Y2K leftovers may find use

BY SUSAN M. SMITH | U.S. | November 5, 1999

(Nov. 5, 1999) -- If the clock strikes midnight on Dec. 31 and nothing happens -- then what happens?

Well, for one thing people are going to be wondering what to do with the food they've stockpiled, said Stan Hankins, associate for disaster response with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.

"There's going to be a lot of excess stuff," he said. That's why he's urging people to bring their stockpiled food to church in January for Souper Bowl Sunday, an ecumenical food drive held in conjunction with the Super Bowl -- this year on January 20, 2000.

After worship services that day, volunteers will stand at church doors with soup cauldrons, collecting $1 donations and nonperishable food.

The donations are then distributed directly to the parish's charity of choice. Known as the Souper Bowl of Caring, this effort started in 1990.

But this year, organizers hope that Y2K-related overflow will result in more donations than ever before.

In 1998 more than $1.69 million was raised on Souper Bowl Sunday, with some 8,600 congregations of all denominations taking part. This year saw an increase to $2.5 million raised and more than 11,300 congregations taking part.

"It's an interesting twist," said Hankins, adding that churches interested in participating can find out details by visiting the Souper Bowl Web site.

Many faith-based disaster response groups, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the American Red Cross have all urged people not to stockpile excessive amounts of food, water, cash, and prescription drugs. Still, many individuals chose to do just that.

Now may seem a ripe time for thinking of ways for people to donate their unused stockpiled goods, especially since at least some reports are predicting a quiet Y2K rollover.

But others still indicate lingering Y2K concerns. A survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Education found that more than one-third of the nation's elementary and secondary school districts and post-secondary institutions report they are not fully prepared for the Year 2000's effect on computers and other computer chip-dependent devices.

The report warned that more than 1,000 schools across the country could close their doors while they fix Y2K problems.

Texas-based Wiley College is currently upgrading and replacing computers and software, thanks to a grant from the Lilly Endowment/United Negro College Fund Historically Black Colleges and Universities Program.

The Methodist school receives $712,500 in initial grant money, on the condition it comes up with $237,000 in matching funds.

But, while the push is on for computer compliance, the general atmosphere is one of unconcern, said Leta Kay, director of public relations.

"On campus we're involved in lots of activities, but nothing related to Y2K. We're just carrying on life as we normally would."

Carrying on life as normal is just what phone companies are encouraging people to do. That means refraining from picking up the phone on midnight just to check for a dial tone, since thousands of simultaneous callers could jam an otherwise working system.

Major utility networks and systems in the U.S. also report they're Y2K compliant. And the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has publicly stated that the nation's 103 nuclear power plants in the United States are all ready for the Year 2000.

The Federal Communications Commission and major phone companies, after testing, reported that telephone systems are compliant.

Still, many Y2K experts admit that the answer to the question of what will happen is "nobody knows."

Response groups say that's why they're still urging some thoughtful preparation, such as keeping a few day's worth of food and water on hand, preparing for possible power outages, and putting important papers in a safe place -- the same preparations people are encouraged to take with regard to other potential disasters such as hurricanes.

The President's Council on Y2K Conversion has developed a 32-page guide, available through its Web site, which covers topics such as personal finance, food and fuel, health, travel, and utilities.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is opening a 24-hour information line on Dec. 28, to monitor the Y2K rollover of the power industry's computer systems.

Even if New Year's night is uneventful in terms of Y2K problems, experts predict that the rollover could bring long-term chronic problems, particularly on a global level. Even phone companies in the U.S. -- seemingly relaxed about domestic Y2K troubles -- are warning that international calls could take longer since overseas systems may not be compliant.

Posted November 5, 1999

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