Last April, Art Welling wrote a column (still posted on my
website) titled, “Are You Prepared to Be
Wrong About Y2K?” The essay raised an interesting point: what will happen if
your personal predictions about the Millennium Bug turn out to be completely
Art described the extreme survivalist scenario, where someone’s utter
fear of Y2K prompts him to quit his job, cash out his pension to buy a small
cabin in the woods in “North Jabip,” tell family members to join up or die,
and hunker down with an assault rifle and 300 cases of military rations.
Obviously, this person would have a hard time returning to his previous
way of life if his predictions about Y2K are wrong. If computer disruptions
are minimal and the economy continues to hum along, this fellow pretty much
would have to start over. He is not very prepared to be wrong.
(By the way, don’t get the impression that I am against relocating to a
safer, more self-sufficient locale. One of the chapters in my book, The
Y2K Personal Survival Guide, is titled, “Evaluate Your Current
Location.” I believe everyone should take whatever action they truly think
is most prudent. Just be aware that it’s hard to turn back after investing
every last nickel to move to a rustic bunker atop a remote mountain.)
Art also described the person who is so certain nothing bad will happen,
he doesn’t “bother to stock up on anything.” Even minor disruptions -
especially to utilities or basic services – will create a crisis for this
guy and his family. He, too, is not prepared to be wrong.
Now that we are mere weeks away from New Year’s Day, it is a good time to
revisit Art’s original question. Are you prepared to be wrong about Y2K?
Instead of the extreme cases, let’s look at a couple of more typical
situations. In one scenario, a man decides it would be wise to protect his
family from possible Y2K disruptions. He purchases a wood stove, kerosene
lanterns, and an electrical generator. He also stocks up a decent supply of
firewood, fuel, medical supplies, clean water, and dehydrated food.
There is a cost incurred in making these preparations – in time, effort,
and money. Most likely, this man had to dip into his savings or forego the
annual family vacation. However, if serious computer disruptions occur, he
and his family are ready to be self-sufficient for a number of weeks,
perhaps even months.
But what happens if his prediction about Y2K turns out to be wrong and
computer-related problems are minimal in the Year 2000? Well, he consumes
the food, water, firewood, and fuel during the first half of the year.
(Maybe his reduced grocery and heating bills will allow him to rebuild his
savings account more quickly.) The man’s electrical generator and kerosene
lanterns will collect dust in the garage, although they could come in handy
during the next storm-related power outage.
Yes, the man in this scenario has paid a price for being wrong about Y2K.
His savings account is smaller, he missed the opportunity for a nice
vacation, and he now owns some appliances he otherwise would not have
purchased. But the price is not devastating. It does not ruin his standard
of living and his way of life. This man is prepared to be wrong about Y2K.
Now let’s look at another scenario. A different person follows the
federal government’s recommendations to the letter: he stocks up on exactly
three days worth of non-perishable food, bottled water, and flashlight
batteries. He collects paper copies of all his bank account records,
withdraws a small amount of cash from an ATM, and makes sure his car’s gas
tank is at least half full.
This guy has heard government and business leaders – from President
Clinton down to the local mayor, and from the head of General Motors down to
the owner of the corner deli – insist over and over again that Y2K problems
will be minimal or non-existent in the United States. He truly believes, as
he’s been told countless times, that the only risk about Y2K is if people
“panic” and hoard supplies.
When Jan. 1 finally arrives, let’s suppose this man’s community is hit by
an unexpected power failure. Don’t forget: even the most optimistic
spokesmen concede that localized utility disruptions are possible. Sen.
Robert Bennett, chairman of the U.S. Senate’s special Y2K committee, with
only 100 days to go until the new
year, that a
prolonged nationwide power grid collapse is virtually impossible because of
the Y2K repair efforts by the nation’s 250 bulk power producers. (Note the
word prolonged. Is the senator saying a short-term nationwide power
grid collapse could happen? Just curious.) However, Bennett did admit that
local and regional outages are possible because smaller firms are lagging in
Y2K repair work.
The man in our scenario hears on a transistor radio that three counties
are in the dark, while the rest of the state has electricity. A power
company spokesman explains that crews are working on the problem and power
will be restored as soon as possible.
“Well, we’re ready for this,” the man tells his family as they shuffle
down the stairs on New Year’s morning. “We have our three-day supply of food
and water and batteries.”
As the man sits at his kitchen table wishing his coffee maker ran on
batteries and wondering if the power will be on in time to watch football
games on TV, he notices that it is getting awfully chilly in the house. Then
a thought hits him: No electricity means . no furnace!
He looks out the window at the thermometer on the porch. It’s only 18
degrees outside. “Hey!” he says to his wife, “They never said anything about
stocking up three days worth of heat. What are we going to do if the lights
stay off all day?”
Just imagine what would happen if the lights stayed off, not only all
that day, but for three days, five days, or even 10 days. It would be a
full-fledged crisis. The family would have to abandon their house, leaving
it vulnerable to frozen and burst pipes, and maybe even opportunistic
They would have to live in an emergency shelter hastily set up in the
high school gymnasium. If problems existed with other utilities and
services – water and sewer, telecommunications, transportation – the entire
community would be a disaster area.
In this scenario, the man and his family would be in quite a mess – a
mess that could have been completely avoided if he had taken steps to be
self-sufficient for a number of weeks or months. He is definitely not
prepared to be wrong about Y2K.
As I’ve said and written many times during the past couple of years, Y2K
is a risk management situation, similar to deciding how much insurance to
own. No one knows for sure what will happen when the new century arrives,
therefore we must assess the risks as best we can and plan accordingly.
While assessing the risks and making your plans, please ask yourself: “Am I
prepared to be wrong about Y2K?”