Portland Oregon drafts plans for dealing with Y2K

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(Billnote: Oregon is one of the most active year 2000 preparedness areas in the country. A lot of people there have taken the problem seriously for "a long time" - a couple of years, and particularly since about the spring of 1998. There are other places in the country that are making serious coordinated plans, but Oregon is among the leaders. And their winters are a lot warmer than ours... What do you think about cities, towns, counties, states, individuals, making plans to prepare for year 2000 problems? To add your two cents worth, just click the link at the bottom of the page that says, "Contribute an answer to Portland Oregon drafts plans for dealing with Y2K.")

Oregon Live: 2-19-99 Portland drafts plans for dealing with Y2K

Portland drafts plans for dealing with Y2K
The ambitious effort includes organizing neighborhoods to prepare for disruptions caused by the computer problem

Friday February 19, 1999

By Steve Woodward of The Oregonian staff

Portland engineers identify a dozen critical spots

This is not -- repeat, not -- a Y2K drill. City officials are drafting ambitious plans to organize Portland's 200,000 households into small, self-sufficient units, marshaled by potentially thousands of neighborhood leaders trained to head off problems resulting from the Year 2000 computer problem.

If approved and executed beginning this spring, the effort would be one of the nation's largest municipal Y2K preparedness efforts. "We're taking this seriously," Mayor Vera Katz said Thursday. "The purpose is not to raise a tremendous amount of concern, but to be prepared for an emergency. It doesn't mean it's going to happen." Portland's approach, though mammoth in scale, will try to walk a middle ground between doomsayers who predict social collapse and naysayers who predict a colossal yawn on Jan. 1, 2000.

"It's a wonderful opportunity for us to prepare citizens for any kind of natural disaster," said Katz, who rallied citizens to action during the 1996 floods.

The City Council will be asked in coming weeks to approve as much as $150,000 to finance the outreach campaign, including a full-time public information officer, a telephone-and-Internet referral network, a city Y2K Web site, outreach materials and assistance from the Global Action Plan for the Earth, an international environmental organization that created the community-organizing model. With little more than 10 months left until the end of the 1900s, Portland citizens have been calling City Hall with fears about the local power supply, food and water availability, emergency services and other basic necessities.

Many callers worry that "significant social breakdown is a distinct possibility," according to a draft preparedness document that has been circulating among city officials this month. Katz hears from residents who are unnerved by "rumors, misinformation and speculation." "They're very surprised about how many of their friends are thinking in survivalist mode," she said. The source of fear is the Year 2000 computer problem. Computers that use two-digit dates, such as 99, may malfunction when the year rolls over to 00. They may read the new year as 1900 rather than 2000, resulting in consequences that Y2K pundits argue could range from misdated reports to complete shutdowns of systems that control modern civilization's vital functions.

The predominant view of city officials is that the risk of long-lasting, widespread Y2K-related failures is small, but that the dangers of bad preparation could be big. If everyone hoards cash and gasoline, for example, the risk of injury from burglary or fire is "probably significantly greater" than breakdowns of bank ATMs or electrical failures, according to the draft preparedness document.

City officials sought out Global Action Plan after founder David Gershon recently unveiled his community-organizing model in testimony before a congressional Y2K committee. Global Action, based in Woodstock, N.Y., has been under city contract in Portland for the past three years to develop "Eco Teams," small groups of households that work together to pool resources and reduce waste.

The Y2K model calls for expansion of the Eco Team concept into groups of roughly 150 households, or about 10 city blocks, each coordinated by a volunteer block leader. The approach can also be adapted for individuals or for groups other than neighbors. Each group will receive a workbook and literature explaining the Year 2000 computer problem, potential consequences and appropriate ways to prepare for contingencies. Because nobody knows how long any Y2K-related disruptions may last, residents will be coached on how to prepare for failures of basic services that last for 72 hours, two weeks and two months.

"What we have in Portland is a city that is taking their charge seriously for taking care of their citizens," said Gershon, well known as a founder of the 1986 First Earth Run, a global relay that became the largest project of the United Nations' International Year of Peace. "Portland is setting a national precedent for how cities can prepare themselves."

Other large U.S. municipalities lauded widely for their Y2K preparations include San Diego; Montgomery County, Md.; and Boulder County, Colo. The city's preparedness strategy would tackle the problem from two key directions:

First, the city wants to become a one-stop source of information on every phase of the Y2K issue that could have a major impact on residents. That would include not only the status of the city's own $3 million Y2K repair effort but also the status of other local services, such as utilities, public safety, health care and transportation. Second, the city wants to create a network of knowledgeable citizens who will lead others in preparing their own households and neighborhoods for potential disruptions in goods and services. To organize nearly half a million residents, the city would enlist the aid of existing organizations, from the city's 93 neighborhood associations to Boy Scout troops to schools, churches and social clubs.

Oversight of the process would fall to the city's Office of Neighborhood Involvement, which already oversees the neighborhood associations and community programs ranging from crime prevention to refugees to neighborhood mediation. "My focus is on what's good, solid community preparedness," said Celia Heron, interim director of the Office of Neighborhood Involvement. "The solution to the (Y2K) problem and many others is neighborhood involvement."


-- Bill (billdale@lakesnet.net), February 20, 1999

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