t get any
“So what do we do?”
“Make sure there’s plenty of fuel available ahead of time for the
generators at the plants — and while we’re at it, for the police cars,
ambulances and snowplows. Make sure you’ve got a way of getting at it when
you need it — gravity, hand-pump, generator, whatever. Gas is cheap right
now. Buy it and store it with preservatives. By the way, our vehicles also
have carburetors, not fuel injection; not many electronics. That’s another
thing we did right. Get the fuel to ‘em and they’ll run.”
“Have you talked to the people at the power company?” Carty asked. Any
idea how prepared they are?”
“Well, seems as if the power company thinks, ‘Why put out millions of
dollars if we don’t have to? Let’s wait and see if we really have a problem
first.’ Sure, they know they’ll lose money if they go down. But they’re
positive they’ll lose money if they spend time fixing a problem that
might not happen. They make noise about ‘working on compliance’ now. But
some things are only going to get fixed after they happen. Bottom line: Who
“One thing,” he added, “the politicians around here aren’t quite as dumb
as you think. They’ve already upgraded the computers for the Police
Department and Town Hall.”
“But if there’s no electricity…”
“Right. You might say that Hardyville has sent out its own little
reconnaissance team and reinforced it’s own little bridge. But that’s just
our bridge. There are a lot of other bridges we depend on, and there’s
nothing we can do about those.”
“I think we need to see who’s got other generators,” Dora concluded,
“and who might be able to loan them or share battery power in an emergency.
Like the hospital. Or the packing plant. Or some of the ranchers who live
“You’re delegated,” said Carty.
“And someone needs to ask
echnical questions at the power company and do some arm-twisting to get
gas stations to buy generators or hand pumps,” Bob-the-Nerd added.
“Delegated,” said Carty.
“And make contacts with gas distributors and producers.”
By the time the meeting ended, everybody was delegated for something,
but nobody was overwhelmed. We still have a lot to do, but we’ve got a
start on taking care of the town so it can help take care of us.
There are also some hopeful signs on the Internet horizon, when it comes
to community Y2K preparations. There’s HREF="http://www.resilientcommunities.org"> Resilient
Communities, an idealistic, gently leftish bunch that wants us to use
Y2K as an opportunity to change our lifestyles. And HREF="http://cassandraproject.org/home.html"> The Cassandra Project,
that’s trying to coordinate community Y2K efforts around the world. A guy
named Steve Davis
has a good Web site; just click his link to “Compliant Communities.” Folks
at The Joseph Project 2000 are
hoping prepared people, particularly Christians, will help supply neighbors
Some outfits pushing community togetherness are more theory than
practice. And I can tell you, nothing gets done by “community coordinators”
in places like Hardyville. Things get done by folks who take it into their
minds to do them. Like Mike Carty and his Quasi-Official, Highly
Unorganized Y2K Preparation Team.
But the idealists have a point. A tough, far-seeing or wealthy few are
able to be self-sufficient. Good for them — as long as they’re also
prepared to defend what they’ve created. But sometimes the best way to take
care of yourself is get together and use what’s already out there –
provided you can keep it working, of course.
Thank you to S.C. for being generous with information about small-town