Churches challenged to prepare for Y2K

BY SUSAN KIM | WASHINGTON | March 19, 1999

WASHINGTON (March 19, 1999) -- Speaking before some 300 church and

community leaders at the National Cathedral, presidential advisor John

Koskinen had a clear message for churches and community groups on how to get

ready for Y2K: get involved now, prepare with common sense, and work


"As public awareness about Y2K increases, local groups will be a reassuring

presence for people. Working cooperatively, you can provide a vehicle to

accumulate people's energy in a positive direction," he said. "Your groups

can make a most important contribution toward making Dec. 31 the last day

of the 20th century, not the first crisis of the 21st."

Koskinen reported that federal systems were now 79 percent prepared for

2000, and that the U.S. government has developed contingency plans in case

transportation, communication, financial, and other systems fail.

But Dr. Margaret Wheatley, keynote speaker at the one-day briefing entitled

"Meeting Our Y2K Challenges Together," didn't want to hear about

percentages. "I cannot listen to John Koskinen in the way I was trained to

listen," said the organizational consultant, systems expert, and author. "It

makes no sense to understand Y2K as a percentage issue. Because what does it

take to bring down a complex system? It only takes a simple failure. I say

this not to move you into despair but to make you think more critically

about the information you hear. You have a whole new responsibility to think

for yourselves."

If Wheatley disagreed with Koskinen's technical analysis of Y2K, she

concurred that working together was the best way to prepare through a

newfound unity and caring she calls the 'amazing grace' of Y2K.

"Y2K presents a great opportunity for faith-based, nonprofit, and community

organizations," she said. "Preparing for Y2K is an opportunity for people to

get to know their neighbors. We're much more worthy than panic. We're

capable of much more than fear and self-protectionism."

Those most at risk for possible Y2K problems -- power outages, food supply

disruption, missed Medicare and Medicaid payments, and inaccurately computed

bills -- are the same people most vulnerable during any disaster, said

Wheatley. "Churches traditionally try to help and protect the

disenfranchised, the poor, the elderly, the children. Preparing for Y2K

means acting as a community and caring for one another."

Representatives from community action groups, disaster response

organizations, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the

American Red Cross offered practical steps for churches getting ready for

the new


Both FEMA and the Red Cross have already issued formal recommendations on

how to prepare for Y2K. Their guidelines are similar to those issued for any

other disaster: stock enough food, water, and gas to supply your family for

several days.

But Koskinen said that blanket recommendations aren't necessarily

appropriate for Y2K. "Frankly, what needs to be done varies widely from

community to community. In some places, a few days worth of food may be

fine. In some communities, two to three weeks of food may be exactly the

right answer."

Many participants wished aloud for more structured guidance from the federal

government. "The government needs to take a stronger leadership role in

coordination between organizations and agencies. The government needs to

make a concerted effort to reassure people that, by working together, we can

get through Y2K," said Gerry Collins, Red Cross volunteer/agency liaison.

But Liz Monahan Gibson, representing FEMA's middle Atlantic region,

maintained residents must take responsibility for disaster recovery in

their own community. "We're asking that you plan ahead and coordinate

resources now. If you're going to need propane to open your church as a

shelter, then it's your responsibility to get that propane," she said.

Y2K experts cautioned that preparing doesn't mean hoarding or extreme

stockpiling. Alistair Stewart is a board member of RX 2000, a nonprofit

addressing potential Y2K problems related to healthcare. He warned that when

people hoard prescription drugs, they inadvertently put others at a


"There are people who buy their prescriptions week by week because that's

what their budget allows. When people start stockpiling prescriptions, they

could cause a shortage that will hurt those who can't buy in advance. I

would caution people in all their preparations: do not take actions that may

serve you very well but could cause disintegration of the national fabric,"

he said.

Y2K experts also recommended that churches identify those at greatest risk

within their congregations, including the elderly, those who live alone,

families that live from paycheck to paycheck, and people with mental and

physical health needs. Churches have also been encouraged to develop a means of

communication, such as neighborhood "buddies" or visits, to check on at-risk

members in the event power outages or other disruptions.

Working with local emergency management officials and the Red Cross, faith

organizations were also urged to check their own systems, including office

computers, payroll, heating, and security, for Y2K compliance.

Addressing emotional needs of parishioners is also a responsibility of a

church, said the Rev. Don Evans, chair of the CIO Committee on the

Washington Council of Governments and a Baptist minister. "Many people have

a sense of starting too late (to prepare for Y2K). Well, as a person of

faith, I have often wanted the opportunity to say what keeps me so calm.

It's that all of us are a part of the solution rather than the hysteria," he


Posted March 19, 1999

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