The Bean Theory:
The Case for Individual and Neighborhood
by Sally Strackbein
Note: I wrote this essay in 1999 to urge middle class people to prepare for Y2K and any other emergency. Hurricane Katrina sadly demonstrated how woefully inadequate government response
is in a large scale emergency. It's not possible to have stores of supplies and equipment ready in just the right place to come to the rescue of anybody, anywhere, any time.
Preparing for pandemic flu or bird flu adds a new dimension to emergency preparedness.
Substitute "Emergency" or "Pandemic Flu" for "Y2K" and the reasoning is still sound.
In 1999, the Y2K community widely advocated community preparedness. Community preparedness is essential for those who cannot or will not prepare for themselves. But it isn't enough. Individual
and neighborhood preparedness is imperative.
I frequently heard individual preparedness efforts labeled "hoarding." We, who were worried enough to be making plans for our families and neighborhoods, were labeled
Individual and neighborhood preparedness is about planning for the survival of the neighborhood. If the families in each neighborhood survive, the community will survive. Individual and neighborhood preparedness is not about "heading for the hills." It is about taking responsibility and building cooperation.
This paper advocates survival through diversity. Our world has become increasingly dependent on computers and, for the first time, many of them will experience bugs almost simultaneously. This
is the first time we have had advance warning of a catastrophe of this magnitude. We need to prepare in as many ways as possible: individual preparedness, neighborhood preparedness, community
preparedness, city preparedness, state preparedness, national preparedness and world preparedness. Diverse preparation by diverse people is essential.
This paper details why community preparedness alone does not work. I urge the leaders of cities, counties, countries, corporations and the Y2K community to do everything they can to
educate the public about the Y2K problem. Community Y2K meetings are not enough.
I urge anyone with any clout to stand up and be counted against the "don't panic the public" messengers. I agree that we don't need panic. We need rational people making rational
decisions. We cannot expect the public to make rational decisions when information is being withheld from them. The arrogance that drives people in power to give themselves the authority to
decide what is good or right for other people is dangerous. People have the right to make life and death decisions for themselves.
We need to have as many people as possible making contingency plans. The public may be angry if told the truth now. They will be much angrier if told later, when it is too late for them to do
anything for themselves or others.
The Gartner Group, a well respected, private research firm, presented a report to the U.S. Department of Agriculture which states, "The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has concerns
about the Year 2000 (Y2K) remediation project efforts in the various supply chain firms/entities/organizations which comprise the nation's food supply ." The report ranks the level of
year 2000 remediation project efforts of the various "topics" in five levels. Level V is "Fully Compliant". Level IV is "Operational Sustainability," meaning the
organization can survive the year 2000 threat. The list of topics includes beef, pork, milk, vegetables, fish, seed, fertilizer, General-Line Grocery Wholesalers and more.
The report shows no area of food production or distribution rated past Level III, the planning/beginning remediation stage. This, alone, threatens our food supply. In
addition, the report states, "Little mention of embedded systems is made,". The failure of embedded systems in processing plants can cause the plants to shut down.
Failures or interruptions in electricity, transportation and communication can also result in shortages of food.
This winter, ice storms across the country interrupted electric power, forcing cold, hungry people into schools for shelter. Newspapers reported that it was miserably uncomfortable sleeping on
children's tumbling mats. Some people were not able to get to the schools, so they had to beg shelter wherever they could. Hundreds of thousands of people were affected by the storms.
We experienced an ice storm in January. Our house is all electric, including the pump for our water well. We lost electrical power for two days. No one from the power company or the
county came to check on us. We were on our own.
We fared nicely because of our Y2K preparations. We didn't need a shelter. In fact, we were able to help others. We have a wood stove, wood, oil lamps, water, food and flashlights. During the
electrical outage, we distributed oil lamps and oil to neighbors and extended invitations to come to our house to warm themselves.
Last October, we began our attempt to mobilize the neighborhood. We held a brunch and sent out three informative newsletters. We thought the response was minimal. Instead, as we visited
our neighbors during the power failure, we discovered many had, without telling us, started preparing for Y2K. Some thanked us for our newsletters and showed us they were comfortable because
their Y2K preparations allowed them to stay at home during the power failure. They didn't need community shelters.
After the storm, when the power came back on, other neighbors came asking questions.
We explained how and why we are preparing for Y2K and we invited them to tell us their concerns and ideas. More neighbors are now preparing in their own diverse ways. Each is committed to educating their immediate neighbors. We are learning about our neighbors' varied skills and talents.
When neighbors come together to work toward a mutual goal, magic happens. Solutions no one has yet imagined may appear when millions of people prepare in their own ways.
If Y2K is a non-event, at least we will live in a community of friends instead of a community of strangers.
Last October, I began buying oil lamps and oil. Wal-Mart had lots of lamps at a good price. Prior to taking as many as I wanted from the store's shelf, I asked when more would appear.
"Tomorrow," was the answer. I took less than I wanted and went back the next day. Sure enough, the shelf was full. In December, after the North Carolina ice storms, but before the
Virginia ice storms, oil was difficult to find and the lamp shelf was empty for weeks. The moral of this story is:
- When you purchase an item before you need it, supply can meet demand because the demand is spread out enough for the manufacturers and distributors to catch up. Before the shortage,
taking the item from the shelf causes another (or two) to appear soon.
- When everyone needs an item at the same time there are shortages. When you take the item from the shelf during a shortage, someone else doesn't get one.
- We know when the Year 2000 will arrive. We know there will be shortages.
- Start making Y2K purchases now, before you need to. Help prevent shortages.
Call to Action
The Year 2000 community sounds a call to action. The action is community preparedness: "make sure the schools are equipped to provide water, food, cooking and a warm space through the
winter." The calls for community preparedness also mention churches, community centers and other facilities.
As I listen to the people advocating only community preparedness, I perceive a bias against middle class families preparing for possible Y2K related disruptions. Advocates for community
preparedness imply that when a middle class family prepares, it somehow interferes with the preparations necessary for the less fortunate or the less prudent.
Many authorities recommend preparing for 72 hours of disruption. This recommendation is ludicrous. If disruptions in power, water or natural gas last for only 72 hours, most families will cope
by pooling resources with relatives or neighbors. It only makes sense to motivate the public if you believe the problem is serious enough to cause longer and wide spread disruption.
When natural disasters, such as the ice storms, occur,
hundreds of workers from other states help restore power. This is mutual aid. When Y2K disruptions occur, there probably will be no one unaffected to help. Some computers everywhere will be confused. Technicians and programmers will be fixing their own problems and will not be available to help others.
Even if the risk of prolonged (2 weeks or more) disruption is small, the risk of not preparing is enormous. Spread out over millions of people, the cost of preparing is small. The risk of Y2K
disruptions is far greater than the usual risk of your house burning down. Preparing for Y2K is equivalent to buying fire insurance. If Y2K is a non-event, eat the food you buy and drink the
water later. You have little to lose and so much to gain.
The key to preparing for Y2K disruptions is knowing that everyone will be affected. It is possible that no one will be able to collect food and water in one town and send it
to a town in the next state. Although grim, this is the scenario we must anticipate and prepare for. We must prepare for the worst to insure it doesn't happen.
The Bean Theory
The following illustrates why it is absolutely imperative for the middle class to prepare for the onslaught of Y2K disruptions. This paper is not intended to be scholarly treatise. It is
intended to stimulate thinking about the impossibility of taking care of the whole population in the schools, churches or community centers. Let's use Fairfax County, Virginia, as an example.