TEN THINGS YOU SHOULD DO WITHOUT DELAY ABOUT Y2K

(not in necessarily any order)

1. Store water.

2. Store food.

3. Get an alternative source for heating and cooking that doesn't require electricity or piped-in natural gas.

4. Take care of neighborhood issues.

5. Be in solidarity with the poor.

6. Be prepared to do without electricity.

7. Don't forget other "necessaries".

8. Make contingency plans for garbage, sewage, and public health.

9. Prepare for fuel shortages, economic disruptions, and an increase in homelessness.

10. Take care of your spirituality. And don't procrastinate.

17 possible threats to health and wellness from Y2K disruptions

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I. STORE WATER [TOP]

Why you should do this: People die in a few days of dehydration without water. Impure water can cause a wide variety of illnesses and medical problems, many of which could lead to death. Water systems everywhere are at risk of failures from Y2K or other disasters. After a natural disaster, one of the most common shortages is water. It's not unusual for water to sell for more than $5.00 a gallon in a disaster area.

How to do this: Ordinary city tap water in clean and sanitary containers is the only secret. The low-budget alternative is to save or collect 2 liter soda pop bottles, wash them in hot soapy water (and then rinse), fill with water, and store them in the dark. If you start with clean water in clean bottles, and keep them in the dark, it is not necessary to add chlorine for water purification purposes. You need a minimum of one gallon per person for drinking and cooking and two or three more gallons per person would allow for washing and flushing. Some people are buying five gallon containers of spring water (such as are sold for water coolers). Large food grade plastic containers are available in a wide variety of sizes. If you live in a house, make sure there are gutters on the roof, and that they are clean. During a water emergency, each time it rains you can replenish your water supply. Let the first 15 minutes or so of rain run off the roof, and then use buckets to collect the runoff. (Large garbage cans with wheels are good for this.) Store chlorine bleach as an emergency water purification device. Clear water can also be purified by placing it in small clear containers and placing them on a black background in bright sunlight for several hours.

Encourage churches and schools to drill hand pumped water wells on their properties.



II. STORE FOOD [TOP]

Why you should do this: "Just in time" inventory is the rule in the grocery industry; daily deliveries are necessary to keep the shelves stocked. Despite an apparently large number of different labels on food products in grocery stores, most everything goes through a bottleneck of about six transnational companies. Failures in their systems can cause famines; food can rot in fields while people in cities go hungry (this has happened many times in history). If anything happens to the computer-driven just-in-time inventory systems, shelves will be out of inventory quickly even if shopping patterns remain normal. During the Montreal ice storms, grocery stores emptied fast, and without power, many of them closed.

Some people dismiss this as hoarding, but buying food when it is plentiful and relatively inexpensive for future use is not hoarding. Hoarding is competing with others during a time of scarcity for insufficient food supplies. In the Bible, Joseph had a dream about seven fat cows and seven skinny ones, seven healthy ears of corn, and seven that were shrunken and diseased. As a result, during the good years, the people of Egypt stored food; when famine came upon the Mediterranean lands, they not only had food, they had a surplus that allowed them to take in refugees from other areas. It can be considered insurance and also preparation to open a soupl kitchen in your home or parish.

How to do this: Store what you eat, and eat what you store, this is the basic rule of food storage. But for disasters, there is one caveat: don't depend upon refrigeration. The Red Cross recommends a one to two week supply of food, but it would be prudent to store more, at least of some basic foods like beans, rice, spices, and flour. If there are food shortages, be prepared to work your neighbors, your parish, your community, to set up community kitchens.

Besides food storage, anything you can do to switch to a locally sustainable food production and distribution system builds stability and resiliency in a community. Start or join a community garden this summer. Join with others to establish a community canning center. Join or start a food co-op or food circle. Buy directly from farmers. Encourage community groups to start microenterprise vegetable gardens.

III. GET AN ALTERNATIVE SOURCE OF HEATING AND COOKING THAT DOESN'T DEPEND UPON ELECTRICITY OR NATURAL GAS. [TOP]

If you live in an area subject to very cold weather in the winter, you must have a way to provide heating and cooking in case of a disaster that interrupts your regular supplies of natural gas and electricity. Possibilities include: kerosene heaters, propane heaters and camp stoves, candles, "sterno" or other canned heat (such as chafing dish fuel), or wood. All of these may be used with complete safety IF you follow the rules, which are:

1. Open flame combustion REQUIRES a source of fresh air and a way to exhaust combustion byproducts (fumes and smoke). Flames produce carbon monoxide, which can kill you. Pregnant women and children are at special risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. You can avoid this fate by always positioning the open flame heater (whether it be kerosene, propane, or whatever) right beside the source of fresh air (such as a window open a half inch).

2. Fuels are flammable liquids or gases. Handle with care and competence. You can learn how to do this, if you don't already have this knowledge and experience.

3. Don't use charcoal inside for heating or cooking.

Be ready to help a church or community group or neighborhood to set up emergency heated shelters to help those who don't have back-up systems in an emergency. Consider making your own home available to neighbors or others who may need a warm place in the event of a winter emergency.

IV. TAKE CARE OF NEIGHBORHOOD ISSUES THIS YEAR. [TOP]

If your neighborhood has problems, confront these challenges now. Be pro-active in activities of reconciliation and restoration to create neighborhood structures of resiliency and stability. Join or start a neighborhood association.

Encourage your parish, community or neighborhood association to increase the quality of life and the resiliency of your neighborhood by creating "neighborhood infrastructures," such as outdoor ovens and hand or wind-pumped water wells. There is a lot of symbolism in the sight of running water, and such a well would add a sense of security that can be important in a crisis. Residents who lived through the siege of Sarajevo -- which lost its water system during the war -- say: "Living next to a hand-pumped well is like being in heaven."

V. BE IN SOLIDARITY WITH THE POOR. [TOP]

In a time of great disaster, it is important for people to work together so that no one is left out in the cold. The poor also have many gifts to offer the community, so it's not as if the only need is for the "haves" to give to the "have-nots". The poor have knowledge, skills, and experiences that others will need if economic disruptions and other disasters happen due to Y2K-related computer failures.

In any community, there are people at special risk (the elderly, those with physical challenges, young children, those living in institutions). Work together with community and religious groups to ensure that they are cared for. There may be special problems with people in institutions such as nursing homes. While such homes are required to have back-up generators, it is possible that some may need to be evacuated (this can happen anyway due to natural disasters). During the winter ice storms last year in Quebec, many emergency generating systems failed after only a week of continuous use.

VI. BE PREPARED TO DO WITHOUT ELECTRICITY. [TOP]

Stock candles, flashlights, and a battery-powered radio. Get rechargeable batteries, and an inexpensive (less than $20) solar battery recharger. Car batteries can be used to provide light or run a battery. Encourage churches and community organizations to be prepared to open "re-charging stations". An essential aspect of community responsibility is to ensure that non-electric refrigeration (such as kerosene or propane refrigerators) are available for medications. Perhaps this should also be filed under "alternative heat," but one person who survived the siege of Sarajevo says, "You can't have too many matches." You can make a small electrical generator from a lawnmower engine and an automobile alternator.

During the 1998 Quebec ice storms, one important factor in the recovery was the ability to bring in large numbers of small generators from outside. With Y2K this won't be possible, so buying and positioning generators is an important factor for the post-disaster recovery.

VII. DON'T FORGET OTHER NECESSARIES. [TOP]

Including cleaning materials, soap, plastic buckets (in an emergency, it is almost impossible to have too many plastic buckets, especially if the sewer system stops working), cloth diapers, duct tape, plastic sheeting, over the counter medications, baby stuff (even if you don't have kids). Make sure all of your papers are in order, and get duplicate copies of everything. Update your optical prescriptions and take care of dental work. Make some contingency plans with your family, friends, and neighbors about what to do during and after a disaster. Purchase the things you need now, while supplies are plentiful. Don't wait until the last week of December 1999. "Other necessaries" includes information about making do, putting by, and doing with what you got.

VIII. MAKE CONTINGENCY PLANS FOR GARBAGE AND SEWAGE AND PUBLIC HEALTH. [TOP]

Cities are dependent upon complex systems to bring in food, water, fuel and carry out trash and sewage. Any disruption of these system can quickly create a public health nightmare. If sewer systems are disrupted for any length of time, human wastes must be buried in the ground. Period. Deeper than two feet. (Unless some kind of chemical toilet and disposal/storage tank is available, and there are other nuances, but the purpose of this essay is not to describe all the options, just the bare minimum.) Stock plastic buckets, lime, peat moss, sawdust, and lots of plain, old-fashioned, unscented chlorine bleach.

Garbage must not be allowed to accumulate. All compostable materials go into a compost heap. Wet trash should not be combined with dry trash. Meat scraps should be fed to animals (dogs, cats). Re-use glass and plastic bottles and jars. The moral: produce less trash. Consider it a resource to be used.

Be ready to be pro-active in leadership in your community to ensure that public health and safety is not compromised.

IX. PREPARE FOR FUEL SHORTAGES, ECONOMIC TROUBLES, INCREASES IN HOMELESSNESS [TOP]

If businesses have generally not been able to correct their Y2K problems, it is hard to see how a recession can be avoided. Business failures and unemployment will increase, depending on the severity of the problems. If government social benefits cannot be paid, homelessness and hunger will increase. The US is heavily dependent upon imports of foreign oil; many of our major oil exporters have major Y2K issues that are not being adequately addressed. Oil refineries and pipeline systems are computer-dependent. Fuel rationing is a possibility. Bicycles will be useful.

X. TAKE CARE OF YOUR SPIRITUALITY. AND DON'T PROCRASTINATE. [TOP]

Trust in God, learn and follow His commandments. Pray without ceasing. Do the works of mercy, justice, and peace. Orient your thinking and will and activity towards the preferential option for the poor. Practice fasting, abstinence, do penance and works of reparations. Commit beauty and goodness. Simplify your life. Encourage others to do likewise. In particular, write your bishop and priest (or other community or religious leader) and encourage them to prepare a diocesan and parish disaster response plan (if one isn't already in existence) that considers the possibility that outside help may not be available in a time of great need.

Churches and community organizations which do not have effective disaster contingency plans ("effective" includes making provision for staff, resources, and facilities) are at risk of being considered irresponsible stewards.

Don't procrastinate. Don't think, "Well, this is seven months away," and expect that in the last week of December you can do whatever is necessary. Procrastination is a tool of the enemy of effective service to and solidarity with the poor. Make hay while the sun shines.





17 possible threats to health and wellness from Y2K disruptions: [TOP]

1. Water shortages (plus impure water)

2. Improper disposal of trash

3. Improper disposal of human waste

4. Rodents and pests

5. Poor nutrition/food shortages

6. Exposure

7. Food safety

8. Epidemic disease

9. Environmental catastrophe

10. Health care system disruptions

11. Hygiene challenges

12. Psychological trauma and stress reactions

13. Medically fragile and vulnerable populations

14. Accidents

15. Disruptions of water supply

16. Increase in homelessness.

17. Economic disruptions