© 1999 Michael S. Hyatt
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OK, so you've done absolutely nothing to prepare for Y2K. Until recently, you thought the whole thing was a bunch of hype. But now something has happened to change your mind. Perhaps it was an article you read, a television show you watched, a friend you talked to, or a personal experience with a Y2K-related failure. Regardless, you are now convinced that you need to prepare ... "just in case." But where do you start?
I would like to offer the following "Top Ten" recommendations to get you moving in the right direction.
Stay informed. Information on Y2K is changing daily. Unfortunately, the traditional media have not proven to be a reliable source of information. To move past the "spin doctors," you will need to get on the Internet. In my experience, the best websites for staying current on Y2K are: WorldNetDaily's "Countdown" page, "The Year 2000 Information Center", and my own website, MichaelHyatt.com. All of these sites filter through the hundreds of articles that appear every day on the Internet. Then they provide a brief summary of the most important ones, along with a click-through link to the original article.
- Secure a source of clean water. We don't have good information about the Y2K progress of most of the nation's water utilities. In fact, according to the U.S. Navy's "Master Utility List," you are twice as likely to experience a shortage of drinkable water than a power outage. Fortunately, it is easy and inexpensive to create a backup water source. When you drain a two-liter soda bottle, wash it out, and then refill it ordinary tap water. Add four drops of unscented bleach (regular Clorox), screw the cap on tight, and place it in a cool, dark place. When you get ready to drink it, take the cap off and let it stand overnight. This will allow the chlorine to evaporate. Then, the next morning, pour it back and forth vigorously between two containers to re-oxygenate the water. This will eliminate the "flat" taste.
- Stockpile basic food. The food delivery system is a complex, highly automated system. From the large commercial growers and processing plants to the transportation system and chain supermarkets, the supply chain is highly dependent on computerized technology. Even if Y2K ends up being a "bump in the road," it is possible that we will see higher retail prices next year from the economic fallout of Y2K, particularly as it impacts global trade. Therefore, I would encourage you to fill up the pantry, knowing that, at the worst, you will be buying tomorrow's food at today's prices. However, because of the possibility of local power outages, you will want to buy food that does not require refrigeration. I would start by purchasing additional canned foods and dry goods (e.g., flour, beans, rice, pasta, etc.) each time you visit the supermarket.
- Develop a way to stay warm. For most Americans, January is one of the coldest months of the year. Trying to live without heat is uncomfortable at best and life-threatening at worst. You may not need a generator, but you do need a way to stay warm. This can be as simple as making sure each member of your family has plenty of layered clothing and huddling together in one room or as complex as buying and installing a wood-burning stove. Kerosene and propane space heaters are also good options. Regardless, if you are burning anything indoors, you need to also purchase a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector and a fire extinguisher.
- Secure hard copies of important documents. If you believe that Y2K will be merely a "bump in the road" or, on the other extreme, the end of the world as we know it, then you can skip this action item. But if you believe it will be somewhere in the middle, as I do, you will want to collect a series of important documents. These will enable you to straighten out any tangles in your personal data should the computers foul things up. You need to collect documents that will enable you to prove a) your identity (e.g., birth certificates, passports, etc.), b) the value of your assets (e.g., warranty deeds, titles, bank statements, brokerage statements, etc.), and c) the amount of your liabilities (e.g., tax returns, credit card statements, loan records, etc.).
- Put back some extra cash. Yes, I know the banking industry is among the best prepared -- at least that's what they are telling us. But I also know two other important facts: a) 98.6 percent of the assets they oversee (my deposits and yours) are digital and b) without electricity and telecommunications -- two infrastructures the banks do not control -- those assets are inaccessible, even if the bank's computers are fully compliant. Therefore, I would set aside at least 30 days worth of cash, preferably in small bills and coins. You should build this "emergency fund" incrementally, adding a little bit each pay period to your stash.
- Change your investment strategy. During the past 15 years, the most important question you could ask concerning your investments was, "Where can I get the biggest return?" But in the face of Y2K, the rules have changed. Today, the most important question you can ask is, "How can I protect my assets?" The simple answer is by moving them into safer investments. Unfortunately, the less you are willing to risk, the less return you will see. But, quite frankly, that is just fine with me. I don't care if I make anything during the next several months. My goal is to get in out of the weather, see how bad it's going to be, and then get back into the market once the storm passes. At the very least, this means moving from stocks to bonds or, better yet, to U.S. Treasuries. Of course, for the ultimate in asset protection, you should consider adding precious metals such as silver and gold to your portfolio.
- Stockpile medications. According to the Senate Report on Y2K, which was released to the public earlier this year, 90 percent of the raw materials used to make prescription medications in the U.S. are imported. Add to this the fact that virtually every other country in the world is running behind in its Y2K repairs and you quickly come to the conclusion that a disruption in the supply chain is a real possibility. Your health is probably one area where you don't want to plan based on a best-case scenario. I would assume there will be disruptions and plan accordingly. If nothing much happens, you will simply have additional medicine that you will eventually use anyway. Again, I would try to obtain at least a 30-day supply -- more if you are really concerned.
- Develop a waste disposal strategy. Nothing will spread disease and vermin more quickly than the improper disposal of waste. If the electricity is out, or the water is not running, then it is likely your toilets won't be working either. Therefore, you need a back-up plan. Though there are many alternatives, one of the least expensive is a chemical toilet. You can generally purchase these in the camping department of most mass merchandising outlets. Make sure you purchase additional chemicals and plenty of toilet paper.
- Improve your family's security. If recent history is any guide, when the lights go out, the looting begins. You would like to think that, in a crisis, people would pitch in and help one other out, and, of course, many do. But there are also people who, unfortunately, want to take advantage of the situation and use it to their own advantage. Why? Because they can. Unfortunately, if this is widespread, rapid response law enforcement may not be possible. Therefore, your best defense against random looting and mayhem is an organized community. Criminals like to prey on the weak and the isolated. Those who are organized, willing to resist, and lawfully armed quickly become an unattractive target.
Hopefully, this list will get you started. Each of these items is covered in much more detail my latest book, The Y2K Personal Survival Guide: Everything You Need to Know to Get from This Side of the Crisis to the Other. (I wrote this book for people like me who don't even like to camp!) Remember: you may not be able to do everything, but you can do something, and something is better than nothing.