John A. Koskinen, the president's top adviser on the Year 2000 computer problem, calls it the "mixed message."
The Clinton administration confidently forecasts that the nation will not face major breakdowns because of Y2K, but then urges communities and individuals to prepare for potential electronic disruptions.
The administration's goal is not to send conflicting signals but to cajole the public into preparing for possible interruptions in public services, no matter how unlikely, that might occur as computers start processing the 2000 calendar date on New Year's Day.
"Everybody ought to understand that there are no 100 percent guarantees in Y2K," Koskinen said earlier this month when the White House released its last report on the so-called millennium bug.
"As you know, in Washington, when the snow emergency announcement comes at 10 in the morning, that's when people go to the store. So we have an important message, we think, which is prepare appropriately, but prepare early," Koskinen said.
To encourage "Y2K preparedness," the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion, which is chaired by Koskinen, recommends:
* Maintain at least a three-day supply of food and water (one gallon per person per day), as you would for any long holiday weekend or forecast of stormy weather.
* Review items that are critical to your family or services required by family members with special needs, such as infants and persons with disabilities.
* Develop a list of phone numbers for hospitals, police and fire departments and neighbors.
* Make sure you have flashlights, batteries, a battery-powered radio, a first-aid kit and other emergency supplies.
* Keep copies of important records, such as bank and financial statements, medical and prescription drug information, in the weeks before and after Jan. 1. Check receipts for accuracy and compare against statements.
* Withdraw only as much cash as you would for any holiday weekend. Large amounts of cash may invite theft.
* Refill prescription medications when you have a five-to-seven-day supply remaining. If you have Y2K questions about your health care needs, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.
* Keep your automobile gas tank above half full, as you would in preparation for a winter storm.
* Check with manufacturers to see if electronic equipment in your home is Y2K-ready, especially personal computers, security systems and programmable thermostats.
* Use the telephone and Internet only as necessary on Jan. 1. Checking dial tones and engaging in long conversations could create delays similar to those on Mother's Day.
* Beware of Y2K scams. Be skeptical if someone tries to sell you a product, service or investment that is "Y2K-safe."
For information about the Year 2000 computer problem, there is a toll-free line at the president's council, 1-888-872-4925, as well as the council's Web site, www.y2k.gov.
Techies Are Optimistic
Thirty-nine percent of technology experts responding to a poll believe Y2K is a "nonevent" but still plan to have some extra food and cash at home for the New Year's weekend. An additional 36 percent agreed Y2K amounts to a nonevent and do not plan on stockpiling supplies.
The poll, released yesterday, showed most technology experts were Y2K optimists. The respondents expect that about 2 percent of the critical computer systems in their organizations may malfunction or fail because of Y2K glitches, according to the poll.
The survey, based on 1,212 computer experts who work for the financial industry, large corporations and governments, was conducted by CIO magazine, the Information Systems Audit and Control Association and economist Ed Yardeni's Y2K Center.
Tiny Utilities Freeze Themselves Out
Will they be left out in the cold? Only 13 small municipal utilities serving 1,937 customers have yet to provide their Y2K readiness to their trade association, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson reports. The 13 electric power providers are scattered through Arizona, California, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and Ohio. Elsewhere, the utilities are "99.9 percent" ready, Richardson said.
Va. Lawmaker Fears Benefit Glitches
Asked at a recent news conference to describe what most worried him about Y2K, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) said he feared glitches could delay benefit checks to people enrolled in federal programs and create more constituent case work for Capitol Hill offices.
Despite extensive Y2K fixes and tests by the government, Davis said, "there will be a lot of people inconvenienced, and it may mean for people who are living paycheck to paycheck, that all of a sudden that check doesn't come on time."
If benefit and entitlement checks get delayed, "they're going to be calling our offices like crazy," Davis said. "It's going to be a lot of work for the congressional offices."