The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 16, 1999


Y2K in Carlisle: Mountain, Molehill or Opportunity?

Whether or not the Y2K computer problem turns out to be a major disruption of life for us on January 1, 2000, let's imagine it will. In the words of Eric Utne, founder of the Utne Reader, "As we prepare for Y2K, something surprising and quite wonderful is going to happen. We're going to get to know our neighbors."

As most readers know, on January 1, 2000, many computer software programs and embedded microchips, programmed to identify the year by its last two digits, will think it is 1900, causing data-driven computations to fail and computer-reliant systems to malfunction or shut down. Many believe the odds are very high that there will be significant disruptions despite all the debugging efforts underway.

Senator Robert Bennett, chairman of the Senate's Special Committee on the Year 2000 Problem, has said, "I cannot be optimistic and I am generally concerned about the possibility of power shortages. Supermarket supplies may be disrupted.It's clear we can't solve the whole problem, so we have to allow some systems to die so mission-critical systems can work.Pay attention to the things that are vulnerable in your life and make contingency plans.Don't panic, but don't spend too much time sleeping, either."

The Sunday Times, London, reports, "This is not a prediction, it is a certainty—there will be serious disruption in the world's financial services industryIt's going to be ugly."

Ironically, the Social Security Administration is the institution furthest along at completing their debugging; the electric power industry is one of the furthest behind.

The unprecedented vulnerability we face to this computer problem and its effect on electric power, telecommunications, and even food supplies stems not from the potential failure of any one system; it comes from the interconnectedness of all the computer systems that surround our lives and upon which our economy and infrastructure now depend.

"Initially, Y2K was thought to affect only software.But then we learned that embedded microprocessors were vulnerable to the date change. These chips are so prevalent in modern life—in cars, satellites, home appliances, utilities, oil rigs, transportation systems, telecommunications, manufacturing, and medical equipment—that the average American is in contact with seventy microprocessors before noon each day. Failure in these chips will occur throughout the infrastructure that make modern life possible.

"What does it matter how compliant and ready you (or your company) are if your suppliers lag behind or if your employees can't get to work or don't have food, or if power plants fail? What good does it do to be prepared if your neighbors aren't?" (Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers)

Perhaps little of this will come to pass. But while companies and government agencies struggle to inoculate their systems from the Y2K bug, communities around the nation are organizing to prepare themselves for what could be a difficult and cold January. Over two dozen web sites share preparedness information, and weekly meetings are held by town officials and agency heads in countless communities to organize "warm houses" by neighborhoods (people with generators or big wood stoves) and responses to the needs of the elderly or the ill. Lowell, Massachusetts, interestingly, is touted as a national model ( See another interesting site at

What could we do in Carlisle to prepare ourselves individually and as neighborhood groups for potential disruptions? The neighborly and community benefits from coming together to consider these issues would be more than worth it, even if Y2K turned out to be a ripple instead of a tidal wave. In an age when individualism tends to ride roughshod over community interests and mutual consideration, let's use this opportunity to prepare for the worst in order to bring out in all of us the best.

All interested are invited to a Y2K family and neighborhood preparedness information meeting on Sunday afternoon, May 2 from 3:15 to 5:15 p.m. in the Clark Room at Town Hall. If possible leave a message at 369-4467 if you plan to come so we can gauge our refreshments. If you won't know till the last minute, you're welcome anyway.

Jon Saphier is a longtime Carlisle resident. He is supported in this project by other Carlisleans Heidi Dunkers, Paul Hackbarth and Mark Snyder.

1999 The Carlisle Mosquito