Apocolypse Y2K?
Doomsayers forecast a millennium catastrophe

Editor's Note: The following depiction has been written to present a worst-case scenario and is by no means intended to be taken as the most likely result of the Y2K computer bug. This worst-case scenario, taken from accounts of various doomsayers, is intended to allow readers to adequately prepare in the event the worst does happen.


By Ralph B. Davis
Associate Editor

It's one of the most frightening feelings anyone has -- you wake up in the middle of the night and the house is cold.

Groggily, you raise your head to see what time it is, but the alarm clock is dead. The electricity is out.

"Oh well, it'll come back on," you think, and you bundle the blankets tighter around you and go back to sleep.

But a couple hours later, you awake again, only to find that the power is not on and your home is getting very cold. Everyone else in the house is getting up, too. It's too cold to sleep.

You go to the phone to call the power company, but the line is dead. You decide you're going to have to get warm.

So maybe you have a fireplace, or perhaps a kerosene heater. You get the heat going and the family gathers in one room. It doesn't cross your mind to hope that you have enough fuel to last through the outage. After all, the power will be back on soon.

Thirsty, you go to the sink to get a glass of water. You turn on the faucet, but only a few drops come out before you realize there's no water.

So you drink some milk and you decide to make some breakfast for the family. But there's no electricity, gas or water, so a hot meal is out. You grab some doughnuts to tide everyone over and you wait for daylight.

You're not sure of what time it is or when the sun will be up. Then you remember your wristwatch. You go grab it to see what time it is, but you're surprised to find that it's dead, too. So you wait.

When daylight comes, you decide to go somewhere else. Maybe the power is on down the road, maybe the family could warm up and get a decent meal at a restaurant.

The family gets dressed and you all get in the car. Then you put the key in the ignition.

If the car starts at all, it runs so erratically that it's impossible to drive. You're stuck in your cold home, waiting for the power to come back on so your life can return to normal.

It's January 1, 2000, and the millenium bug has bitten.


The power doesn't come back on that day... or the next.

You're starting to run low on food that you don't have to cook, and you've not got much to drink, either.

By the morning of the second day, you realize you don't have enough firewood or kerosene to make it through an extended outage, so you try to conserve as much as you can throughout the day.

You've talked to some of your neighbors. They're all going through the same thing. It's the strangest thing any of you have seen, for everything to go off all at once. Even some of the battery-powered devices aren't working.

One of your neighbors with an older car drove into town earlier in the day. It's the same everywhere. All the stores are closed because they have no power and most of their workers can't make it in. He even drove over to Prestonsburg and it was the same there.

There is no news. Since there's no electricity, you can't watch TV. And even though you dug out that old transistor radio, you couldn't pick up anything but static once you turned it on because all the stations were off the air.

Even the newspaper has stopped coming.

A couple of days later, your situation is looking more and more dire. You're nearly out of food, and your heating fuel is running low. To make matters worse, the year's first major winter storm appears to be on its way.

Talking with your neighbor, the one whose car actually runs, you decide the two of you will head into town to see if things have improved.

What you see when you get there leaves you in shock. Apparently, many others have it worse than you. As you drive by the dark storefronts in the plaza, you see many with broken windows, the victims of looting. The grocery stores appear to have been especially hard hit.

Looting! In Paintsville! Who would ever have thought it?

You finally find a convenience store that is open, but there's not much left. To make matters worse, the owner of the store is charging at least triple the sticker price. But you know you can't argue, so you cough up the money for a couple of cases of sugar-free root beer, a mashed package of bread and a half-dozen cans of potted meat. You ask about kerosene, but he just laughs at you.

You head back home and you hope the blackout doesn't last much longer. You don't know how much longer you can last.


While the scenario outlined above may seem grim, it is only the tip of the iceberg for many of the prophets of doom who view the Y2K bug as a global catastrophe in the making.

"We've got a problem," says Gary North, who has attained semi-celebrity status on the internet as the Y2K crisis' leading doomsayer. "It may be the biggest problem that the modern world has ever faced. I think it is. At 12 midnight on January 1, 2000 (a Saturday morning), most of the world's mainframe computers will either shut down or begin spewing bad data. Most of the world's desktop computers will also start spewing out bad data. Tens of millions -- possibly hundreds of millions -- of pre-programmed computer chips will begin to shut down the systems they automatically control. This will create a nightmare for every area of life, in every region of the industrialized world."

North, who operates a website (http://www. garynorth.com) containing 3,500 sources about the problem, and other forecasters of disaster all share a few common beliefs -- that our world and all its controlling systems are tied together by faulty computers, that existing fixes for the problem are either temporary or flawed, that government and corporate claims that the problem is being solved are nothing more than public relations bunk, and that the next new year will wipe out all of our technological advances of the past 150 years not for just days or weeks, but for months or even years.

A common scenario works like this -- first, computers infected with the millennium bug will either start going haywire or shut down altogether. Those computers, which run everything from power plants to billing systems, will cause a complete meltdown of the nation's utility and business infrastructure.

Should that happen, it will set off a chain reaction of gloom and doom. Business would not be able to operate without power, and looting would complicate the economic hardship. Banks could be crippled by runs prior to the new year, then hamstrung once their financial records were lost. The effect on the nation's and world's economy would be devastating, prompting a complete collapse of the world's financial markets. The transportation industry would grind to a halt, making it impossible for any goods produced to reach their markets. In the end, a Y2K disaster lasting several weeks or months would be the cause of a global depression.

The millennium bug could also have a devastating effect on health, causing a death toll reaching millions. Homes suddenly powerless in the middle of winter would become deadly iceboxes. Critical medical systems could be made useless by faulty computer chips or the loss of power, leaving the most vulnerable patients helpless. The inability to distribute food, medicine and fuel to areas where it is needed would result in widespread famine and disease. The hungry could resort to crime for food. Nations would go to war in an attempt to increase supplies for their citizens.

All in all, the doomsayers paint a picture of a world as bleak as any science fiction dystopia. And while many of their predictions have been criticized as reactionary or paranoid, there still remain no convincing assessments of exactly what effect Y2K will have.

Only time will tell.