The End Of The World As We Know It?

The millennium bug could bite VCRs, ICBMs and more. Doomsayers say it's all in God's endgame

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Party's over, oops! Out of time! --From 1999, by the Millennial Prophet Formerly Known as Prince

To understand what it means to make your home truly millennium ready, you have to visit the Eckharts of rural Lisbon, Ohio. Bruce Eckhart, 44, an automation technician for Daimler-Chrysler, his wife Diane, 41, and their 11-year-old daughter Danielle are models of apocalyptic pluck. It's not just the gas-powered home generator they bought in case of massive power outages. It's not the year's supply of dehydrated food in their basement or their stockpiles of canned chicken chow mein. It's the water bed. The collapse of public utilities is one of the big worries among the Y2K-anxious--meaning people concerned about the breakdown of everything because of the millennium bug that could lead to serious computer malfunction in the year 2000. (More on that later.) So the Eckharts bought Danielle a water bed. That way, in a pinch, they have an extra 300 gallons on hand. Danielle is a little nonplussed. "I hope we don't end up drinking my bed," she says.

Diane, whose energy and good humor are infectious, thinks planning for the millennium has been a family blessing. "We used to fight like cats and dogs, but this has brought us closer together. We have a common goal." The goal is facing off disaster. The Eckharts first got wind of potential Y2K trouble a few years ago when they came across newspaper articles mentioning the computer glitch that led them to the Internet, which--surprise!--is full of alarming Y2K websites. That's when Bruce concluded that "there are not enough people on the planet who can fix this problem in time."

By the summer of 1997, the Eckharts were storing away food. "I know I don't have to fear the future," says Diane. "I only worry about people who aren't prepared." In case the unprepared come rampaging on their property after disaster hits, the Eckharts have also laid in two rifles, a shotgun and a handgun. And Diane is teaching herself rudimentary dentistry and field medicine. "I want to be able to stitch a wound and fill a cavity," she says.

From time to time, Bruce runs his family through surprise drills, shutting off the power, announcing, "Y2K's here!" Then he fires up the generator to see how many household appliances it can handle. "We've learned we can run either the coffee machine or the refrigerator, but not both at the same time," he says. "And there will be no hair crimping during Y2K," Diane reminds Danielle. "I'm not going to burn up the generator so you can crimp your hair."

On the school bus, Danielle explains to other kids the range of potential Y2K problems. (The one they like hearing about the most is the collapse of the school system, the IRS of childhood.) But her parents have had trouble winning over community leaders. When Diane asked to address the local Girl Scout troop, she was turned down by a scout leader who was worried that Diane would alarm the girls. "Scouts prepare for emergencies lasting 72 hours," says Diane. "We just want to extend that to six months." And if the year 2000 arrives and civilization doesn't fall to pieces? She laughs. "I don't have to buy groceries for a long time."

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