Preparing Yourself, Your Family, Your Business and Your Community
It’s good to prepare for emergencies, Y2K or not, as our world becomes increasingly wired. Hackers could disrupt the energy and defense systems any time. Human error is always a possibility. Weather extremes are increasingly common with global climate change. Accidents, illness or unemployment could impair your ability to earn money. You just never know …
The impending rollover to the year 2000, however, is unique, and Bill Getty and I discussed this situation at the Maine Agricultural Trades Show in Augusta in January. Getty, former owner of Snow Pond Farm Supply, has operated as an independent computer consultant for five years, installing networks and doing custom database programming for small businesses. He has studied Y2K issues for the past year.
Getty gave a brief overview of the technical problem of Y2K – i.e., the problem of programs that have used two digits to indicate the date instead of four, and that, thus, may not work when the calendar changes from 1999 to 2000, because ‘00’ will be interpreted as 1900 in some cases. Getty said that the date discrepancy could affect large mainframe systems, virtually every PC and network, and embedded systems (computer chips that are embedded in copying machines, oil drilling rigs, security systems, etc.). “Everyone will be affected,” Getty concluded.
He talked about the “Iron Triangle” of banking, power grids and telecommunications that have become so interconnected through computers, worldwide, that small problems with small components of those interconnected systems can result in large, wide-scale problems with any or all three. He also discussed the slow pace of remediation of these systems. The banking industry, for instance, said that it would be “fixed” by Dec. 31, 1998, and then would have a year to test its fixes. However, only 10% of the banks had completed their remediation by that date. Interruptions in the workings of the Iron Triangle could affect shipping, trucking, railroads, seed production, refineries, factories and more.
The Federal Government is no better off than the banks. Sen. Bennett (R-Utah), who calls himself the “Paul Revere of Y2K” and is one of the government’s most outspoken critics, issued a report card on Nov. 23,1998, giving a grade of D to the government. “Overall,” according to Bennett, “the Executive Branch of the Federal Government has earned a D. Unfortunately, the Federal Government has not made enough progress since the last report card when it also received a D. (Before that was an F.) Executive Branch departments and agencies are responding too slowly in assessing and repairing their mission-critical systems, their telecommunications equipment, their embedded chip systems and their data exchanges. This includes their interaction with other Federal agencies or the clients they serve, be they states, localities, or non-governmental sources. More important, over one-half of the agencies have not completed contingency plans to ensure that service will continue, should their mission critical systems fail.” The Medicare system has received a failing grade.
Getty also discussed other dates that could set off problems before the new year. The 99th day of the year, for example, and the 9th of September could be problematic, because many computer programs use series of 9s to indicate the end of a program. August 22, 1999, could be problematic because the Global Positioning System (GPS) of the U.S. Navy is to be reset then – and users of the GPS, if they don’t coordinate their own GPS receivers, may have inaccurate date information or incorrect navigation solutions displayed. The GPS is used for may purposes worldwide, including navigating ships and traffic control, banking, trucking and defense systems. Changes in fiscal years could also set off problems, as federal and local governments begin their 1999-2000 fiscal years at various dates in 1999. “You can’t fix the big problems, but you can think about how they’re going to affect you,” said Getty. He said that farmers and gardeners should think about the possibility of not being able to get fuel or fertilizers, not being able to use UPS, to renew credit lines, etc., but added that Y2K presents opportunities for local markets, too, and for renewing local communities. “Hope lies in personal preparation, communities, neighbors and families working together, and in the knowledge that we can live simpler lives. Success will come from local economies. Chances are good that local economies will become the top of the economic chain again.” He believes that “spontaneous simplification” – a term Getty coined – may save our communities. Whatever happens to computers, “I know that the sun’s coming up,” said Getty, “and the sun grows plants.”
Being prepared for emergencies means relying more on your local community – something that is good to do even in “normal” times for economic, environmental and social reasons. Some of the following ways to prepare for Y2K are specific to that event; some could relate to any time.
Preparing Yourself and Your Family Money
• Have up-to-date records (especially December statements) of your bank accounts, loan and home mortgage payments, credit card receipts, utility payments, etc., by the end of the year. For bills that are paid annually, start saving records now. Get statements from your creditors showing payments made toward principal, interest and other charges, and a schedule of your future payments and resultant loan balance decreases. Check interest and dividend payments in early 2000 to make sure they’ve been calculated correctly. Plan for possible delays in check clearing. “At a minimum, keep a six-month paper trail – three months before and after the date change – on significant transactions,” says the Federal Trade Commission. If you bank by computer, store transaction records on paper or on a backup disk.
• Set aside enough money for financial needs that occur early in the year, such as tuition payments and quarterly tax payments.
• Have enough cash (or bartering possibilities) to last for a few to several months.
• Start making connections with people in your community with whom you can barter.
Food & Water
• Have enough food to last at least a few months; six months to a year would be better.
1. Grow a bigger garden this year. In addition to planting for your family, plant a row for the needy and plant a row for the millennium.
2. Maybe this is the year to put up a hoop house to extend the growing season. John Pino of Mt. Vernon has a series of hoop houses with garden beds between the houses. He raises a flock of 50 laying hens, rotating them from one hoop house to the fenced growing area between two houses, to the next hoop house, etc. They weed and fertilize the ground, then John grows greens all winter in the hoop houses and other crops in the summer. Such a system would ensure a continuous supply of vegetables and protein (eggs) for more than one family. (For more information on growing crops out of season, attend MOFGA’s March 20 Season Extension Workshop with Eliot Coleman in Unity.)
3. Read Anna Edey’s book Solviva – How to Grow $500,000 on One Acre & Peace on Earth. This is one of the most important books I’ve read in years, and the best book, I think, for finding out how you can supply most of your own heat, hot water and food, and dispose of your waste, while relying as little as possible on outside sources, and polluting as little as possible. The “peace on earth” in the title, by the way, is a pun on the fact that Edey found out what a good fertilizer urine makes when she was forced to live a very simple lifestyle at one point.
4. Order enough garden seeds this year to last into next year and, for seeds that store well, beyond. Buy open-pollinated varieties for at least one variety of each crop that you grow so that you can save your own seed. Talk to your neighbors about starting a community-based seed saving group, with each member saving seed of one or more varieties.
5. Join or start a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). If you’re a consumer without a CSA in your area, find a farmer and offer to help establish one.
6. Find ways to store enough food for at least a few months, better yet, for a year. Keep grains, legumes, etc., in a cool, dry place. The following guidelines may help. (Where amounts are given, they refer to quantities to store per person for one year, based on the needs or an average adult.)
Grains (wheat, rice, corn, flour, oats, pastas, other) – 300 lbs.
Nonfat dry milk – 75 lbs.
Sugar, honey, maple syrup – 60 lbs.
Salt – 5 lbs.
Fat or oil – 20 lbs.
Dried legumes – 60 lbs. (To destroy insects that may infest grains, nuts, dried fruit or other foods, place the food in a freezer and keep it at 0 degrees or below for four days. Alternatively, sterilize the food by heating it in an oven at a setting of warm or 200 degrees for about one hour, depending on the food. Spread the food on shallow pans so that the heat can penetrate easily. Stir it occasionally to prevent scorching.
Store root crops, squashes and pumpkins, carrots and other crops that last in a root cellar.
Store seeds for sprouting – Sprouts are a valuable source of nutrients in the winter when fresh vegetables are hard to grow.
Canned goods – where amounts are listed, they provide 2100 calories and essential nutrients per person:
tuna – 1/2 lb.
dried fruits (apricots [1 lb.], raisins … )
juices – orange & tomato – 46 oz.
nut butters (peanut butter – 1/2 lb.)
Raise chickens, pigs, etc. for meat
Baking supplies – baking powder, yeast, baking soda, spices, cocoa, etc. Make a list of items in your cabinet now so that you’ll know what to buy.
Water – Store enough for two weeks (14 gal./person). Water can be stored in plastic bottles to which bleach has been added if the purity of the water is in doubt. Generally add 1/2 tsp. per 5 gallons of water if the water is clear, 1 tsp. per 5 gallons if the water is cloudy. To store sterilized water, boil water for 1 to 3 minutes and pour it into hot, sterilized jars with sterilized lids, or process bottles of water in a water bath – 20 min. for quart jars; 25 min. for 2-qt. jars. If you can tomatoes of other crops, consider canning water as you empty the jars of tomatoes. You can, alternatively, boil water after storing it to purify it.
If you have a generator, you can pump enough water for use each day – as long as you have fuel for the generator. Let your neighbors know that they can get water at your house.
Mark Fulford of Monroe (525-7761) is holding workshops on accessing water by building a hand pump; on lighting issues; and on food and medicinal plant propagation and seed saving in order to help people prepare for the millennium. Call him for dates and costs for workshops.
Fuel – Have enough to keep your house warm for at least two months. Stock up on wood, oil, gas or whatever you use. Fill the gas tank in your vehicle near the end of the year. Make newspaper logs if wood is not available or if newspapers are abundant: Divide newspapers into sections and fold the sections to the size of half a page. Soak the folded sections in a tub of water to which a tablespoon of detergent has been added. While they are still wet, roll the sections individually on a rod 1 inch in diameter; squeeze out the excess water. Slide the rolls off the rod and stand them on end to dry. The rolls are ready to use when completely dry. Stock up on matches. Read Solviva for ideas about converting to solar to the point where your house will be warm enough for you and even for growing food plants.
Light – Stock up on candles, keep flashlights charged and/or batteries stocked. Consider oil lamps. The Green Store in Belfast has some that mount on the wall and look like they would do a good job. A generator can be a blessing during a long power outage – if fuel for the generator is available. Signal flares might come in handy. Contact Mark Fulford (525-7761) for information about his workshops on lighting that does not depend on toxic batteries.
Personal Supplies and Medication
toilet paper (Some people say this will be as valuable as money on Jan. 1!)
toothbrush & toothpaste
Cleaning supplies – dish soap, laundry soap, cleanser
Be sure to update your tetanus immunization every 10 years
Multiple vitamin pills (These deteriorate within two to four years)
Medications needed by family members
First Aid Supplies – Check your medicine cabinet now and make sure you have enough supplies to last well into the millennium.
Warm clothing and blankets
If you have a pacemaker, contact your physician; pacemakers may have date-sensitive computer chips
Hand operated can opener
Grain mill (These are selling out fast at many suppliers.)
Radio (battery or solar powered)
Sewage – If you’re hooked up to a municipal sewage system, ask if it will continue operating in the new year. Look into buying a compost toilet.
As an overall strategy, start buying nonperishable necessities when they are on sale; or when you run out of one bottle of shampoo or cooking oil or whatever, replace it with two – storing the second one for the millennium. To the greatest extent possible, buy these goods from local producers and suppliers so that they will have the added income they’ll need to produce or stock even more this year. As 1999 progresses, read the papers regularly or check the internet to keep abreast of the seriousness of the Y2K problem, of progress being made (or not) toward its solutions, and adjust your plans accordingly.
Preparing Your Business
• If your business relies on frequent delivery of materials, stock up on the materials used most often.
• Many of us rely on computers or computer chips for our billing, inventory, automated feeding, watering, milking equipment, food processing, refrigeration, and more. The following could be affected by Y2K problems:
cameras and camcorders
burglar and fire alarms and fire control systems, sprinkler systems
security cameras and security systems
desktop and mainframe computers
air conditioning, heating, ventilating and other climate control systems, including thermostats
ATMs and other banking systems
vehicles (Date sensitive chips may affect security systems or cause malfunctions when they try to track scheduled maintenance times.)
Six Steps toward a Fix
1. Awareness – Make everyone you deal with – employees, suppliers, service companies, etc. – aware of the potential Y2K problems and what it’s going to take to get your systems in compliance.
2. Inventory – Conduct an inventory of every automated system in your operation – automatic feeders, irrigation systems, utilities, communications, accounting, conveyors, etc. This inventory should include hardware (mainframe, midrange and personal computers), software (including operating systems and database systems), and embedded chips (including all machinery in your building and your transportation and production systems).
3. Assessment – Contact the manufacturers of the systems you’ve inventoried and ask if the system or device is Y2K compliant. Ask for written confirmation through an official letter from the manufacturer if it is. If it isn’t, ask for instructions on how to proceed to make it compliant. (Some businesses may refuse to give written confirmation out of fear of being held liable if their products fail when they said they would not.)
4. Solutions – If you cannot get an official letter of compliance in a reasonable time, move on. Consider which areas in your business are most critical and need immediate attention. Set priorities, then address them by upgrading systems, if possible; replacing systems; or scanning all systems and programs to check for date routines or date storage fields and fixing them.
5. Testing – Reset the system date on the computers to 01-01-2000 and run them for an extended period. Make sure your systems calculate leap year dates correctly (2000 is a leap year).
6. Contingency Planning – Try to plan for all conceivable scenarios. Plan ways to back up and protect your business’s data (print out data or put them on floppy disks, for example), ensure continued production, ensure cash and product flow. Delineate the responsibilities of key employees during any Y2K mishaps. Consider the potential impacts to your business if support systems – banks, supply warehouses, transportation, etc. – malfunction.
Preparing Your Community
Town offices are being told to be ready to provide food vouchers and information. If you have food or other supplies to offer, let your town office know. Start holding meetings in your town to educate townspeople. Jhym Phoenix and Peter Baldwin have done this in Belfast. They initially held one meeting a week, providing basic education about Y2K. Now they hold two meetings a week – one continues the basic education; the other is more in depth, telling people how to prepare. They are also working with the Waldo County Emergency Management Agency to put together a workshop for other emergency management workers, and in return, the Waldo County agency is letting them use its space and equipment for meetings, copying information, and so on. In addition, Jhym is organizing a bulk food buying club; people will be able to buy directly from the club at a reduced rate, or they can buy from the club via the Belfast Food Coop at a higher rate if they want to continue to support the Coop. Jhym believes that Y2K will be the end of society as we know it – and that that can be a good thing, if we rebuild better social structures after Y2K: structures that do not make weapons production a priority; that do not institutionalize crime; that provide better education, local food production, and so on. To push Anna Edey’s book again, Solviva has designs for local, ecological methods of recycling, processing waste, creating recreation centers and schools, and more. All rely primarily on solar power – even in the Northeast. Community leaders should be reading this book. One of my favorite sections deals with putting up community buildings: Edey says that the military should be enlisted to help with and even oversee these projects, because the military has the organizational capacity and the manpower to do such things, and because erecting solar heated and powered buildings will contribute to the national defense by limiting our dependence on foreign oil. If you are a farmer or gardener, consider changing your operation so that it’s more community oriented. If you grow primarily for distance markets, think about what you could do to be a local supplier instead. If you are a gardener, how could you expand your garden so that you’re growing extra storage crops for neighbors? If you’ve been thinking of putting up a hoop house, for instance, this would be a good year to do so. The example given previously of John Pino, with his hoop houses, hens and gardens, would be a good one to emulate in as many neighborhoods as possible. Like Pino, Anna Edey has found ways to incorporate animal agriculture with crop production. She raises sheep, angora rabbits and laying hens in ways that their body heat and manure can be used for crop production, and her greenhouse shelters the animals from harsh weather. The sheep and rabbits also provide fiber.
MEMBERS OF MOFGA, growers who sell locally, and others already provide good models for surviving and even thriving under Y2K-like conditions. Our philosophy of promoting strong local communities should serve our region well – and our legislators and state leaders should finally awaken to the reality that catering to fickle, distant export markets and funding huge, precarious weapons stockpiles and equally huge, precarious energy systems puts their electorate at great risk; while supporting local, environmentally sound food, fiber and energy production safeguards us during all times.
Some of the information for this article came from the booklet Essentials of Home Production & Storage, published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1978; Thanks to the Belfast Branch of The Church for providing this booklet. More information was taken from Univ. of Maine Cooperative Extension fact sheets on Y2K. The rest is from various newspapers, the Internet, MOFGA’s longterm philosophy of encouraging strong local communities, and common sense. Another excellent resource is the Y2K Citizen’s Action Guide, a 120-page booklet. Single copies are $4.95 at bookstores and from on-line booksellers; bulk orders in increments of 50 copies can be purchased by sending $1 per book plus $7.50 per 50 copies for shipping and handling to Y2K-Utne, Bulk Order, Utne Reader, 1624 Harmon Place, Minneapolis MN 55403.
Anna Edey’s book, Solviva, copyright 1998, is available from Trailblazer Press, RFD 1 Box 582, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568; Tel/Fax: 508-693-3341; and from some local stores (such as the Green Store in Belfast).
– Jean English