The Day Miami Stood Still

January 1, 2000: County officials are hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. What about you?

He urges the same sure-but-steady approach to building cash reserves; otherwise, he contends, we'll face the danger of not being able to get enough cash when we need it most. Lanza's worst-case vision of a Y2K banking crisis is bleaker than that of almost any public official in the nation. He sees the need for as much as a month's worth of cash to pay for all bills and purchases, including those now paid for by check and credit cards. "The [local] banks aren't as confident as they are at the federal level," he points out at the seminar. "If you went to take out $10,000 from your account right now, you could probably get it. But come December, if a large number of people want to get $10,000, they're pretty sure they will not have that kind of cash to give out to everybody."

Dismissive of federal claims that there will be enough ready cash at year's end, he offers helpful advice that hardly masks his dour Y2K concerns. "What [the local banks] are asking people to do is keep your money in the bank -- the money is safe -- but if you are going to take money out, take smaller sums out in increments." He recommends traveler's checks, apparently to foil thieves hunting for Y2K stashes. A spokesman for the largest local bank chain, NationsBank, says their ATMs are ready to meet customers' cash needs, while noting that large amounts of money are far safer staying in the bank. The Red Cross suggests people take out only a small amount of cash to get through the weekend if ATMs quit working.

Besides warning people to have thousands in extra funds at hand, Lanza urges a more widely accepted measure. "Just like we do in hurricane season," he advises, "back up with hard copies of all your important records: birth certificates, bank records, IRS records, things where people owe you money, your stocks and bonds."

Lanza's Survival Guide, tip 1: Watch his spooky video
Lanza's Survival Guide, tip 1: Watch his spooky video
Survival tip 2: Withdraw enough funds for one month
Survival tip 2: Withdraw enough funds for one month

Lanza does his best to end on what for him is an optimistic note. "If we have few disruptions and we have high public confidence," he says, "we'll have a planned response and nothing of significance will happen in our community."

But if their questions offer any clue, the audience doesn't seem to have much faith after this downbeat sermon. There are, of course, queries about the safety of airplanes. Despite the Federal Aviation Administration's optimistic declarations that the nation's air-traffic-control system is ready for Y2K, Lanza warns, "I know for sure I'm not going to be flying. Why be at 30,000 feet if something happens when you can be 2 feet above the ground and just step out of your car?" His wariness also seems to be at odds with reports by the county's aviation department that 96 percent of MIA's safety and security systems are now Y2K compliant, with the rest to be completed next month. Bruce Drum, an assistant aviation director, says, "The airport will be operational, and I have no hesitation about flying in the United States." He does, however, have concerns about the level of Y2K readiness among Latin American airlines and airports.

Then the other Y2K bogeyman -- marauding hordes or wily terrorists -- rears its ugly head. "Has there been any discussion about people using Y2K as an opportunity to cause problems?" one worried listener asks Lanza.

The emergency chief calmly refers to the county's planned response, though it doesn't necessarily dispel unease about Y2K threats. "You're talking about people taking Y2K as an opportunity to do bad things," he says. "For Super Bowl, for any large event, we've always had what we call our terrorist component. With the FBI and local police intelligence we look at potential groups or problem areas or crippled infrastructure that could be at risk, and we're doing that for Y2K."

Chuck Lanza's Y2K vigilance is shaped by his years of emergency-response work, and inside his small office in the bunkerlike, reinforced-concrete emergency headquarters at Galloway Road and Miller Drive in west Miami-Dade, he's surrounded by portents of doom. On his desk, always handy for easy reference, are cheery works such as Time Bomb 2000 (written by a computer expert who fled his city home and is stockpiling a year's worth of food) and Y2K Risk Management; behind him on the wall is a satellite photo of the path of Hurricane Andrew, another reminder of disaster. He began researching the Y2K topic two years ago, and was particularly influenced by Time Bomb 2000. "It was pretty obvious that there could be food disruptions and power disruptions," he notes. About that same time the county initiated its intensive Y2K planning and repairs; Lanza has played a major role in drafting Miami-Dade's "response and recovery" plan.

He's made a wide range of preparations, all colored by his pessimistic approach to emergency planning. For example, he takes out a map with symbols indicating the location of the 300 or so electrically dependent residents who've registered with his office and will be brought to medical facilities.

"If the power goes down in Y2K, there's the potential that everything could go wrong," he says. He's got a backup for the backups if the 911 system somehow breaks down, even with its generators for the computer-based telephone switching system, even with the bank of extra phones set up for operators at his emergency command center, and even with the index cards to write down by hand distress calls. "If people couldn't call 911 and we couldn't dispatch units," he says, "we're going to use the high schools as casualty collection points."

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