Less Y2K Worries, But Americans Still Stock Up

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By Deborah Zabarenko

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Americans are less worried than they used to be that the Y2K computer glitch will cause big problems, but more of them plan to stockpile gasoline and food as precautions, a poll showed on Wednesday.

Only 3 percent of those surveyed expected major problems from the so-called Y2K bug, in which computers might react as if it were 1900 instead of 2000 when the new year arrives, according to a nationwide poll conducted for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and USA Today. That was down from the 7 percent who had major problems with Y2K glitch in a similar poll conducted in August for the same group.

But 55 percent said they would avoid traveling on or around Jan. 1, an increase from 43 percent in August. Forty percent of respondents, up from 36 percent in the August survey, said they would stockpile food and water, while 28 percent said they would stock up on gasoline, compared with 21 percent in August.

Fewer Americans -- 38 percent -- believe banking and accounting systems will fail, a percentage that has fallen from 63 percent in a similar poll in December 1998. Even so, 58 percent of them said they would get special confirmation or documentation of bank balances and other financial records, an increase from 51 percent in August.

John Koskinen, chairman of the President's Council on Y2K, called it a good poll, and said the overall trend of similar polls in this series that started in December 1998 showed lessening of fear and increased preparedness by Americans.

``What matters is the trend lines, and if you go back to the December 1998 poll, you see reflected then a much higher level of concern and anxiety by the public,'' Koskinen said by telephone. ``I think that reflects that more and more information has been provided to the public about the status of Y2K work by organizations of all kinds.''

Koskinen credited the news media, especially the local and regional press, for doing ``a very good job of investigating and publicizing the state of Y2K activity around the United States.''

George Strawn, NSF's computer networking director, also gave the news media credit for educating the public, which helped Americans prepare for 2K problems without panicking.

``I think the press has done its job and has gotten information to the public,'' Strawn said in a telephone interview. ``Our view is an educated or knowledgeable public has a better chance of being a prepared public, and the news has been good enough, in terms of readiness and the like that confidence is increasing.''

In fact, he said, confidence in preparations for Y2K has increased to the point where computer experts are already pondering what caused the problem in the first place and how it might have been avoided.

Noting that one government estimate put the cost for fixing potential Y2K problems at $100 billion, Strawn said computer scientists in the 1960s did not adequately consider the standards they were setting when they established the six-digit date for computer transactions, which is the root of the problem.

The six-digit date only provides for the use of the last two digits in each year -- 99, for example -- without specifying the century.

The nationwide telephone poll surveyed 1,010 adults Nov. 18-21 and has a margin of error of 3 percent.

The poll numbers show a moderation in how individuals are preparing for Y2K, Strawn said, with most taking the same precautions as they would if a major winter storm were predicted.

``Is it absolutely necessary? Probably not,'' Strawn said. ''Does it hurt that much? No. It takes the bread off the shelf (at the grocery store).''

-- Mild Mannered Reporter (clark@super.duper), November 29, 1999


I like the fact that more people are going to have supplies on hand....there is nothing wrong with that. They are buying usable items, things they can make use of no matter what.

It does my heart good to see the y2k "profits of doom" having to slash prices because no one is buying. I hope they all go broke.

-- false profits (from@false.prophets), November 29, 1999.

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