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Prepare for Y2K? Think of It as an Emergency With a Timetable

April 25, 1999|KATHY PRICE-ROBINSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As you rub the sleep from your eyes on a Saturday morning 250 days from now, will you be faced with images of the Rose Parade on the tube or something a bit less festive, say the complete collapse of civilization?

As Jan. 1, 2000, approaches, the manner in which Southern Californians are preparing themselves and their homes for possible Y2K problems range from unconcerned to impassioned.

"It's like someone is running around screaming, 'The sky is falling!' " said George Caroll, a Westlake Village hairdresser who definitely isn't hoarding food or water.

"This reminds me of the bomb shelter trip in the 1950s," Caroll said.

But Diann Powell, who lives with and cares for her elderly parents on the Westside, takes potential Y2K problems much more seriously.

"This isn't about computers anymore," Powell said. "It's really a family issue. If something happens and I didn't prepare my family, I couldn't live with myself."

To plan for what she fears might be three months--or longer--without utilities, Powell has stockpiled four FDA-approved 55-gallon drums of water.

Knowing, however, that not everyone will be well prepared for disaster to strike, Powell thought twice about revealing any more about her provisions to a reporter.

"I don't think anyone in their right mind would tell someone they had food and water in their house," she said.

Between those who refuse to believe Y2K will bring even a moment of difficulty and those who are preparing for the end of the world, a third group of people is preparing for a few days of hardship.

"What you ought to do is prepare for a good storm, a hurricane, a storm where you'd like two or three days of . . . water and canned goods and the like," Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), said recently on CBS's "Face the Nation."

Sen. Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah), Dodd's colleague on a Senate panel to discuss Y2K problems, said Americans can expect "a bump in the road" in terms of vital services, "but it will not be crippling, and it will not last for an undue length of time."

That's also the view of Mike Miller, a Los Angeles biotech manager who is leader of his church's task force on Y2K.

"I don't think there're going to be long-term shortages," Miller said. But if utilities go down, he and other members of Calvary Chapel Metro Church in Santa Monica "don't want to be running around like chickens with our heads cut off. We want to be in a position to help people. My personal feeling is we should be prepared for two weeks."

To prepare, Miller and his wife have stockpiled several 2 1/2-gallon jugs of water in their home, along with nutritious nonperishable foods like peanut butter, granola, canned fruit and canned juices.

But no dehydrated foods for the Millers.

"If you do store food, get stuff you're going to eat," he said. "You're not going to want cardboard."

And because they are expecting a baby in a few months, they will have a good supply of diapers on hand in case there are supermarket shortages.

Plus, the Millers bought a camping stove to supplement their outdoor barbecue and batteries for their flashlights.

As for a gas-powered generator, the couple talked it over and decided not to buy or rent one. From what he's heard, even if the power grid goes down in the rest of the country, the Los Angeles grid can be separated and functional within a few hours or days.

"I don't see any reason for people to go out and buy a generator," said Chris Rhoades, sales manager at Adco Equipment in Pico Rivera.

Even so, he has sold a dozen gas-powered generators--priced from $650 to $1,700--to homeowners in the last six weeks.

As for people wanting to rent a generator for the first week of the new year, they are told to call back one week ahead of time; construction companies with jobs going on will have first dibs on the rentals.

And come Jan. 1, even Rhoades won't have a generator at the Chino Hills home he shares with his wife and two children.

"People are panicking, and they don't have to. Everybody can survive a few days without utilities. You always have 55 gallons of water in your water heater and six cans of chili beans in the cupboard."

The Red Cross also recommends a modest level of preparation for Y2K problems, as it does for any emergency, such as an earthquake or storm, when relief may come in hours or days.

"No one can be certain about the effects of the Y2K problems," says the organization's Web site, which recommends that you "stock disaster supplies to last several days to a week for yourself and those who live with you."

Here are the basic areas of concern if utilities and services are disrupted and a modest plan to prepare for shortages.

* Water: According to the Red Cross, water can be stored six months, and you'll need to store one gallon of water per person per day. This includes two quarts for drinking and two quarts for cooking and sanitation.

A family of four preparing for three days without utilities would need 12 gallons of water.

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