Emergency officials ready for big night

Thursday, December 30th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Emergency officials are hoping to issue a speedy report that all is well in Oklahoma soon after the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve. "We're hoping for the largest non-event that we've ever seen," Albert Ashwood, director of the Department of Civil Emergency Management, said Wednesday.

Gov. Frank Keating will be on hand to receive the report at the agency's headquarters, located in a tunnel between the Sequoyah and Will Rogers Office Buildings in the state Capitol complex. The agency has been working for more than a year on coordinating responses to Y2K problems and getting a report to the public on the situation that unfolds on New Year's Day. It has been the scene of busy rescue activity many times in the past, given the state's history of natural disasters, including tornadoes. From its bunker location, the old Civil Defense agency swung into action coordinating rescue efforts after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, impressing Keating, then a new chief executive.

On New Year's Eve, representatives of several state and federal agencies will be manning banks of computers, getting reports from officers and others in the field. Others will be in the mapping room, where trouble spots are pinpointed. Among those on hand will be officials of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, the FBI, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, the Department of Environmental Quality, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the state Corporation Commission, the Red Cross, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and even ABLE, the state agency that regulates state liquor laws. "After all, it's New Year's Eve," says Ben Frizzell, public information officer for the coordinating agency, which will have officials at each OHP troop headquarters to respond about any problems.

The agency has been receiving 100 to 200 calls a day from citizens concerned primarily that they will have problems with utilities as the millennium arrives. Keating, Ashwood and others have issued statements of assurance that no interruptions in services are expected. Ashwood said citizens are being told to "use their commonsense" and make sure they have flashlights, extra batteries, food, water and other emergency items on hand, like they should on any given weekend. He recalls times in the past when Oklahomans needed to be prepared, such as in 1987, when a four-day ice storm paralyzed the state during the Christmas holiday, causing power outages and stopping travel. "If you want to play the worst-case scenario, what will happen during Y2K, infrastructure wise, that didn't happen then?" he asked.

But still there are concerns, including the threat of domestic or international terrorism and the possibility of pranksters using their computers to cause problems. The biggest threat, he said, could be the reaction of people to the event. That's one reason every effort is being made to get Y2K news to the public as soon as possible, hopefully by 1 a.m., Ashwood said. "We want to reduce the potential for human panic," he said.