A pro at disaster, Newman not worried by Y2K

By Tony Fyffe
Associate Editor

As director of the Paintsville/ Johnson County Emergency Management Agency for over 40 years, Jim Tom Newman has seen his share of emergencies and disasters. Having overseen response plans for fires, floods and blizzards, Newman says he's not going to let something like the Y2K scare get him overly excited.

Besides, Newman says fears that a rash of problems will occur when the 21st century rolls around are, basically, much ado about nothing.

"I think it's a little overblown," Newman said in a recent interview.

Still, the head of the local Emergency Management Agency, formerly known as Disaster and Emergency Services, has been in the game long enough to know that it's better to be safe than sorry. And, with the Y2K frenzy the popular topic these days, he's doing his homework to ensure that his agency is ready to respond if something goes wrong on or soon after January 1, 2000.

In a guide distributed to state and local emergency managers, James L. Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, says the Y2K conversion "presents the emergency management community with a unique challenge."

"However," Witt says, "the Y2K problem will only be as serious as we, as a nation, allow it to become. It is primarily a technological problem with well-known solutions. America has demonstrated time and again that it can handle disasters with courage and resolve. Based on current assessments, Y2K need not result in major disruptions."

Newman agrees with that assessment, saying that his only concern locally is disruption in electrical and telephone services. But, he added, he has been told by officials of the local power and telephone companies that they have taken steps to avoid any major problems.

But, Newman added, his agency is ready to tackle any problems that might arise from the Y2K conversion. They will be handled, he said, like any other emergency situation.

"We'll be on duty right here through the Y2K dates," he said. "And they'll be on duty at the armory (in Prestonsburg). That's our area office. We'll check in with them every four hours, and they'll check in with Frankfort every four hours."

Newman said he has compiled a list of generators in the county and has checked to see if they are up to par and ready for the Y2K transition.

"We're always subject to temporary outages here," he said. "That's just the nature of being in the emergency game."

With preparedness being the name of the Emergency Management Agency's game, Newman said now, with Y2K just around the corner, is as good a time as any for local residents to assemble a "family disaster supplies kit."

"We have always wanted people to have a family disaster kit," he said. "That's what I'd put more emphasis on than anything."

Newman said the kit, which should be on hand year-round, should consist of food; water; first aid supplies; clothing and bedding; tools; and emergency supplies and special items.

Newman said residents should:

  • Store their kit in a convenient place known to all family members and keep a smaller version of the kit in the trunk of their car.
  • Keep items in air tight plastic bags.
  • Change their stored water supply every six months so it stays fresh.
  • Rotate their stored food every six months.
  • Re-think their kit and family needs at least once a year by replacing batteries, updating clothing, etc.
  • Ask their physician or pharmacist about storing prescription medications.