Friday, October 08, 1999

State leaders: Start preparing early for Y2K

Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — State leaders are advising Ohioans not to wait until December to prepare for potential power outages or food shortages caused by the Y2K computer problem.

        While Gov. Bob Taft stressed that major problems related to the glitch are unlikely, he oversaw a drill Thursday in which disaster officials responded to a variety of simulated problems, such as a loss of power or telephone service.

        State government has com pleted more than 90 percent of the work required to prevent its computers from crashing when the new year begins, Mr. Taft said. But he wants to make sure disaster officials are ready in case something goes wrong.

        “We are leaving no stone unturned as we transition into the new year,” Mr. Taft told reporters gathered at the state's emergency command post on the north side of Columbus. “The state will be prepared to respond to any emergencies that may come about.”

        Governments, banks and businesses have been scrambling to fix potential Y2K prob lems. Some experts think older computers that read only the last two digits of the year could mistake the year 2000, or “00,” as 1900, wreaking havoc once the clock strikes midnight on Dec.31.

        Surrounded by banks of telephones, two-way radios, computers and giant TV screens at the command post — a huge room reminiscent of NASA's space mission control center — officials from several state agencies tested how they would respond to Y2K emergencies.

        They were told a virus had paralyzed a major state computer system, 3 feet of snow cov ered Northeast Ohio and scores of traffic lights had gone dark in Akron.

        As they started ordering computer experts, the police and National Guard to respond, the phone lines went dead, forcing them to call for help with two-way radios and cellular telephones.

        In another scenario, disaster officials responded to reports of a small plane crashing into a power plant after its guidance system failed. A few minutes later, corrections officials ordered armed guards to surround a prison where electronic motion sensors had failed.

        None of those calamities actually happened. State officials said their biggest fear is that citizens will panic and overreact just before the new year begins.

        Hardware stores already report a increase in sales of portable generators and kerosene stoves. But Alan Schriber, chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, said he is confident the state's power companies will be ready.

        “What I really worry about is a squirrel biting through a power line or a blizzard knocking out power, causing some people to fear it's being caused by Y2K,” Mr. Schriber said.

        A USA Today/National Science Foundation poll last month found that few Americans expect major problems due to Y2K computer glitches.

        Only 7 percent of the 1,014 adults surveyed by the Gallup Organization expected their personal lives to be disrupted in a major way. Forty percent expected no problems at all.

        Despite assurances from Mr. Taft and other officials, the state has created an Internet site ( that advises citizens to prepare as if a major blizzard or ice storm was approaching.

        The site suggests that Ohioans should start the new year with five days worth of food on hand and a three-day supply of water (a gallon per day for each family member). They also should fill up their cars, have extra cash on hand and collect paper copies of important records before Dec. 31.

        “Gather your supplies gradually. Start early!” the Web site advises. “Don't wait until November or December 1999 to purchase extra items. Last-minute purchasing can cause shortages.”


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