The Day Miami Stood Still

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

The business community has been equally apathetic. At the end of June, for example, the state's Team Florida 2000 (www.tf2k.org) and the White House's Y2K office combined forces to present a symposium on Y2K that featured key businesses, utilities, and a presentation by President Clinton's Y2K czar, John Koskinen. Fewer than 80 people bothered to attend.

And when Miami's Latin chamber of commerce held a briefing for small businesses a few months ago, not a single person showed up, according to county Y2K project manager Jenny Deblois. At a briefing held September 9 the turnout was less than 30, despite ads on Univision promoting the event. The chamber will offer free Y2K advice to businesses starting next month. Deblois notes, "Our main concern is talking to private companies. They still feel it's an information problem you can leave to the techies. They have to be concerned how it can impact them personally."

Businesses in Miami-Dade, in fact, may be facing foreign-trade economic turmoil that no branch of government can prevent. "Businesses that deal with the Caribbean and Latin America have to fortress themselves," warns Scott McPherson, the statewide Y2K coordinator for Team Florida 2000. "They have to look for weak links in the chain [of trade]. We're not optimistic at all about Latin America." Hamstrung by Y2K, struggling overseas banks and businesses could create a domino effect in Miami-Dade County, McPherson cautions. "Some of these businesses could go out of business." And the state will soon begin preaching that message here.

County honcho Jorge Rodriguez worries about human waste
Steve Satterwhite
County honcho Jorge Rodriguez worries about human waste

All the warnings about Y2K haven't been completely ignored. At Jet's Florida Outdoors camping store in west Miami-Dade, about five people per week, the last of the true believers, come into the well-stocked shop to browse among the water filters, freeze-dried foods, and kerosene lanterns, and are willing to admit they're preparing for Y2K. "The whole furor has really died down," says store manager Kevin Crown, noting that a few months ago 40 to 50 people per week were shopping for supplies. Crown adds that there are still those who seek out another popular millennium item: "Ammo -- 9mm."

Most Y2K shoppers probably aren't planning to shoot invaders, but they still voice strong concerns. Maria Orrett, an outgoing middle-age woman who, on a recent Saturday, was looking for a water filter, says, "Living in South Florida, you've got to be really stupid not to prepare." She was strongly influenced by her pastor at the Jesus Fellowship Church in South Miami-Dade, who has been warning his flock about the crisis for nearly two years. "I don't believe it's going to be the end of the world," she remarks, but still she and her family are preparing for three months of shortages, in part because of the postmillennium economic disorder she's expecting.

Orrett found her thinking shaped by yet another Y2K evangelist: Chuck Lanza. "I went to a meeting at my church where he spoke," she recalls, "and he told us the county should prepare for fourteen days. He was taking it very seriously. If he's that concerned, how can we not be?"

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