State ready for Y2K

Monday, December 27th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Bottled water and flashlight batteries are being placed alongside party favors and champagne in Oklahomans' New Years Eve plans as the state gets ready for Y2K. State agencies, utilities and financial institutions have been working for more than a year to prepare for the arrival of the new century.

The major concern has been glitches in older computers that could cause them to malfunction when the date turns to Jan. 1, 2000. A report by the Oklahoma Year 2000 Task Force, appointed by Gov. Frank Keating to assess the state's readiness for the challenge, says "it is anticipated that there will not be any significant interruption of services that we as citizens have grown to expect." "When we turn on the spigot, there'll be water. When we pick up the phone, you'll hear the dial tone," Keating said at a recent meeting of the task force.

Officials say that malfunctions could still cause minor disruptions in services as the year 2000 begins. But some are less concerned about computer failures than about how people will behave at the dawn of the new millennium. "My biggest fear is people, and how they overreact," said Albert Ashwood, director of the state Department of Civil Emergency Management.

Reports that some Americans are hoarding everything from canned food to toilet tissue have raised the eyebrows of state officials who have worked hard to prevent problems from tarnishing the New Year's weekend. They say Oklahomans should make whateve rpreparations they would ordinarily make for a holiday weekend -- and no more. "I think reasonable people should act reasonably," Ashwood said. "You have a long holiday weekend. Look at it with a common-sense approach."

An Associated Press poll found that public anxiety about the Y2Kcomputer bug has eased in the past six months although a majority of Americans expect minor problems. A third of those polled said they plan to stock up on supplies. In Oklahoma, officials have contingency plans for anything from an "isolated event" to "a lot of problems" that might occur in the first few days and weeks of 2000, Ashwood said. Computer problems could easily result in occasional billing mistakes, he said. And power outages could occur if a winter storm strikes during the long weekend. "But that happens today, doesn't it?" he said.

State officials' biggest concern is that the technological problems that may greet the New Year will turn into human ones. "What I'm concerned with are health and safety issues," Ashwood said. "It adds to the anticipation." The Y2K glitch is expected to strike older computers that recognize years by their last two digits, meaning that on Jan. 1, 2000, they may read the year as 1900, causing computers to malfunction. Defective computer chips may exist in devices that control processes, functions, machines, elevators, building ventilation systems and fire and security alarm systems.

Many computer experts believe the Y2K problem is more likely to be a persistent one that will last over a period of years rather than a single crash. The year 2000 is a leap year, and the leap year date -- Feb. 29, 2000 -- could also create problems for some computer programs. "There was obviously a problem that needed to be corrected," Ashwood said. "That attention forced public and private entities to take care of the situation."

The governor's Y2K task force convened in December 1998, but state agencies had already begun working on the problem, he said. "We've had a committee working on that for the last two years," said Corrections Department spokesman Jerry Massie. The result is three loose-leaf binders containing the department's contingency plans for dealing with the Y2K computer bug. "I think we're probably 100 percent Y2K compliant on what we call our mission-critical issues," Massie said. "We have contingency plans for all those sorts of things." Like many other state agencies, the Corrections Department has reproduced many of its computer files on paper so that data won't be lost if computers malfunction, Massie said.

The department's biggest concern is interruptions in power and communications and outages in other services that are outside the department's control, Massie said. In any event, Y2K problems will not result in the unauthorized release of any of Oklahoma's more than 20,000 state inmates during the New Year's weekend, Massie said. The department's year-round policy is not to release inmates on weekends.

The American Red Cross has recommended that Americans have enough food, water and other emergency supplies on hand to last between three days and a week into the New Year. The disaster relief organization said the vast majority of people will not need more because they can get to a shelter or receive other assistance if it is needed.