Glendening offers Y2K assurances

Systems tests, other precautions being taken by Maryland

`Major problems' unforeseen

State's computers to be 2000 compliant by Dec. 31, governor says

May 18, 1999|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

Still more than seven months away from the deadline, Gov. Parris N. Glendening tried to assure the public yesterday that the state's huge array of computers will be prepared for the transition to the next century.

In the first of what will likely be many updates, Glendening said nearly nine out of 10 state computer systems have been updated to handle the switch to the year 2000. He promised the rest would be ready by Dec. 31.

At year's end, the governor said, the public should anticipate no more than "minor inconveniences" such as those caused by a major winter snowstorm.

For example, he speculated that Y2K problems could cause a power failure in the Midwest that would lead to a loss of electricity for a few hours in parts of Maryland. Or, he said, computer problems might mean a local grocery store has to close for a while on Jan. 1.

"We do not anticipate any major problems," Glendening said. "We will, however, be prepared for the worst."

Of concern is a problem in which many computers are unable to distinguish the year 2000 from the year 1900, which could lead to widespread computer failures at midnight Dec. 31.

The state has so far spent more than $79 million fixing computers to deal with the beginning of a new century. Glendening said he expects the cost to rise to about $120 million.

State computers handle a variety of tasks, ranging from making welfare payments and paying state workers to keeping track of some 20,000 prison inmates.

Glendening said two important state computer systems recently failed their tests.

In one, the computer that keeps track of inmates in the home detention program failed to click over to the year 2000.

"The software showed, in error obviously, there were no participants to monitor," Glendening said.

In another test, the Maryland State Police's Breathalyzer equipment recorded alcohol breath tests as taking place in 1900 instead of 2000.

Both systems will be replaced, Glendening said, and all state computers will be tested for year 2000 readiness July 22.

Aside from computer checks, state officials are making other plans for the end of the year.

The governor has canceled leave for ranking state officials at the end of December and postponed a vacation he had planned to take then.

Officials also are planning to have state police and Maryland National Guard troops on alert to deal with any civil disobedience.

A Glendening aide said the governor scheduled yesterday's event in part to counteract public discussion of widespread problems some believe will be triggered by year 2000 computer failures -- scenarios that include power outages and food shortages.

"There's a lot of misinformation going around that's going to frighten people," said Ray Feldmann, a spokesman for Glendening. "We want to reassure people that there are certain things they need not do. He wanted to reassure people that they shouldn't panic and do silly things."

Dana O'Sullivan, a Columbia resident who is storing food and taking other measures to be ready for any year 2000 problems, said she was pleased that the state is updating its computers and planning ahead.

"I think it's encouraging," O'Sullivan said. "I'm just not sure that people have started early enough in their testing."

In any case, she said, she will continue to make preparations and will urge her friends to do the same.

"I don't think what the governor said is going to make me kick back and say, `OK, we can use up all of our food stores now,' " O'Sullivan said.

The state has established a toll-free number, 1-877-Y2K-MD-OK, the public can call for information about the issue.

Pub Date: 5/18/99

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