As the countdown dwindles, people across the country are scrambling to stock their larders before Jan. 1--preparing, sometimes frantically, for potential Y2K disasters that range from a harsh winter storm to societal breakdown.

But not at Salt Lake City's Temple Square, home of the Mormon Church, where the calm of being prepared is the dominant sentiment.

For decades, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been encouraged to store a year's worth of food in their homes, not just for Y2K but for any hard times.

Seventy percent of Utah's residents are Mormon. Church officials do not know exactly how many families stockpile food, but judging by the bulk food sale advertisements in Utah newspapers, it's clearly a popular practice.

The church has a significant food reserve, which it showcases in a section of downtown Salt Lake City called Welfare Square.

A dairy, cannery, thrift shop and bakery operate under the shadow of a 100-foot grain silo filled with 300,000 bushels of wheat, just in case.

It is one of 60 silos the church has throughout the country, along with church-owned farms, ranches and factories that produce everything from canned peaches to peanut butter to beef. The church even makes its own soap.

Every year, Deseret Dairy in Welfare Square produces 900,000 pounds of powdered milk and 850,000 pounds of cheddar cheese.

Some of the products are given away to Mormons in need through the church's 105 Bishop's Storehouses, essentially grocery stores without the cash registers. Some of it goes overseas to help in times of crisis. But there is always extra socked away should anything go awry, from massive power outages to the Second Coming.

Mormons believe that after a period of turmoil, Jesus will return to Earth to reign for 1,000 years. Church leaders make no claims that this will start with the year 2000 and say their emphasis on preparedness does not stem from any specific event.

But if things go haywire, "you're going to be living in a good place--that is, if you've been good to your neighbors," said Kathryn Kidd, a Mormon who co-wrote with her husband "Food Storage for the Clueless."

"The prophets have told us to be prepared. We just want to be ready for any event--some people think it's the Second Coming, some think it's flood and drought, most are just following orders," Kidd said from her home in Sterling, Va.

Mormon emergency preparations don't stop at food. Thousands of tons of surplus clothing donated to the church's Deseret Industries thrift stores are sorted, baled and stored in a downtown warehouse in case of fire or flood.

The building's second floor is lined with shelves overloaded with medical equipment, ranging from wheelchairs to first aid kits to donated dialysis machines. There is even a supply of ropes, tarps and tents--so many that when a tornado roared through downtown in August, the city turned to the church for help.

"Utah is probably one of the best-prepared states in the nation when it comes to personal preparedness," said Chris Kramer, public information officer for the state Department of Public Safety. "You don't see that in other parts of the country. There's an emphasis on self-reliance in the culture here."

Soon after the tornado hit, members of Mormon congregations armed with chain saws, work gloves and hard hats were the first to rush to help neighborhoods littered with uprooted trees and debris. They followed emergency plans designed by the church, procedures that are well-rehearsed by local congregations.

"The community has a long history of pulling together in times of disaster and, of course, the church is definitely a factor," said Jim Chesnutt, public affairs specialist with the Federal Emergency Management Agency region, which includes Utah and five other states.

Chesnutt said he was not the only one at FEMA surprised by how quickly communities in the tornado's path were patched up.

"We had to hustle our inspectors out there before everything was cleaned up," he said.

The emphasis on preparedness comes from the early days of the faith. To escape persecution, Mormons kept moving farther west, from New York to Ohio, then to Missouri and Illinois. They eventually made the trek to the then-unsettled frontier of Utah, where they set up headquarters.

"One of the reasons we store food is so we can always help our neighbors. It is not a matter of selfishly hoarding," said Dale Bills, a church spokesman. "You can't stand around and watch people go without."