Officials say all is ready for Y2K

Public meeting set to help residents prepare just in case

July 21, 1999|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Howard County's top officials are planning on a cheap, boring New Year's Eve -- they hope.

Hunkered down in the county's 911 center that festive night, County Executive James N. Robey and his key staff hope and expect to see the great Y2K computer scare pass uneventfully.

"The big challenge is keeping Dick Biggs awake at midnight," the county's computer guru joked about himself.

Nearly half the country's 21 largest cities won't be ready until the last quarter of this year, according to a recent congressional report.

But Biggs, the county's Information Systems Services director, Robey and other county officials plan to be ready -- and they hope the public will be, too -- if the new year starts with a blackout instead of a bang.

That's why they have scheduled a public Community Conversation meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at the George Howard Building in Ellicott City -- to let people know what has been done and what they should do if the power fails, the heat goes off or a blizzard hits that night.

"The information we want to put into citizens' hands is how to prepare yourself, stuff that you'd do for a typical thunderstorm or ice storm," Biggs said -- such as the one that struck in January, leaving some homes without power for several days.

The county government, officials say, is doing all it can to make sure everything will work properly, but it is still preparing for the worst.

"We'll try to use this as a building block for the future," said county Fire Chief James E. Heller. People should stock up on bottled water, batteries, a transistor radio and an alternative heating device -- the same things you would have for a major storm, he said.

Even if nothing happens as the new year dawns, Howard County government will be better prepared for any disaster, natural or man-made, than ever before, Heller said.

On New Year's Eve, the county will have police headquarters in Ellicott City and all 11 fire stations open in case phones fail and people need to transmit emergency information in person. Extra police officers and firefighters will be on duty, and county high schools will be available for use as shelters if needed, Heller said.

In addition, Public Works Director James M. Irvin said generators will be ready to power key traffic signals if needed, and an emergency plan is in place to supply water and treat sewage.

If things go badly, every county will have the same troubles, so Howard can't expect much help initially, Heller said. Representatives of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and Bell Atlantic will be at the meeting Monday to answer questions.

Although they are preparing for the worst, they expect the best, county officials said.

"I think we're in great shape. We assume there could be some glitches, but we know all our systems are ready. Now we're in the process of making sure we're ready to deal with any eventuality in the community," Robey said.

"As every day goes on, we expect this to be less and less of an event," said Heller, who is also director of emergency management and heads the county's Y2K preparedness committee, which meets every two weeks.

"We expect minor interruptions -- more in the inconvenience category than a significant impact or a threat to life," said Heller, adding that "we won't really know until [January] 2nd or 3rd."

Biggs said all county government systems except police records are now Y2K-ready and that the entire job will be completed by Sept. 30. In addition, Heller said, the county has been working very closely with private utility companies to prevent any loss of power.

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