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Y2K no reason to panic, some say

February 27, 1999|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - People shouldn't listen to the panic mongers and hoard an extraordinary amount of supplies in anticipation of millennium mayhem, the director of West Virginia's office of emergency services said Saturday.

Instead, they should prepare for the year 2000 by stocking up on food and other supplies as they would for a flood or other natural disaster, John W. Pack Jr. told an audience of about 100 people at the Shepherdstown Men's Club.

Pack said he's so confident that vital government and private-sector systems have been fixed or circumvented with a backup plan that he won't be buying a generator or taking more than $100 cash out of the bank.

"We're going to have some hiccups, but it's nothing we can't deal with," he predicted.

Pack was one of several speakers at a day-long event organized by Y2K Shepherdstown, a citizen's action group focused on preparedness for the millennium.

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Doomsayers paint a bleak picture of what will happen because of year 2000, or Y2K, computer glitches caused by programmers' abbreviation of dates to two digits in the early days of computers.

They tout a worst-case scenario of widespread mechanical system breakdowns when the last "00" of 2000 is read as 1900 on Jan. 1, 2000, and it doesn't compute.

West Virginia's state and county emergency agencies have a handle on the Y2K problem and backup plans, even if in the worst of winter, systems and services do break down, Pack said.

"I hope it doesn't snow. We don't need that on top of it. But if it does, we'll deal with it. We're West Virginians. We always have," he said.

For example, most people can remain in their homes for 24 to 48 hours without power as long as they keep doors and windows closed and bundle up, Pack said in an interview following his talk.

But, in case of longer outages, the state's plan includes finding places with backup power or heat in every community that can serve as shelters, he said.

Pack said his office and the governor's technology office are working to assure readiness in the state and will be meeting with county and city leaders to see what they need to be ready.

They're also meeting regularly with officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and state emergency agencies to coordinate efforts, he said.

Community awareness of potential problems and solutions is important, he said. He commended Y2K Shepherdstown for its efforts to educate the public.

National, state and local emergency agencies will be relying on the media to avoid sensationalism and guide people to plan appropriately, and not panic and go overboard in their preparations, he said.

"We are trying to get the word out because it's important everybody gets the right word," he said.

Pack sees himself as an example of reasonable preparedness.

He said he stocks such disaster supplies as candles, fresh batteries, drinking water and five to seven days' worth of nonperishable food at all times.

Rather than create its own suggested supplies list, the Office of Emergency Services is suggesting folks follow American Red Cross guidelines, Pack said.

The non-profit agency is printing millions of brochures to distribute to the public, he said.

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