A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself, but the simple pass on, and are punished. PROVERBS 22:3
It's not that Barbara Richards wants to spend all of 1999 in fear of the calendar. But who with certainty can assure the Whatcom County seamstress that, come the first tick of the clock into the new millennium, a domino-effect computer meltdown won't knock out America's most essential services on New Year's Day, 2000? Water and power grids could fail, along with medical and banking systems, transportation and food-supply services, or even—Bill Gates forbid—Barbara Richards' kitchen coffee-maker.
"I want someone, anyone, to tell me it's not so," says Richards. She's studied what the experts say about the Year 2000 Bug, or Y2K: that computer memories unable to correctly read the date could freeze or malfunction, releasing criminals early, sending out paychecks late, and leaving some of us cold, hungry, and in the dark. The best/worst-case scenarios range from the simple loss of an automated home appliance to the crash of vast banking and government computer networks. The world, instead of advancing into the new century, could revert back to an earlier one where, a Spokane spiritualist and Y2K survivalist named Shekhina Canyon tells us, we'll live "an 1800s lifestyle for a couple years or more."
For some, it's a time to take reasonable precautions. For others, Y2K poses a greater Armageddon risk than black helicopters and the Trilateral Commission combined. Amid all the uncertainty about the scope and nature of the Y2K problem, one thing is crystal clear: The millennium bug has already bitten thousands of Washingtonians who aren't waiting around to see if it's fatal. A growing cross section of everyday citizens, new-age survivalists, armed patriots, and religious fundamentalists are stockpiling supplies, buying portable generators, hoarding toilet paper, and in some cases taking to the hills in Eastern Washington, where self-sustaining farms and high security will provide a new millennium lifestyle—and where a bunker mentality may already be setting in.
"I've got my family, two married sons and a daughter about to get married over here," says former Lynnwood pastor Robert Andrews, who has moved with his church group to what may be the state's first Y2K-inspired survival farm, near Colville. "And they're a little concerned about people nosing about our location."
Andrews says he doesn't intend that to sound unfriendly; he just wants everyone to be prepared. But should global disaster arise from the programming glitch—causing older computers to misread the millennium date as 1900 rather than 2000—some Y2Kers are vowing to arm themselves and be as standoffish as the backyard bomb-shelter builders of the Cold War '50s and '60s. As one Oregon Y2K warrior put it recently on an Internet chat line: "Since there is only one way into our little neighborhood it will be very easy to defend what is ours, so if some really dumb ass person or persons decides to try and make life rough, then I guess they will not be leaving in the standing-up mode."
While he and others sweat out the potential for martial law, a breakdown of defense systems, perhaps even a War Gameslike computer mislaunch of nuclear missiles, less-rattled Y2Kers such as Richards of Bellingham are beginning to organize
peaceful, shared-lifestyle survival villages called Intentional Communities. That's a catch-all term for communes, farms, eco-villages, and assorted group housing organizations with self-sufficiency in mind. (The back-to-basics Maxwelton Creek Cohousing project on Whidbey Island, for example, already has seven households on quarter-acre lots sharing 19 common acres.)
Rob Sandelin of the Northwest Intentional Communities Association thinks pure Y2K encampments have yet to really blossom in Washington and Oregon. "Some of these [possibly related settlements] are the classic god, guns, and groceries survivalists," he says, and "some are just people who have long wanted to move out to the country and now they are doing so."
AND SOME ARE LIKE Barbara Richards—a self-employed seamstress, master food preserver, and a water-pourer at the spiritually healing Sacred Sweat Lodge—who wonders if we can really defeat Y2K. She is appealing for others to join her "to prepare for the earth changes and economic upset that is coming all too soon." She knows the experts are wrestling optimistically with the meltdown threat, but that hasn't soothed her. "Nowhere on the planet is there a power company, a telephone company, a banking system, even a manufacturer of the plainest goods, who has said, 'We are 100 percent Y2K compliant and so are all of our suppliers, networks, and systems.'" If she could be shown otherwise, Richards tells me, "I'll be so happy. I'll go hire one of those planes with the smoky trail and write your name in great huge letters in the sky above Seattle."
Not cleared for takeoff yet, Barbara. But "we're not faced with Armageddon" either, says Andy Kyte, a respected analyst of Y2K problem solving, who allows there inevitably "will be some disruptions." The US is among the leading countries reacting to the crisis early, with the Federal Trade Commission, for one, cracking down on banks and other businesses who are not on a timeline to reprogram systems. (The Bonneville Power Administration says it expects to be Y2K complaint as early as March 1999.) An estimated $600 billion has already been spent worldwide to fix Y2K, and a recent study of 280 companies by Kyte's Gartner Group shows almost a quarter of corporate technology money is going toward averting a widespread meltdown. Some firms are directing as much as 80 percent of their techno funds toward preventing computer crashes. And as for those home appliances with a computer-controlled clock, they'll still work even if the clock doesn't. (Whose VCR isn't already blinking 12:00 . . . 12:00 . . . 12:00 anyway?)
But early in the game, it's difficult to dissuade the true believers in a computer catastrophe. Credit-card companies have already had accounting problems over cards due to expire in 2000, chronology glitches have temporarily shut down both business and government computers here and overseas, and questions remain whether the world has enough trained programmers to meet the deadline. Can General Motors revise its 2 billion lines of mainframe code by the end of the year? For the conspiratorially challenged, there are enough unanswered questions to fill Vince Foster's empty briefcase.
THUS THE COUNTDOWN IS under way, literally: A real-time second-by-second clickoff to Compucrash 2000 can be found on some of the hundreds of linked Y2K survival and advice sites on the Internet. The Net is Millennium Bug Central, bringing people together on the same computerized network that disaster adherents expect will fail and divide them on January 1, 2000. In books, magazines, and across the airways as well, doomsayers preach readiness and the demise of a world dependent on its virtual masters. Some rant about a government/ media/Jewish cabal. Others take their cue from such Y2K disaster-mongering televangelists as Pat Robertson (who also thinks God sends hurricanes to Florida in angry rejection of homosexuality) or conservative author/historian Gary North. (North is the guru of Y2K extremism, a figurehead for the Christian survivalist movement that abides the hideth-himself-from-evil advice of the Old Testament.)
There's is an accidental Y2K bible for the less apocalyptic: The Encyclopedia of Country Living, a modern classic of food, gardening, and self-sufficient living tips published by Sasquatch Books in Seattle and written by Carla Emery, who promotes the $28, 864-page tome at county fairs. "Recently it hit no. 80 in rank at Amazon.com," says Sasquatch's Chad Haight, "in spite of the fact the book was over five years old. We started poking around and discovered hundreds of Web sites recommending the book. Many were for survivalists, back-to-the-earth types, and Y2K adherents."
Gary North is pushing his own books on the Internet, along with gloomy Y2K assessments. "Everything is tied together by computers," he says. "If the computers go down or can no longer be trusted, everything falls apart. And it matters not a whit to the computers whether we accept this fact or not. They do what they've been programmed to do." Is there no hope? "I'm saying that it's over," North insists. "Right now. It cannot be fixed."
That has some Y2Kers, particularly in remote areas of the US, prepping for "the Reconstruction," life after computer death. In Idaho, merchants report a run on grain supplies and dried foodstuffs. A Spokane power-equipment retailer says he sold his entire winter supply of propane generators in the fall. (Some Seattle home-supply stores report brisk generator sales but think it may be due to the rumored blizzard of '98.) A Utah dried foods supplier has doubled its sales since summer, Spokane's Local Favorites seed company expects to double or triple its sales this year, and Walton Feed, an Idaho bulk-food retailer, doubled its sales last year and expects to double them again this year. Composting toilets and solar panels are also hot items for avid Y2Kers, some of whom are converting their assets to cash or gold.
Across the Midwest and the South, churches are forming Y2K communities, including one that erected a generator-powered telephone tower so its members can communicate after Black Saturday, 2000. And it's serious biz in Wisconsin, where a state legislator in January will introduce legislation intended to put the National Guard on standby on December 31, 1999 to handle looting and fighting.
THAT VIEW PREVAILS as well at the pioneering Eastern Washington Y2K Christian outpost organized by Andrews, 60, who for 13 years was pastor of a small church operating out of a corner of a Seventh Day Adventist School in Lynnwood. Earlier this year, Andrews, his wife, Jill, their grown children, and a dozen other families from the Tree of Life Church packed up and moved east. Andrews told his followers and others that he thinks a computer-scorched earth is inevitable; so they went off to establish a 100-acre farm in the community of Rice, near Colville, Stevens County, to ride out the Near End. His plan is to exist, if necessary, without electricity and piped water, relying on nature, and large food and petroleum reserves.
Since moving into the compound 80 miles north of Spokane, Andrews has become publicity shy. "I'm not talking to reporters," he says politely in a telephone interview. "I'm not interested in letting people know about us anymore, although I don't mean that to sound secretive or anything." Andrews says he's concerned about uninvited visitors. "People will read your article, maybe people who are not going to prepare [for Y2K]," he says, "and they'll see us as someone who is prepared and they might think, 'Well, who can we go visit when this happens?'"
Before he departed this summer, Andrews told The Herald of Everett that he foresees a worldwide collapse of government and society followed by a lawless revolt. "I would not think the city is going to be a real safe place to be in the year 2000," he said. "When the welfare checks don't come and the people who've grown dependent upon others don't get what they need, we're going to have problems. In Seattle, you've got about 1.5 million people who don't grow their own food. In two days, if the shelves aren't restocked, they're empty." Last summer, Andrews, an author of religious books and a religious-radio commentator, was a delegate to the conservative American Heritage Party convention in Wenatchee. According to news reports, he told party members the coming global collapse was a warning from God and an opportunity for redemption—a chance to start over, forming a new government based on the original beliefs of the Founding Fathers. "I am moving to Colville for one reason and one reason only," Andrews said in Wenatchee. "I want to survive the year 2000 and be ready to govern."
Colville is not yet a Y2K destination town, according to Marilyn Bosin, manager of the local chamber of commerce, who says emphatically, "I'm not aware of anyone moving here for that reason." But the small town has already bought a new diesel truck and mobile generators for its own Y2K emergency power. "We're going to be ready," says Mayor Duane Scott. The Darrington area also is a rumored Y2K hot spot, although, says Everett real estate salesman and retired Navy pilot Bob Crawford, "in the past three months, I have only had three inquiries that you could consider being from people interested in the Y2K situation, and two of those I don't think are very interested."
ACCORDING TO NET CHAT and news reports, Eastern Washington and especially Spokane are among the most Y2K-prepared areas in the nation. Seattle, King County, and the state (which has set aside $83 million to reprogram Olympia computers) all have advisory programs up and running, but Spokane appears to be a leader in alerting its community. A recent Year 2000 Expo attracted solid crowds to the Spokane Convention Center, and even urban apartment dwellers are discussing group-survival techniques. On the city outskirts, preparations are being made by such Y2Kers as Shekhina Canyon. The local visionary believes a computer crash is inevitable. But she's typical of those who see Y2K as just another in a series of threats to civilization.
"The weather patterns are changing," says Canyon, who is organizing an Intentional Community in Eastern Washington. "Seismic activity is being recorded in higher instances than ever before. Astronomers are looking to the heavens and recording data that speaks of coming changes . . . something is happening." One of the several preparedness groups she belongs to is already storing water, food, and medicine for six weeks, she says, continuously replenishing supplies. "In another group," Canyon tells me, "I'm part of the seed and gardening team, learning the skills of self-sufficient gardening and seed saving."
Canyon says her mission is to ride out the bumpy millennium like the rest of us. She is learning to hunt and fish, she says, "to be able to provide the food needed for my family and those who may come to us in need, in the event of an emergency." And strangers are indeed welcome, she adds, "with all the warmth and compassion, disagreements and solutions that would be expressed in any family."
Just like home, she says—if you like nitrogen-packed chicken by candlelight.
GROUND ZERO ZERO
Dates to beware:
July 1 and October 1, 1999: Some organizations begin fiscal year 2000 on these dates.
January 1 and September 9, 1999 (9/9/99): 99 was used by early programmers as a simple way to shut down computers for maintenance or repairs.
January 1, 2000: Computer system date rollover may halt, confuse, or disrupt some services or devices.
Pre-crash Internet help
Government sites: City of Seattle, links to county, state, US.
Survivalists info and links
Scary Y2K guru Gary North
Westergaard Year 2000 Info Central
13 Y2K preparedness tips from the Patriot Organization
Obtain hard copies of key personal documents (proof of citizenship, birth certificates, etc.).
Purchase how-to books (on home medicines, purifying water, etc.).
Get to know your neighbors—you'll need them!
Ask, what is your self-defense policy and preparation?
Stock alternative sources of water (1 gallon drinking water per person per day).
Stockpile food and common household goods.
Purchase adequate clothing.
Develop alternative source of heat/energy (wood-burning stove, for example).
Prepare emergency medical kit.
Determine how to dispose of human waste (portable potty?).
Develop alternative communication system.
Acquire hand tools.
Secure alternate form of currency. (Do not wait until the last minute. Start your preparations today!)