Electricity companies aren't expecting widespread power outages, airlines are promising their planes won't plummet from the sky, and banks are vowing that ATMs will operate Jan. 1. But Manassas Park is refusing to take any chances: City Council members recently approved nearly $85,000 in purchases to support an emergency shelter.
First, council members approved the rental of two generators, for a total of $19,500, to provide backup power for a couple of the city's wells. Then they approved the purchase of two more generators, totaling $45,900, to provide power and heat to the emergency shelter, which will be housed in the single-story red-and-brown-brick Manassas Park Middle School. And most recently came the purchase of $19,200 worth of canned and nonperishable food--enough to feed as many as 450 people for six days.
Some residents see it as an absurd allocation of funds.
"I think it's all ridiculous to begin with, the whole Y2K thing," said Lou Bello, a 20-year resident of Manassas Park. "Doing things like this, like planning for so much disaster, is just likely to cause panic."
His wife, Dorothy, agreed: "I just don't think it's going to be disastrous anyway."
But it's hard to blame anyone, let alone officials who preside over a small city, when dozens of books, brochures and even Beanie Babies have capitalized on the surprises that may lurk just beyond year's end, Dorothy Bello said.
The region's major jurisdictions all have disaster contingency plans in place.
"Quite honestly, we just don't believe anything will happen," said Jay Creech, a spokesman for Prince George's County. "We're telling residents that we don't think there's going to be any problems."
Manassas Park City Council member Kevin Brendel said at a council meeting last month that although all the computers in Manassas Park are ready for Y2K, "it's the others we worry about, like the electricity companies that serve us."
The North Virginia Electric Cooperative, which provides electricity to Manassas Park, and Columbia Gas, one of the city's natural gas providers, have been preparing for possible Y2K computer glitches since 1997, spokesmen with both companies said. Neither anticipates problems when the calendar flips to 2000, the spokesmen said.
City officials, while facing criticism from residents, point out that Manassas Park, with its population near 10,000, has never had an emergency shelter where people can go in case of natural disaster.
"It's not uncommon to have this type of shelter in place," City Manager David Reynal said.
But not many places are willing to set aside such a large chunk of their reserve budgets for items such as canned food, Lou Bello said.
If the disaster the city is preparing for fizzles, the City Council hopes to sell the canned goods to the city's schools. But School Superintendent Thomas DeBolt said he isn't so sure the idea would fare well with students.
"There's only so much canned chicken and tuna that teenagers will eat," he told the council.
Even the city's mayor seemed skeptical.
"We don't need this food," Mayor Ernest L. Evans (R) said at the council meeting. "Y2K is going to go fine."
Robert R. Butterworth, a psychologist with International Trauma Associates in Los Angeles, said the alarm about the new millennium has been excessive.
"The hype with Y2K will also crash and burn," he said.
But Darren Irby, spokesman for the American Red Cross, said preparing for all possible disasters is the best thing to do.
"We're telling people that we don't know what's going to happen and so we suggest things they can do," he said. Such preparations include stocking bottled water and canned goods and making sure the gas tank is full.
There are also some residents who view the shelter as a practical thing for the community.
"It just sounds like a good idea in case something does go wrong," said Heather Eckman, a Manassas Park resident since September. And about the canned food, she said, "Really, $20,000 is not a lot to spend when you think of what is spent on other things for the city."
Butterworth said the year 2000 fears are analogous to anxieties common in 1899.
"The world carried over fine into 1900," he said. "Maybe what we should do is make some money off this--market shirts that show Chicken Little and say, 'It's 2000 and the world didn't end.' "