Arguments to Prepare for Y2K/Crisis
Happy 2000! Half of my arguments apply to crisis in general.

I had not thought much about the potential results of Y2K before reading Andrew Burt's book, Noontide Night. He raises at least four important points:

  1. Programmers are human. We cut corners without thinking, marking a year as two digits out of habit, even habitually thinking that file names with the date in them always go YYMMDD, not realizing that it should be YYYYMMDD, because we were only thinking of the order of the three and neglecting the size of the year. It's embarrassing, really.

  2. Interactions of two pieces of software. Y2K issues in one piece of software is one thing, but, frequently, one piece of software operates on assumptions about the files that another piece of software has created. What happens when software has included the date (as a two digit number: 00-99) in the names of files it creates, and then another piece of software is depending on those file names being sorted in alphabetical order in order to get the most recent file? The two pieces of software have to either be coordinated for the date change or the latter software has to be ready for any eventuality: that 2000 will be stored as 00 or as 2000, or 100, since they don't know what the other software plans to do in their next release for the date rollover. (Or they can sort file modification dates to get the recent one, which makes an assumption that the modification date is the relevant date.) Then what if the first program switches to putting the relevant date in the file?

  3. There are an untold number of people operating with old, unmaintained software made by companies that have either ceased to exist or are no longer supporting their old software. The software is still useful, so people are using it. The source code (human readable program) may no longer be available for anyone to change. And what happens when this issue and the previous one combine? Two unsupported programs will be coordinated only by chance.

  4. Even when the source code is still available, there are a lot of programs out there that are written in programming languages that have gone out of favor. Few people still have adequate skills to work very effectively. How can the work force keep pace with the demand if there are problems?

Further, I found it compelling to consider Maslow's Hierarchy.

  1. What does it suggest about preparing for a crisis?

  2. What does it suggest about what happens when people face a crisis?
Here is my amateur analysis.
The idea of the hierarchy is to move up the hierarchy. Now, to move from the security level to the level of having a coherent place in the world (cognitive functioning and love and belonging), it's a good idea to handle security in a coherent, effective way. It is not a good idea to handle security as just a feeling of security, thereby spending too much time doing comforting things that don't really give you any measure of security (example: eating a lot of comfort foods, such as ice cream, that can make one less healthy, that is, less secure).
Counter to Maslow's theory, it is looked upon by our society as "alarmist" to store up a supply of several weeks' worth of water and food. This is a narrow view. Everything has a value within a context. We are in a world where a Y2K bug, natural disasters, or civil unrest might hit, leaving the normal support system inoperable or crippled for some amount of time. Are preparations for one's survival and security really "alarmist"?
Further, if someone wants to prepare and calmly suggests that others do so as well, there is no harm here, nothing to be offended by nor to fight.
Also, I think that if one doesn't prepare for such things, that approach has a negative effect to some degree: perhaps then feels a need to do useless but comforting feeling things to address repressed concerns. For instance, looking away when seeing evidence of child abuse because that kind of makes things seem better.
At any rate, someone unprepared in a crisis will go right down Maslow's hierarchy to the survival level. This is where people can get desperate, doing things they'd never do in more secure times. In Burt's book, some people became hoodlums or very greedy and desperate. But some people were able to keep their heads and help others. They were prepared at least mentally. I know which group I'd rather be in in a crisis: one of the ones helping. I think the biggest threat in a crisis are the panicked people. I think that in general these are the unprepared people.
Of course, part of preparing is drawing a line to stop. At some point, anyone is vulnerable. At the extreme, we all die, eventually. At some point, you have to draw the line and say, well, if that happens, I'll have to hope that the Red Cross will have tent cities set up for people in my situation.
I am supposing that the Y2K bugs may bring electricity down for about a week followed by weeks of periodic electrical outages lasting hours at a time, shortages of goods of all sorts, followed by long term glitchiness in records and services that will be annoying. Naturally the economy will suffer as a result, too. If it's much worse than that, I am not prepared. C'est la vie. The point is, I have read up on things and thought out some eventualities, and to a degree. Even thinking has limitations at some point! But this is better than the vague approach that, "Hey, we all die someday."
What if there is a 20% chance that the Y2K issue in computers and chips will cause serious disruptions? A survey at Denver Techies revealed that 20% of respondents (presumably all were programmers) are making survivalist preparations for Y2K. What if that reflects the actual chance of serious disruptions? What if the chance is a tenth of that? Is a chance of serious disruptions worth preparing for? I think so.

In summary, the reasons to prepare for serious disruptions at the turn of the century are:

  1. There are a number of hard to find and hard to fix issues regarding programming the date. Programmers are human. People are using all sorts of programs. There will be problems to one degree or another.
  2. I'd rather be an element of calm and help in a crisis. That rather than be one of the panicked people who worsen situations and people who get in the way of establishing some form of "normal" as quickly as possible.
  3. I'd rather move on with my life as soon as possible after a crisis, not have it's very reality throw me for a loop for a long time.
  4. Even if the chance of serious disruptions is only one percent, I think serious disruptions are worth preparing for.
  5. It is an educational experience to examine the basis of my security.
  6. There are other possible crises, such as civil unrest, that are worth preparing for, for most of the above reasons.
I remember as a kid wondering why people didn't have fire escape ladders. Sure, you can survive a jump out of a two story window. But why leave it to that (and the resulting broken bones and sprained ankles) when it's a simple matter to plan a better escape ahead of time? You spare yourself those injuries if it happens, and spare yourself the worry in any case. If you're uninjured, you're more likely to be able to not only help others but also to move on with your own life more quickly.

By quick glance, an interesting and full read on Maslow's Hierarchy:

I recommend Andrew Burt's book, Noontide Night. It is quite realistic humanly, and it has a coherent basis in computer science, as opposed to science fiction. It also has a thought provoking article as an afterward. Not only that, all proceeds from its sale are donated to the American Red Cross.

Suzanne Morine

1 Jan 2000