Vol. 23 No. 6 February 2000
2000 STARTS THE FIRST YEAR OF THE REST OF YOUR LIFE . . .
If you took the advice presented over the past two years in these letters, you may have had doubts about liquidating marginal investments, finding safe places by which savings could be protected, stocking up on food, water, and supplies, home-schooling your children, and making provisions for maintaining a secure and safe lifestyle for yourself and your family. The next 12 months will tell you whether or not you were correct in making these preparations.
New Year’s morning heralded a new decade, century, and millennium. Finally, you are going to be able to determine the state of the world as you know it where you live in your personal situation. You’ve seen all those movies where ground troops are gingerly advancing through a mine field. They take a cautious step, then test for mines before taking another step. That’s how you should approach Y2K. Test, analyze, then move foreword and repeat the process. Let’s look at a best-case scenario first, then we’ll look at a worst case scenario.
Saturday morning, January 1, 2000, your first concerns should have been to test your personal living environment to determine what works and what doesn’t. If you didn’t. Hopefully you’re reading this letter early, so start inside your house. Telephones have electricity even when most other electrical circuits are inoperable. See if your telephone is working. If you get a dial tone, resist the urge to call friends and relatives right away to see how they’re doing. If everyone with a telephone calls his or her friends and family, the circuits will be swamped and the system could crash. This would give you the erroneous impression that the system had fallen victim to Y2K rather than simply to over-use. If you wait a few days to call, many problems that might have surfaced where friends and family live could have been solved, lessening your anxiety.
Your next step is to see whether or not you have electricity. Check that the refrigerator is cold. See if the furnace blower, thermostat, and hot water heater are working. Turn on your television or radio to see if anyone is broadcasting news. You’ll probably get a lot of information concerning the effects of Y2K in your area, and nationally. What you learn from the media will guide you in some of the things you should be doing. Pay particular attention to what is reported regarding your local water and sewer utility providers. You want to insure that your community isn’t just using up reserves rather than being able to continue to produce water. In the meantime, continue to test your own home in order to gauge the impact of Y2K on your immediate lifestyle. Turn on cold and hot water taps. Flush the toilet. Take a hot shower.
If you’ve got electrical and telephone service, water, and sewage, things may a lot better than they could have been. Now, let’s see how many of the micro-computers and embedded memories (EPROMs) are functioning properly. Check your appliances, clocks, power tools, security system, timers, etc. Turn on your computer and see if it will boot up. Check the clock and see if it reflects the proper time and date. Run some of the date-sensitive programs you normally run to see if they are functioning properly. If you use accounting and bookkeeping programs, enter some easy figures in a separate file and perform some computations to see if the data generated is accurate.
Assuming that everything is working properly, try to get on the internet and send a message to those whose welfare you’re concerned about. If your computer is working properly, and if you are able to communicate via e-mail, that is a very favorable sign. Just think of all the systems involved in a successful e-mail transmission and receipt. Your local telephone provider, web server, geo positioning satellite, the telephone and electric companies at your e-mail destination, and the computer and application programs are all involved.
TRANSPORTATION IS THE NEXT MOST CRITICAL FACTOR.
Assuming that all is well with your electrical, water, sewage, security, heating computer and communications systems, the next step is to see whether or not your personal vehicles are working. Hopefully, you completely filled the fuel tanks on all vehicles in the waning days of 1999. Try to start your car, truck, RV, motorcycle, motorboat, lawn mower, etc. If they all start and run, life is going to be a lot more enjoyable than otherwise could have been the case.
If your gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles and gasoline-powered tools will start up and run, it’s a safe assumption that those of trucking companies are working too. This has enormous portents with regard to food, emergency disaster and medical equipment and supplies, maintenance of law and order, operation of schools, business continuation and employment, delivery of mail, fuel transport and delivery, ambulance services, operation of fire trucks and disaster-control vehicles, etc.
After you’ve confirmed that you have food, water, electricity, heat, a means of communication, and operating equipment and vehicles, your next priority should be financial. You won’t be able to confirm that your bank and broker are up and running until they open on January 3rd, but you can make a physical inventory of income properties to determine their status. Many banks will be open New Years day!
As a Landlord, you can presume that your tenants will be in about the same position as you are. If things are tolerable for you, they probably will be for your tenants too. Bear in mind that your tenants may have decided to ride out Y2K with their own friends and families in another area. The January rent checks won’t be delivered on New Year’s day or the next day. Even if the post office is working perfectly, you won’t get your rent checks until Monday, January 3rd. These could be held up because of year end mail delivery back logs. As a result, you may have vacancies that you won’t know about until you check. So, you’ll want to check out each property to be certain that it is occupied, safe, secure, and functioning.
On Monday, not only will you be looking for rent checks, but you’ll also want to check out your bank to see if you can deposit them and get them credited to your account. Except for a few small banks, and possibly money center mega-banks with a lot of international exposure, mid-size and regional banks have been given a passing grade as regards their Y2K readiness. By and large, if telephones and electricity are available, your bank computer should be working. There could be problems with embedded memories in vault time locks, ATMs, etc. but these can be remedied. If the bank can process your deposit, credit your account, and allow you to withdraw funds, you can heave a sigh of relief. That’s a good sign that your broker’s bank will be able to do the same.
Money market mutual funds that provide check withdrawals also hold funds in banks. Try to contact yours to see if they can transact business, particularly withdrawals. If they can, that demonstrates the integrity of the financial system over wide areas. Your next call should be to your broker to see if he can do the same. The final check should be to try to verify that stock and bond exchanges are open for business. You might get this information from your broker, or by monitoring stock prices on the internet or on one of the financial stations on radio or television. These usually provide information on foreign exchanges as well as all domestic stock, bond, and commodity exchanges.
The final Y2K check you might want to perform is on the futures and options exchanges. Any financial uncertainty is going to be reflected in precious metals, interest rates, currencies, and the international banking system. What you will be seeing is a world-wide consensus of the severity of the impact of Y2K. Stability in these markets will be cause for rejoicing everywhere. Everyone will be able to relax and enjoy the new millennium. If transactions are being made on all these exchanges. If there is normal market activity, this will prove fairly conclusively that Y2K is indeed a non-event. Hopefully, it will be; but if it isn’t, then it’s up to you to assess your situation and to try to remedy it.
Y2K PREPARATION COULD PAY OFF BIG . . .
In the foregoing two pages, Y2K was portrayed in the best possible light, just as millions of people hope and pray it will turn out. But, suppose a worst case scenario ensues? Let’s take another walk through the foregoing scenario, but this time, let’s suppose that everything has failed. Hang on to your hats, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
If you’re awake at midnight of December 31, 1999, and see everything go dark in your house, and in the neighborhood, that’s a good sign that your electric company isn’t going to be able to produce reliable electricity until somebody fixes something. Suppose when you check your telephone for a dial tone, that there is none? That means you’re cut off from being able to dial 911 for emergency assistance. You’ll be on your own.
If you find that you have no electricity, your most immediate problem is going to check out your furnace. Without electricity to control thermostats or to drive heater blower motors, there’s a good chance that your gas or oil heater could shut down automatically because of an over-heat condition. If it does, you’ll need to provide heat. Try to switch the controls from automatic to manual operation, and control it yourself. You can use portable propane heaters, or oil lamps, but you’ve got to be extremely careful. This is going to drastically increase fire hazards. Be cautious when using candles or oil lamps for lighting and open flame heaters for heating, especially around children. Kids are fascinated by fire, but don’t understand the additional hazard it represents. Put a fire extinguisher in any room in which an open flame is being used for heat, light, or cooking and make sure everyone knows how to use it. Designate fire evacuation routes and be sure everyone understands what to do in case of fire. To conserve on fuel, and get maximum benefit from a small heater, instead of heating your house, heat yourself. Bundling up against the cold, and trying to conserve fuel by designating a small central closed off area in your home as the family “warm room” is a good idea. Find the best insulated small space in your house that you can seal off and put a heat source there. You can hang blankets over doorways and draw drapes to trap heat.
If you use a generator, plan on rationing the time it runs, and use all the power it generates during those periods. As a general rule, you wouldn’t use generator power for high-drain heat-generating appliances such as cook stoves, ovens, clothes dryers, hair dryers, electric heaters, etc. Generators should be used to power small motor-driven appliances such as blenders, fluorescent lamps, forced air furnace blowers, bread makers, etc. You should have a plan for every hour a generator is being used. Fuel will be scarce and it’s better to ration power than to use all your fuel up before the electrical service is reestablished.
For example, set up an “electricity budget” for each day. Suppose you decided to operate your generator 2 hours a day. On one day, you’d use power to wash clothes. Another day you’d vacuum. Still another day, you’d operate other appliances such as the microwave. Every day you’d use power to recharge storage batteries and to operate reading lamps, television, VCRs, computers, etc. These can be used to power battery-operated radios or television sets. Whenever possible, see if you can tune in to a local news broadcast to find out the extent of the impact of Y2K. Even in a worst-case Y2K situation, these facilities should have back-up generators which will allow them to continue to operate for a few hours.
Jot down any emergency frequencies, procedures, evacuation routes, etc. for possible future use. Pay particular attention to food and water distribution schemes, medical assistance resources, curfew rules, public transportation facilities, power and water rationing and delivery plans, availability of fuel for heat and vehicles, estimates of the duration of the problem, and times that updates will be posted. Even if you’ve stocked up on spare batteries and chargers, conserve battery power until reliable power can be delivered to your house. Keep battery operated lights, devices, radios and television sets turned off except for emergency use.
NO NEWS IS BAD NEWS . . .
If no broadcasts are available, from television, A.M., FM or short wave radio receivers, that signifies that the Y2K problem has spread to transmission equipment, satellites, and receivers; possibly world wide. Without telephones and radios people are going to have to rely upon word of mouth or written information to stay abreast of events. What should you do if nothing is working? No telephones? No electricity? No water? No radio or TV? Here’s where having formed a community mutual support group is going to be of immense value in setting up communication links with other communities.
Availability of drinking water is going to be your most urgent need. Hopefully, you’ll have already stored up several weeks supply, so your needs won’t be critical. If you have stored ample water, drink normally when you’re thirsty. If you try to limit personal consumption of it, it will just make everybody psychologically thirsty. If you haven’t prepared any emergency water storage, or, if supplies are limited, it’s better to search out additional sources of drinking water that you can collect and boil to provide drinking water than to try to stretch what you’ve got. If you live where there’s plenty of snow, you can always melt snow for drinking water. Water collected in rain barrels from downspouts can be used for washing clothing and flushing toilets. Or, in case of dire need, water from local streams, form toilet tanks, water heaters, or even sea water can be used, if purified first.
You’ll have to boil water from public water utilities until you’re certain that it hasn’t been contaminated with ground water, or by improper additives metered out by malfunctioning computers at the water works. Boiling water will require a source of heat provided by something other than electricity. Hopefully, you will have a working gas stove or will have obtained a gas hotplate. If not, start up the old barbecue to use for boiling water and cooking. Now’s the time to dig into your emergency back up food supplies. Operating in an information vacuum, it’s a good idea to use up supplies sparingly until you get some idea of how many days or weeks you’ll have to stretch them. Keep you eye on expiration dates and use up the oldest supplies first to avoid spoilage.
You’re going to have to deal with sewage and sanitation. Sewage disposal is going to be a problem without water. If you have any source of water, you can simply fill up your toilet tank and everything should work normally. If you don’t have water, you should stop using inside plumbing right away, and start making arrangements for “outside” facilities as was discussed in my Y2K booklet.
The biggest problem is going to train youngsters as to the importance of avoiding disease by properly disposing of trash and sewage. You can start a compost heap by turning up some earth with a shovel and burying edible garbage. Other trash should be burned daily to avoid attracting rodents and roaches.
Refrigeration and food preservation are going to be important. If you didn’t acquire a propane refrigerator to keep perishables in, placing them in pest-proof containers in an outside area in the cold where the sun won’t hit them will work well in cold climates. In warm climates, try to consume perishables before they spoil. Here’s where those stores of dried milk, vitamins, are going to make a difference. If you’ve stockpiled large containers of food, rather than to allow excess food to spoil for lack of refrigeration, you can set up a food swap meet among cooperating members of your community who have also prepared with emergency supplies.
You can warm canned goods on top of your gas water heater. If that doesn’t work, think of life as just one big camping trip. For those who live in the South, dig a shallow fire pit in your yard, or punch some holes near the bottom of an old 55-gallon drum and cook on it. An old refrigerator shelf over the top to reduce fly-ash makes a decent trash incinerator for a family. In a pinch, trash can be burned in a pit, with the residue covered up from time to time with dirt.
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