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Bringing home Y2K preparations

Although most experts expect the Year 2000 technology problem to have a small impact on the home, the Federal Government and consumer groups want consumers to prepare for some home-based dilemmas related to the technology glitch.

Although most experts expect the Year 2000 technology problem to have a small impact on the home, the federal government and consumer groups want people to prepare for some home-based fallout.

According to information the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association has received from its members, most consumer electronics products will not encounter problems with the Year 2000 date change. However, those products using calendar year dataBack to Year 2000 Index Page may be affected, resulting in anything from failed security systems to inaccurate wrist watches.

Products using calendar year data such as VCRs, TV-VCR combinations, camcorders, fax machines, personal computers, and home automation and security products are the most likely to encounter failures related to Y2K.

Failures occurring in "consumer electronics will be an inconvenience," said Larry Shafer, founder of Y2K Base, a company offering a Y2K compliance database, news, online resources, and a newsletter on consumer issues surrounding Y2K.

Although Y2K failures in consumer electronics may cause headaches for consumers, the greatest cause for concern on the home front is the compliance of local utility companies, Shafer said.

"It doesn't matter if your home computer or VCR works or doesn't work if you don't have any power," Shafer added.

That said, the Federal Trade Commission recommends that owners of personal computers, PC software, fax machines, camcorders, cameras, digital, wristwatches, monitored security systems or Global Positioning System unit, check the manufacturer's Web site or contact the manufacturer to see whether their products have the potential for a Y2K problem.

But even FTC officials think Y2K will cause minimal problems for the home consumer.

"We think with consumers within the home it's good news," said Elaine Kolish, assistant director of enforcement at the FTC. "Let's face it. If a coffee machine doesn't work January 1, it's not the end of the world."

Kolish said her biggest concern are those who work at home. "People with home offices who work with computers and software are a concern," she said.

She recommends home office workers contact their PC and software makers to find out the compliance status of their computer equipment. "This isn't a major concern, because many PC makers are providing patches for any Y2K problems."

Observers are concerned that some smoke alarms may be affected by Y2K as well.

In its Y2K checklist, the Red Cross recommends people examine their smoke alarms now. If they have smoke alarms that are hard-wired into their home's electrical system, which the Red Cross said most are, they should check to see if they have battery back-ups.

Despite the vast uncertainty of Y2K's actual impact on everyday life, consumers are taking significant steps toward preparing for potential Y2K problems at home first, according to a new nationwide survey released Thursday.

Of those polled by the Cross Pen Computing Group, a whopping 79 percent expressed great concern about potential Y2K problems at home.

Nearly one-third of the 1,000 consumers surveyed said they will be contacting manufacturers to ensure their appliances are Y2K compliant.

"There's been so much hype about the Y2K issue as a potential problem but there's little information on what on what people are actually doing to prepare for it in their own homes," said Brian Mullins, Director of Marketing for the Cross Pen Computing Group, in a statement. "Our results show that people are being prudent and cautious, but don't expect the apocalyptic outcome predicted by some doomsayers."