Baltimoreans should prepare for Y2K as if a fierce snowstorm was coming our way. But don't be surprised if the forecasts are wrong.
That was the message last night at a community forum on preparations for possible computer failure, civil unrest or other problems that might occur when 1999 fades into 2000 on New Year's Eve.
Attended by about two dozen residents, the forum was chaired by officials of city, state and federal agencies who assured the public that all city, Baltimore Gas and Electric and bank computers are Year 2000 compliant.
That did not stop residents from asking whether martial law might be declared; if the 911 emergency system might fail, or if planes flying overhead would drop from the sky.
And, they asked, is the government helping poor people stock up on food and other supplies?
Again and again, the answer was no.
"We are confident we will see the turn of the century as a non-event from the Y2K perspective," said Elliot H. Schlanger, Baltimore's coordinator for potential Y2K problems.
Baltimore has spent about $15 million since 1994 testing, repairing, replacing and upgrading electrical systems for the city's water supply, sanitary sewer and communications systems, traffic signals, street lighting and emergency medical equipment, Schlanger said.
Schlanger recommended that people stock up on food, batteries, flashlights and battery-powered radios and set some money aside before the New Year.
Even with such assurances, the National Aquarium in Baltimore has leased four tractor-trailer-sized generators in case it loses power on New Year's Eve and the Department of Public Works plans to have generators at downtown intersections to keep traffic moving in the event of a power failure.
Schlanger believes such preparations are fine for large institutions but not for residents.
"I think to suggest that every household should be equipped with a generator would be way too extreme," Schlanger said.
To Schlanger and computer specialists, Baltimore and other cities face more of a threat from drunken unrest or possible terrorist attacks than computer or power failures.
Robert W. Weinhold, a spokesman for the Police Department, said before yesterday's meeting that all police computers and equipment are Y2K compliant and played down the threat of civil unrest.