Y2K evokes 'less panic'

BY PJ HELLER | LOS ANGELES, Calif. | September 27, 1999

LOS ANGELES, Calif. (Sept. 27, 1999) -- Amid fevered sales pitches for Y2K survivalist gear and high-priced millennium cruises, response leaders report they are seeing less panic and more common-sense preparation for Y2K.

Though no one knows for sure what the year 2000 rollover -- less than 100 days away -- will bring, people are becoming more educated about ways to get ready.

"I don't hear the kind of panic that I heard at the beginning of the year," said Gil Furst, director of Lutheran Disaster Response. "People are approaching the subject with some prudence."

Ray Mueller, project director of the AD2K Web site for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, agreed that the Y2K "frenzy" -- which he witnessed in early 1999 -- has dwindled.

"It's a little hard to measure," Mueller said. "My own impression is that interest in Y2K peaked earlier this year. I haven't noticed any great outpouring of concern."

Faith-based organizations attribute much of the recent calm to efforts by themselves and others -- including federal, state and local governments, businesses of all sizes, and individuals -- to ease fears about the likely scenario when the clock strikes midnight on Dec. 31.

Nevertheless, the one thing that everybody seems to agree on is that no one knows exactly what that scenario will be.

At best, predicted Kris Gandillon, founder and executive director of the Y2K Community Action Group of Wildwood Mo., and a member of West County Community Church, there will be intermittent interruptions of goods and services. Gandillon said that could be followed by a global recession, assuming, he said, one does not occur first due to economic problems in Asia, Japan, Indonesia, Latin America, and Russia.

At worst, Gandillon predicted, Y2K will "bring much of the world economy to a virtual halt, with failures at every level, including government, banking, shipping, and utilities, resulting in tremendous hardship for most Americans, possibly setting off a global depression."

Others, however, scoff at such predictions.

"I don't believe Y2K will do anything," said Dave Duffy, editor and publisher of Backwoods Home magazine, a publication that specializes in self-reliant living. "It's mainly smoke. If you believe a computer chip is going to bring down civilization, you are not very sophisticated."

The public appears caught somewhere between the two extremes.

Attendance was sparse at a Family Preparedness Fair held earlier this month in the Portland, Ore., Expo Center. The fair featured sales of dehydrated foods, solar ovens, gasoline generators, and books on Armageddon and the "Millennium Meltdown."

Other such fairs are being held around the nation as marketers look to cash in on Y2K. Stores in Southern California report a growing market for disaster preparedness kits.

Meantime, the American Red Cross in Southern California reports a surge of

interest in classes on disaster preparedness which it attributes to concern over the Y2K computer bug.

"If nothing happens, at least they'll be better prepared for an earthquake," Judy Iannaccone, a spokeswoman for the Red Cross in Santa Ana, told the Los Angeles Times.

She reported that the number of people taking Red Cross classes has more than doubled in the past year, from 1,647 to 3,722.

Mueller said his AD2K Web site was aimed at helping people find some middle ground between panic and complacency.

"We're trying to help people avoid the extremes of overreacting to the problem or the extreme of complacency," he explained. "We suggest moderate preparations along the lines recommended by the American Red Cross for physical preparations.

"Spiritually, we really emphasize that people see Y2K as an opportunity to grow in three areas," he said. "First is our faith and trust in God; we trust in God and not in our technology or our stockpiles. Second, that we use Y2K as an opportunity or impetus for strengthening our disaster/emergency preparedness which can be valuable in any number of situations, not just Y2K.

"Thirdly, he said, "we see Y2K as an opportunity to strengthen our ministry to those in need. I'm especially concerned that as Christians we speak up for those most in need. If we take steps to prepare for possible disruptions we should not just think about ourselves but should think about other people, especially those who are in need in the best of times."

Jonathan Frerichs, communications director for Lutheran World Services, noted that on an international level, Y2K issues meant little to many people overseas -- especially the less fortunate.

"Nowhere else in the world is Y2K quite the frenzy that it that it is here," he said. "It's just not an issue in a refugee camp or a village in the Andes. We're talking there about food and clothing and shelter and survival."

Posted September 28, 1999

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