Officials say turn of the millennium won't jeopardize public safety.
Thursday, February 25, 1999
It''s 12:00:01, Jan. 1, 2000. Suddenly, the power shuts off and the dark night drops in like a "friend" who eats all your food, drinks all your beer, hogs the remote and won''t leave. Suddenly, you''re a prisoner in your own home.
In the dark of night, prison doors fly open, police dispatch systems fail, fire engines remain still, chaos ensues. Fires ravage neighborhoods while fiends and crazies run rampant in the streets, breaking into homes, looting stores, having their way with Fluffy and Fido.
This scenario could be a bad action movie starring Kurt Russell or Sylvester Stallone, or it could be the Y2K bug coming home to roost. But while Y2K may conjure up some grim images in the minds of the populace, officials are saying: Relax. As far as public safety goes, service is expected to continue normally.
In Salinas, city officials are currently in the process of assessing the Y2K situation citywide, says Wayne Green, assistant to the city manager. A committee consisting of representatives from each city department are going over the city with a fine-tooth comb, and Green assures us that Salinas will be ready for the millennium switch long before New Year''s Eve.
As far as public safety, the Salinas officials are surveying possible hot spots in emergency systems, including the city''s 911 integration system; embedded chips in emergency vehicle engines, water-pumping systems and station door openers; traffic lights, and card-lock systems for city gas pumps.
However, those systems which contain embedded chips are impossible for the city to test itself, and Green says the city will have to depend largely on manufacturer assurances that the chips are Y2K compliant. And all cities will have to take the word of the public utility companies that water, phone service and electricity will be available. "It''s very hard to fight a fire if you don''t have water," admits Green. True enough.
Likewise, the city of Monterey is cooperating with vendors to ensure Y2K compatibility. Monterey started preparing for the millennium change in August of 1997 and, thus far, all systems appear to be a go.
"Citywide, we are in good shape," says Randy Taylor, police services manager for the city of Monterey. "We''re being very aggressive in asking our vendors, and we''ve verified through them that we''re Y2K compliant"
"All of our research to date has not indicated that there is anything [Y2K problem] there," concurs John Pfeiffer, information services manager for the city of Monterey. "We''re looking more in terms of annoyances instead of catastrophes."
Phone calls to the police and fire departments--provided that the phones are working (and Pfeiffer, for one, is convinced that they will be)--should still be as effective as ever. And all of Monterey''s critical fire and police equipment appears either to be compliant or is not computer dependent. For instance, emergency communications, he says, are for the most part conducted via good old-fashioned radio.
"There could be a problem with recording the calls, but dispatch is done over the radio and is Y2K independent," says John Pfeiffer. "I don''t think we''re going to have a problem talking to each other."
Communication on the state level--conducted via the California Law Enforcement Telecommunication System (CLETS) that connects police statewide--has also proved, says Pfeiffer, to be Y2K compliant. CLETS transmits communications between local officers and the state Department of Justice, relaying warrant information, and officer safety bulletins, and allowing officers to run license plate numbers.
The city of Seaside is ready to go, too, says Cecil Andrews, director of management information systems for the city. Seaside started addressing Y2K issues 18 months ago, he says, and found that more than half of the city''s computers were not Y2K-proof. Since then, the hardware and software in Seaside''s fire department have been updated, says Andrews, and the police department will have new computers within four months. Moreover, he says, none of the city''s critical systems, such as fire trucks or communications systems, are reliant on embedded chips which could carry the Y2K bug.
And, while the rest of us will be out celebrating the turn of the millennium, Andrews will be on hand just in case anything goes haywire. "My job is going to start about 9pm; when midnight hits the East Coast, I''ll be watching it on TV." says Andrews. "At midnight, I''ll be at city hall."
No need to worry either, apparently, about hardened criminals escaping from state prison and wreaking havoc on the community. Mike Collier, information officer for Soleded Correctional Training Facility, says that won''t happen. "The public safety will in no way be jeopardized," he says.
Luckily, the Soledad prison is antiquated enough--they still use rotary phones, for example--that few functions are computer dependent. For instance, says Collier, all the locks are manual and require keys to open. So, power outages won''t cause a spontaneous mass freeing of the 7,100 inmates housed in Soledad.
"We''re not going to have any doors swinging open at midnight," says Collier. "The public is safe."
The only system directly related to the prisoners is a computerized accounting system which generates reports used to cross-reference physical inmate counts. But even that system, he says, has a hard-copy backup in case of failure.
"We don''t have any system that would hinder our ability to function," says Collier. "Even if PG&E goes out, we have generators. In that sense, it''s good that we''re 50 years old."
Overall, officials countywide seem confident that public safety systems will sail at least somewhat smoothly into the new millennium.
"There may be isolated pockets of glitches, but there will not be mass chaos because of the Y2K problem," says Andrews. "The biggest problem is misinformation that people read in the press, and people acting on rumors."
"I would say, for the most part," adds Green, "everything is going to be fine." cw