The White House Kicks Off 'Y2K Community Conversations'

The White House is convinced that Americans want "straight talk" on the Year 2000, so it has assembled a toolkit aimed at communities struggling to develop public outreach campaigns.

Dubbed "Y2K Community Conversations," the effort is spearheaded by President Clinton's Council on Year 2000 conversion. The council issued the toolkit this week at www.y2k.gov/community/guide.html.

Included in the 15-page guide is a practical checklist that communities can use to orchestrate townhall-like meetings on the millennial date change. The toolkit also has other paraphernalia, such as posters and fliers, that can be ordered by phone (888-USA-4-Y2K).

"People are looking for straight talk about the Y2K readiness of their own local communities," begins the handbook, which moves through some best practices in mobilizing citizens around potential Year 2000 issues. The guide includes three case studies of communities with competent public relations in place for problems associated with the massive computer date change.

The guide mentions San Antonio (www.ci.sat.tx.us/gsay2k/index.htm), where representatives from central city services, utilities and health facilities rallied to form the Greater San Antonio Year 2000 Coalition. One of the most valuable lessons to be gleaned from the San Antonio exercise is to hold rolling meetings with local organizations -- churches, chambers of commerce and neighborhoods -- rather than one grand gathering, according to the handbook.

Also noted is Lawrence, Kans., (ci.lawrence.ks.us/y2k/index.html), which pitched the pithy question, "When was the last time your county government helped you operate your microwave?" The lesson taken from Lawrence is the value of structuring task force meetings around expert panels. "For example, meetings have focused on water and electricity, telephones, emergency services, banks and financial institutions," according to the guide.

Lawrence officials also noted that perhaps the biggest value to local businesses is the reassurance of hearing that other businesses are tending to their Year 2000 fixes. The Lawrence task force has slated a summer preparedness drill, which will be followed by a countywide summit to brief local elected officials on the outcome.

Finally, the handbook cites Clearwater, Fla., (www.clearwater-fl.com), where a group of community members formed Citizens for a Stable Community (www.make-y2k-safe.com). Early this year, CSC recruited religious leaders and forged a partnership with Pinellas County public safety officials to make sure that at-risk citizens are not endangered by any Year 2000-related problems.

The handbook includes tips for getting started, who to include when forming a Year 2000 task force and strategies for holding "talk show-like" gatherings on the topic. Also included are draft letters to invite speakers, sample press releases and flier notices.

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