Personal Y2K preparations

Like many people in IT with legacy systems experience, the Y2K problem has claimed my professional attention. One consequence is that I began to think about personal Y2K preparations. This column is a mini-history of my personal Y2K thinking, and the follow-on actions I have taken.

It’s easy to paint a doom-and-gloom picture. We depend on interconnected computers. Remote shocks can ripple across the entire economy. And many computers require modification if they are to work correctly. Multiple small shocks of Y2K computer failures could interact to cause major system-wide failures.

I recognized that I have no practical way to isolate myself from major failures. I might be able to insulate myself from the immediate impact of local failures, but that’s it. I’m not the type to stand in the doorway with a shotgun. What limited actions should I take to best insulate myself and my family?

Electric power is the obvious concern. If the power goes off in the middle of the winter, I’ve got problems. The most serious is that the heat also goes off. We use gas, but the fan requires power to distribute the heat. No power; no heat; agh!

Wouldn’t an electric generator be nice? Plug it in and life continues. Sounds good, and our basic needs would be covered by a 5,000 watt generator. Some rewiring would be required, but the idea had great appeal. Unfortunately, it’s not very practical, nor very necessary.

That size generator will consume one gallon of gasoline per hour of average use. Two days protection requires some 50+ gallons of gasoline. The system also requires regular testing. Ontario Hydro has conducted Toronto Y2K trials. The conclusion of the experts is, “Don’t worry.”

In the face of this, was I prepared to store 50+ gallons of gasoline, rewire my house, and conduct regular generator tests? Not! But I was still concerned about power failures that could cut off heat in our house. Toronto may be in southern Ontario, but it still gets cold.

Our solution was to install a free-standing gas fireplace. The basement had always been cold. A fireplace would improve the room and insulate us from power failures. Enbridge will continue to deliver gas under most conditions. A gas fireplace does not need any electric power and produces enough heat to keep the house above freezing.

During early 1999, Enbridge offered a “Web special” on one of last year’s free-standing gas fireplaces. They made it available for 40 per cent off, providing you came in with a printed copy of the “Web special” page. It was a good deal (even if it was hard to find on their Web site).

Our basement is now a more pleasant place. We have some insulation should the power go out. My most serious concern is the shock to the world economy from Y2K computer problems in Asia and Eastern Europe. We may well see serious Y2K world economic problems beginning in the summer and continuing on into the fall of 2000. Insulation is not practical. Ah, well.

Fabian is a Toronto-based management and systems consultant. He can be found at