Tech Industry

A grassroots battle

While government agencies try to tackle the dilemma on a larger scale, in some cities people are fighting the millennium glitch in city halls and neighborhood meetings.

Lights go out. Heat shuts off. Water runs dry. Phones are dead. Chaos ensues.

That is just one apocalyptic scenario feared to unfold when the clock strikes midnight on the eve of the millennium, the time a global computer problem could unleash a disastrous domino effect taking with it all of life's modern conveniences. Or maybe not.

The public and private sectors are scrambling to test systems and to eradicate the so-called Y2K problem and any subsequent disruptions, but sometimes they aren't exactly forthcoming about their progress out of fear for litigation and other reasons. These holes in communication only deepen the uncertainty about the severity of history's worst computer bug.

Date with disaster So as 2000 draws near, communities are starting to grasp the fact that they can't entirely depend on outside help to prepare them for a potential emergency. Instead, people have to do something that has been out of fashion for awhile: getting acquainted with the folks next door.

"In any kind of a bad scenario, which is widespread enough that the government couldn't immediately respond, we're going to have to work together. And that means getting to know your neighbors," said John Steiner, cofounder of the Boulder, Colorado-based Year 2000 Community Preparation Group (BCY2K).

Steiner isn't talking about carpooling when everyone heads for the hills. Rather, groups like the one in Boulder want people to throw a Y2K block party to strategize how they can combine resources and ensure the safety of members of their community should the technological glitch cut off basic necessities.

The Y2K problem is expected to strike computers that are programmed to register only the last two digits of the year, meaning that "2000" may be read as "1900." Flaw software and chips could be embedded in everything from elevators to emergency 911 systems and gas pumps.