Americans complacent about Y2K

Americans are becoming complacent about the Year 2000 issue -- lulled by "an orchestrated public relations campaign," said one community organizer testifying before a U.S. Senate hearing yesterday on local and individual preparedness.

Community preparedness and outreach efforts were the focus of the hearing before the Senate's Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem. Also discussed was the media's coverage of the date change and potential fallout that could affect citizens lives.

Liza Christian, who served as executive director of Rogue Valley, Ore.'s Year 2000 task force, cited statements made by President Clinton's Year 2000 czar, John Koskinen, and said there is a concerted effort to "tranquilize" the American people.

"Why? The reasoning is that if you provide full disclosure, people will act irrationally and panic, and the country will suffer an economic and banking collapse. While some of the 'positive' statements about Y2K progress are grounded in fact, others are 'window dressing' covering truly serious problems," Christian said in her testimony.

In preparing its citizens for the Year 2000, local governments and community organizations might consider the World War II-era "block captain" approach, said the committee's vice chairman, Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), in a prepared statement.

"The block captains, who were usually women because most of the men were off at war, were in charge of preparing their neighborhood -- or 'block' -- in the event of an enemy attack. Though these attacks never came, it was still a useful tool to allay fears and provide support during a time when the unthinkable was a real possibility," Dodd said.

Michael Nolan, Norfolk, Neb.'s city administrator, detailed a communitywide campaign that kicked off in September 1998 and was spun out into several committees. "Initially our local committee system was effective. However, its sustainability eventually waned, and only three of the committees still meet: emergency shelter, organizing neighborhood groups and care of the elderly."

Christian said those areas are among the most crucial. She detailed other steps for preparing citizens, including establishing a "robust network" of serviceable shelters for times of emergency, full disclosure by all levels of government, town meetings organized by members of Congress and organized media campaigns.

Christian also urged participation in the Rogue Valley mayors' Proclamation for National Awareness and Preparedness Month, September 1999.

All hearing testimony is available at www.senate.gov/~y2k.

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