Poll: 10 percent of Americans have Y2K worries

More than a third of US residents in a recent poll say that they plan to store food and water to hedge against any trouble that might come from the year 2000 computer problem. A quarter intend to avoid flying and nearly that many will withdraw extra cash from the bank. But they really aren't worried.

Of the 940 adults who participated in the national telephone survey, 90 percent told Maritz Marketing Research that they are aware of the year 2000 computer problem, but just 10 percent said that they are concerned about it.

Usually, Maritz polls 1,000 adults for its consumer surveys, which cover a range of topics from computers and technology to shopping to celebrating Christmas. The company had such difficulty finding enough people willing to respond to this survey that it had to conduct the study twice, said Rachael Narsh, a marketing specialist at Maritz, based in Fenton, Missouri, near St. Louis.

"They've had enough," Narsh added of the US consumer's attitude toward the year 2000 computer issue. "They've read about it. They've seen it on TV."

They might profess a lack of concern, but most poll respondents say they will do at least some preparing.

"Ten percent are concerned, but at the same time, 67 percent said they are going to do something in preparation. They say they don't care, but just in case," Narsh said.

Storing food and water is the top preparatory plan, followed by concerns over air travel and banking. Twenty percent said they will rely on a generator or other alternative sources of light and heat such as candles and propane if problems arise with the electrical grid. Twelve percent will eschew elevators, nine percent plan to avoid public transportation, six percent will leave cities or metropolitan areas (which might be welcomed by those who choose to stay) and three percent will avoid driving a car.

The banking industry tops the list of areas of concern among those polled with 33 percent saying they believe if there are "serious" problems, banks will be affected. Similarly, 32 percent believe the stock market is at risk.

Twenty-seven percent view public transportation, including air travel and trains, as likely to have problems, followed by 26 percent who tagged public utilities as a concern and 24 percent who worry that beepers, pagers and cell phones will not function properly. Forty-one percent believe that there won't be any problems in banking, financial markets, public transportation, utilities, wireless and telephone service, TV/cable and satellite service, mail and package delivery, or radio, Maritz found.

The year 2000 computer problem is occurring because most older software programs were written with two-digit date fields that could read the "00" in 2000 as "1900" and fail to make correct calculations. Governments and companies globally are spending billions of dollars to correct possibly errant software code and to upgrade computer systems.

Despite that work, Maritz poll respondents, though claiming an overall lack of concern, apparently aren't convinced that enough has been done by businesses and government.

"It's not as if they believe that everything is being taken care of," Narsh said. However, those surveyed don't seem to be losing a lot of sleep over the upcoming date change.

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