Next year in Hardyville
By Claire Wolfe
The power went out in Hardyville last week. The stoplight stopped. People got cold. The whole business lasted just three hours, but for some folks, that was tough. A taste of things to come in 2000? Who knows?
After the lights came up, Mike Carty, president of the Sportsmen's Club, called the first meeting of the Quasi-Unofficial, Highly-Unorganized Hardyville Y2K Preparation Team. Carty, being a recently retired military guy with a flair for logistics and unaccustomed time on his hands, figured he was going to do it if anyone was. No one else was. He did.
So there we sat in the back room of the Hog Trough, our little group of random nobodies, cogitating and planning.
Yeah, you're probably sick of hearing about Y2K. I know I am. But there's one aspect of it that hasn't been talked about much, amid cries for dried food and self-sufficient fastnesses in the boonies -- how we might still benefit by living "in civilization." Just living a little differently.
There's a lot of information out there about individual preparations for Y2K, like Boston T. Party's very detailed new survival manual. That's good. But unless you've got mega-bucks, mega-skills or mega-ingenuity, you quickly find that some preparations are out of reach for ordinary folks. Providing your own electricity, water and sewage disposal for anything other than short-term emergencies is expensive. And complicated. And even if you can afford that $20,000 solar power setup or that composting toilet, the question is, is that the best option in your circumstances?
If you're concerned about Y2K, why not check what's already around you and see what you might be able to do with it? That was Carty's idea.
"The four most important things we can do as a group," Carty said, "are, first, educate people who aren't listening yet so they can start taking care of themselves -- especially some of the retired people; second, make sure we've got water and waste disposal taken care of if things crash; third, see if we can keep the electricity running; and fourth, beef up community defense in case things get nasty."
"Well, four's easy," laughed Dora-the-Yalie. "Everybody around here's armed."
Carty nodded. "Yep. And I hereby delegate myself to put the screws to every member of the Sportsmen's Club to turn them into the Hardyville Supplemental Security Patrol by next fall."
"Are the cops going to like that?" Dora asked.
Several of us grinned. In Hardyville, the cops are all members of the Sportsmen's Club. They're "us," not "them," and will probably appreciate the help if things get seriously dicey -- which, frankly, they probably won't around here. Problem four is easy in Hardyville, though it might not be in other places.
"Oh, yeah," Carty added. "I'll make sure the Sportsmen's Club and the Police Department get a bulk rate on storage foods, so the cops and the security patrol won't turn into the Hardyville Raiders if food supplies break down."
Everybody laughed -- though a bit uneasily -- at that.
"Item one is doable, too," I offered. "Well, I don't actually know if we can get people to pay attention to any sort of education effort. But at least we can put out some p amphlets, give presentations at the Chamber of Commerce and the senior center, places like that. If the Hardyvillian won't print an article, we could maybe take out a couple of ads, giving directions for simple preparations -- like buying extra canned goods every time people go to the store in the next year."
"Okay, you're delegated," Carty nodded. "That leaves problems two and three: water and energy."
Everybody turned to look at a large, rough figure in the back of the room. Rocky, who looks just like his name, is the town facilities manager -- the guy who keeps everything working. He was the only government person invited to the meeting because, as Carty opined, "He's the only one who knows how to do more than make noise."
"What we want to know," said Carty, "is what's going to work and what isn't when the Y2K bugs hit."
"Well, in some ways we've done it right around here," Rocky drawled, "just because we didn't have enough money to do it wrong. There's no c omputer-controls at the water and sewage plants like a lot of places. We're not waiting for software to open valves or add chemicals. We still flip switches and watch gauges. So that part's good. The big problem is if the power grid goes down so there's no juice coming in to operate the plants.
"We've got a backup generator and another one coming, though. So we've got electricity as long as we can pump gas into them."
"How likely is it that the grid will go down?" Asked Dora.
"A better question," Bob-the-Nerd added, "is for how long?"
"And how likely is it that we'll be able to keep fuel coming in for the generators if the grid stays down more than a few days?"
Shrug again. "I don't think transporting the fuel will be a big problem. But producing it might be, and ordering it might be, since that's computerized. And the gas stations will need electricity to pump it out of their tanks, so if they don't have backup generators, we're out of luck. There's probably going to be some gas, since this is oil country. But the mayor might have to invoke some emergency powers to see who gets what's available, and that's not going to make him a popular man. 'Course the big government might nationalize all the fuel first, so they mayor wouldn't have to take the heat. A little place like this just plain wouldn't get any fuel."
"So what do we do?"
"Make sure there's plenty of fuel available ahead of time for the generators at the plants -- and while we're at it, for the police cars, ambulances and snowplows. Make sure you've got a way of getting at it when you need it -- gravity, hand-pump, generator, whatever. Gas is cheap right now. Buy it and store it with preservatives. By the way, our vehicles also have carburetors, not fuel injection; not many electronics. That's another thing we did right. Get the fuel to 'em and they'll run."
"Have you talked to the people at the power company?" Carty asked. Any idea how prepared they are?"
"Well, seems as if the power company thinks, 'Why put out millions of dollars if we don't have to? Let's wait and see if we really have a problem first.' Sure, they know they'll lose money if they go down. But they're positive they'll lose money if they spend time fixing a problem that might not happen. They make noise about 'working on compliance' now. But some things are only going to get fixed after they happen. Bottom line: Who knows?
"One thing," he added, "the politicians around here aren't quite as dumb as you think. They've already upgraded the computers for the Police Department and Town Hall."
"But if there's no electricity..."
"Right. You might say that Hardyville has sent out its own little reconnaissance team and reinforced it's own little bridge. But that's just our bridge. There are a lot of other bridges we depend on, and there's nothing we can do about those."
"I think we need to see who's got other generators," Dora concluded, "and who might be able to loan them or share battery power in an emergency. Like the hospital. Or the packing plant. Or some of the ranchers who live off-grid."
"You're delegated," said Carty.
"And someone needs to ask t echnical questions at the power company and do some arm-twisting to get gas stations to buy generators or hand pumps," Bob-the-Nerd added.
"Delegated," said Carty.
"And make contacts with gas distributors and producers."
By the time the meeting ended, everybody was delegated for something, but nobody was overwhelmed. We still have a lot to do, but we've got a start on taking care of the town so it can help take care of us.
There are also some hopeful signs on the Internet horizon, when it comes to community Y2K preparations. There's Resilient Communities, an idealistic, gently leftish bunch that wants us to use Y2K as an opportunity to change our lifestyles. And The Cassandra Project, that's trying to coordinate community Y2K efforts around the world. A guy named Steve Davis has a good Web site; just click his link to "Compliant Communities." Folks at The Joseph Project 2000 are hoping prepared people, particularly Christians, will help supply neighbors with food.
Some outfits pushing community togetherness are more theory than practice. And I can tell you, nothing gets done by "community coordinators" in places like Hardyville. Things get done by folks who take it into their minds to do them. Like Mike Carty and his Quasi-Official, Highly Unorganized Y2K Preparation Team.
But the idealists have a point. A tough, far-seeing or wealthy few are able to be self-sufficient. Good for them -- as long as they're also prepared to defend what they've created. But sometimes the best way to take care of yourself is get together and use what's already out there -- provided you can keep it working, of course.
Thank you to S.C. for being generous with information about small-town municipal utilities.
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