Words and Pictures

with Elizabeth Walton

Watt 2K?

Watt 2K?

A community discussion

At the first Blue Mountains Community Y2K meeting, representatives of emergency services and utilities gave reassurance that their networks are well and truly Y2K compliant. Weeks later, a two hour power failure during the morning rush brought the Mountains to a grinding halt – and offered a taste of what could possibly happen on the eve of the new millennium.

The energy supply to the mountains is ostensibly immune from the ‘Y2K bug’. Our electricity grid was established well before the digital revolution, so it is ideally structured to operate if computer-age technology should ever fail. The same goes for our water supply. And most hospitals, police stations, railways and major supermarkets have their own power sources.

Yet the impact of a short power failure in the Mountains hit hard and fast. Petrol pumps and traffic lights were out. Classroom lessons were held in the dark, on a chilly 7ยบ morning. Had the blackout occurred later in the year, people may have assumed it was somehow connected with ‘the Y2K bug’.

Nobody can predict the impact on our local economy if masses of people stock up on supplies, just in case of emergency. The Reserve Bank of Australia plans to circulate extra currency because it expects people will store cash at home. That extra may be required if the recent black-out is anything to go by. When EFTPOS connections went down, cash soon became the only viable medium of exchange – even for stores with their own generators.

So just how prepared is our community for any fallout from the ‘Y2K bug’? As Greg Hill from Katoomba says, “life is all about perception, and you can’t do anything about people’s perception. I don’t believe big banks will jeopardise businesses or in any way risk their money. It’s just a brouhaha. There may be a few small glitches, but I’m not making any preparations.” Greg runs a soap shop in Katoomba Street, which relied on candle-light during the blackout.

Another local resident, Michael von Brasch, says that because of legal obligations, most corporations have ensured that all of their software is Y2K compliant. Those who fail may face legal action. Michael was a computer programmer during the 1970′s, and has been helping corporations to fix the problems during recent years. “Y2K will happen, and it will be OK. You might get people panicking about food, but life will go on as normal,” he says.

So what do others local residents think about the Y2K bug?

Maureen Grant

“If this Y2K problem makes us reflect about what’s good and bad about computers, then it might lead us to find appropriate ways to use technology where we all benefit – not just the Bill Gates’ of this world.” Maureen studies Social Ecology at the University of Western Sydney.

Adam Bruce-Allan

“If you’re worried about Y2K, do something with that worry. Join the community gardens and grow something.” Adam is a nurse at Blue Mountains district hospital, and works as a volunteer at the community gardens. He also suggests people look into the Blue Mountains LETS scheme, phone 4782 6685.

Carla Christianson

“I’m going to stock up on lots of candles and have vegies in the garden. But I’ll probably be living on a community which is self-sufficient at the time. Lots of people think this is a good time to be on the land and not reliant on shops, so that’s where I’m going to be.” Carla is currently unemployed.

John Pascoe

“This problem has been on my mind for many years. I’m surprised when I talk to people who pretend to be in the know about computers. When I raise the issue, they say it’s nonsense and hype. Yet when I search the Internet for related sites it becomes obvious that Y2K is a very serious issue. I don’t think we need to freak out about it, but we need to act with precaution. The US computer consultancy, Gartner Group, recommend people in Northern Europe act as though there was a severe storm warning. So their attitude is if you thought you were going to be snowed in for a fortnight, you would need to stock up on a couple of weeks’s supply of food and fresh water.”

Hella Paienne

“I heard there is a world wide project to counteract Y2K problems, so I think they would have something figured out. But the whole thing just seems really simple to me. They can make the dates, why not just make a program which changes the dates.” Hella studies Fine Art at University of Western Sydney, and works as a night filler at Coles.

Brian Parker

“I have the answer here in one little book. My computer is this diary. It has all the information I need. My entertainment is a piano which is Y2K compliant. And I’ve got my own [kerosene] heater too!” Brian sells second had books and teaches Sanskrit and Hebrew and has no plans to stock up for Y2K.

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