Cobb County, City of Marietta are doing it right. : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Good news at last.

Two stories follow, both from my local paper: the Marietta Daily Journal. The two stories are, in my opinion, the first to detail real progress towards remediation by a county and city government, complete with real-appearing (not layer-filled double speak) problem comments, concerns, and an "actual" progress with "things left to do"

This is, also in my opinion, the standard against which you should hold your local reporters: clear accurate answers from the top down, a good summary of what's left to do, what agencies are ahead and behind, and who was responsible.

Notice a couple of things: they have been siad before, but are imortant in considering city and local governments (water, power, and sewage):

These two governments started early (1995, 1996). They had the full funding and cooperation they needed, and, when more help was needed, the city and county worked together at the top, not blaming somebody else for lack of progress. There is disagreement over impact by different officials, but nobody is saying (now) that the effort was NOT needed or was "a waste" of money. They found more problems than expected, and are still looking. They have some level of contingency plans done, but are not finished.

Critically, still left are the source of power from the local EMC (Cobb EMC (who distributes power from Oglelthorpe Power) and from the GA regional power grid), and a full-up test of the 911 system.

The paper is not on a web site, but I have copies electrically available in both Word and text format. If you include the attribute line, they say you can copy the text directly from here (highlight, then (control+c) and paste it to your notepad or document editor.(control+v)

-- Robert A. Cook, P.E. (, October 25, 1998


By Jarred Schenke Marietta Daily Journal Staff Writer

Given the responsibility of buffering Cobb County's computer systems against the dreaded Year 2000 computer meltdown, and with a little more than a year before the end of the millennium, Roswell Story is notably calm. The county's director of support services - a position that oversees much of the county's computer technology - Story shrugs off the doom and gloom some computer experts have predicted will occur Jan. 1, 2000, when many older microchip-based systems will suddenly lose track of time and go haywire. "I think we're pretty much on track," Story said. And many other county officials concur. Since 1995, Cobb officials have been updating most of the county's computer systems to make them "Y2K compliant." It goes by many names: the millennium bug, Y2K, the Year 2000 meltdown. The titles though refer to a programming problem in many software and hardware computer systems predating the early 1990s. Before then, the calendar system programmed into computer software and hardware tallied the year by just the last two digits instead of all four. In other words, the computer would read 1998 as 98, assuming the 19 beforehand. Thus, when 2000 clocks in, those computers will instead believe it's 1900 - and in the confusion, computer experts said those programs will crash. Already, Cobb has spent more than $8 million updating computer systems countywide, including police and fire 911 dispatch and the county records system. That's in addition to the more than $15 million spent annually to maintain the county's information systems structure. All of those new systems are apparently Y2K compliant, Story said. "In the beginning, it was a major concern for us ... but we feel comfortable where we are," Story said. Cobb County Commissioner Gordon Wysong, the commission's resident expert on the county's computer systems, said while most of the hardware - including operating systems and databases - are buffered against the bug, some of the computer software on less critical systems may not be. "All of our big ones have been fixed, but we may have a smattering of the smaller ones that haven't been fixed yet," Wysong said. "We have some programs that have been around here for years and years. There's been no need to update them." According to Wysong, some of these programs may still be operating in the county water department, such as water quality analyzers, and are currently effective. Yet, because the water department has the ability to surpass computers and operate manually, there is not a pressing need to fix them. "Some of these programs are going to fall through," he said. Cobb's water department director Bob Brice said they are currently testing equipment for Y2K compliance, but have yet to detect a problem. Brice said he was confident no major computer controlled component in the water system would be vulnerable in 2000 because most of the systems are not dependent on date. "Anything that doesn't have a date and time stamp in it isn't a problem," Brice said. Yet, the Y2K bug has raised concerns for microchips that are imbedded into some of the most seemingly mechanical devices such as cars and traffic signals. According to County Manager David Hankerson, this is the current push in the county's property department - inspecting everything from traffic signals to elevators throughout Cobb. According to property management officials, the inspections are a two-fold process. Officials have been contacting the manufacturers of county equipment to confirm if they are Y2K compliant. The second part of the testing process will be an actual diagnostics check of equipment not given a passing grade by individual manufacturers. When testing the equipment, officials said they fool the microchip into thinking it is 2000 and just observe its reaction. While the county has yet to engage in that aspect, John Reida, director of property management, said an upcoming study will engage in this. The Cobb Board of Commissioners currently is accepting bids from technology consultants to conduct a wide-ranging study on the status of the county's computer system. This study will include an evaluation of the county's Y2K preparedness. Yet, Wysong said he wasn't too concerned about individual microchips. "Even with imbedded chips, even though [the flawed programming] is there, it doesn't mean they'll fail," Wysong said. "It may think it's 1900, but it may not care." Still, some officials are cautious about their optimism. "We're about 95 percent sure we have everything, but we won't be 100 percent sure until the year 2000," Story said. Wysong also cautioned that some systems would crash. "I think there will be some isolated major things, but I don't think they'll happen here," Wysong said. "I'm going to leave most of the breath holding ... to the conspiracy theorists who think the whole [country] is going to fall," Wysong said.

Copyright: Marietta Daily Journal, 11 Oct 1998, Do not reproduce without aknowledgement.

-- Robert A. Cook, P.E. (, October 25, 1998.

By Karen Hillenbrand Marietta Daily Journal Staff Writer

On Gene Estensen's desk sits a stack of letters from businesses that want to know whether the city will have power Jan. 1, 2000. Estensen, Marietta's director of Management Information Systems, is asked this question frequently as the panic has set in around the country for a potential "Year 2000" computer crisis. With most of the world dependent on computers, businesses and government entities alike are worrying about the ramifications of a potential computer glitch when midnight strikes to start off 2000. Will the power shut off? Will traffic lights work? Will the sewer system be functional? The root of the crisis is that computer hardware, software and other electric devices that contain computer chips have calendars in them that are not equipped to read the year 2000. Marietta has been working since the summer of 1996 to replacing its computer equipment with Year 2000 compliant machinery. The city has spent more than $1 million since then fixing the problem. Most of the work has been completed, Estensen said, and the project will be finished in the next five months. "We're in pretty good shape," Estensen said. "We're going to have a year of slack for final testing and final reviews. The reason for that is we started early. This is our third budget year working on it. Second, we had full financial support from the city manager [Bill Buckner] and the City Council." Marietta has replaced its entire data communications network and its telephone system. It also has upgraded its three IBM mainframes, its office automation servers, all of its 300 personal computers and all of its PC desktops to Windows 95 and Office 95 Professional. The city is in the process of upgrading its large business applications, such as those used for utility billing, the tax system, police records, fire records and accounting.

The bigger crisis

Estensen said the Y2K crisis is not just limited to making sure a computer network is Year 2000 date compliant. "A couple years ago we thought it was an MIS problem, getting those computers fixed," he said. "Then a year ago we saw it was bigger than that." The biggest crisis could occur with electricity and traffic lights. Systems like these contain embedded chips that are date-dependent computer chips found in most machinery. "The worst case scenario is if the power grid failed," Estensen said. "It's highly unlikely, but we want to be prepared." Locally, the chips have been upgraded. However, the purchases are powered from Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG), and are dependent on its compliance. Estensen said MEAG is addressing the problem on its end. Other public safety issues are at stake locally, such as emergency medical assistance. Estensen said the city's fire trucks are equipped with defibrillators, which, without being upgraded, would no longer work after Dec. 31, 1999. The life-saving devices, though, have been made compliant. Other things, such as elevators, meter reading equipment and sewer pumps also would have failed if they had not been upgraded. When the city officials realized that the potential hazards were so extensive, it formed a Y2K committee to make sure every aspect of the problem was being addressed. The committee is chaired by Estensen and its members are Buckner, Board of Lights and Water Board Manager Jim Hanson, Finance Director Larry McHaney, City Auditor Ed Maxfield and Personnel Director Nancy Martin. Estensen said the keys to a successful Y2K preparation were starting early on the problem and having the full financial support of the City Council. Even though Estensen said Marietta is well-prepared, he will still be taking precautions on that fateful night less than two years away. The city will fill the gas tanks of all fire trucks, police cars and motor generators and will increase its staffing levels. The committee also has created case scenarios on what steps the city will take if certain systems fail. With all of the preparations scheduled to be complete by the beginning of 1999, Estensen said Marietta will have some time to address last-minute concerns. "We're just looking deeper and deeper," he said. "Is there something we overlooked?"

Copyright: Marietta Daily Journal, 11 Oct 1998, Do not reproduce without aknowledgement.

-- Robert A. Cook, P.E. (, October 25, 1998.

Thanks for the update Robert. It looks like real good news -- for Georgia -- and I agree that the reporters did a fairly decent job. It also looks like your area is taking it seriously.

We're also making great strides here in Iowa. The official state web page will be up 'real soon now'


I guess that would make 'inventory' next on Iowa's 'to do' list, wouldn't it?



PS How are the winters in Georgia? Maybe I could bring a truckload of soybeans?

-- Arnie Rimmer (, October 25, 1998.

This far south (right at the bottom of the mountains, 1000 feet elev.) it's real nasty in the winter. Not too bad further south nearer the coast (the other side of Atlanta is warmer, they claim.) Claim Pensacola and the Florida panhandle are ven warmer than that.

It gets regularly (6-10 times maybe) below freezing, every now and then gets down to 10-15 degrees (above zero). Might snow 1-2 times year, say about an inch or two each. Get an ice storm every two-three years.

So bring a jacket, maybe a blanket or two, or a glove or two.

-- Robert A. Cook, P.E. (, October 26, 1998.

I had the misfortune of travelling through Atlanta one January when they thought they were going to get FLURRIES. The evening news that night in my hotel room was grocery stores selling out of items. They interviewed a manager who had moved down from Maryland...he could barely contain his laughter.


-- Rick Tansun (, October 26, 1998.

Good news is refreshing. That's one county down (almost), and how many thousands to go? How many countries?

If the power goes down, Cobb County will go down as well.

-- Steve Hartsman (, October 26, 1998.

Gwinnett County (next door to Cobb) -- is one of the fastest growing counties in Georgia. Recently the Atlanta Journal carried an article reporting that Gwinnett Co. is losing its programmers working on Y2K remediation. They're leaving for higher paying work elsewhere. The county wage scale is way behind the curve. The article did not mention any expected consequences.

-- Tom Carey (, October 26, 1998.


Sounds like things are headed in the right direction down there.

I sent a letter to the mayor asking what our city was doing about Y2K. I haven't heard back yet - it'll be one week tomorrow. But I saw in today's paper that the City Manager is proposing an increase in the IT budget from $357,000 in '98 to $1,090,000 in '99. That's triple the budget! He indicated that they need to hire two more programmers to get the computers Y2K ready, plus upgrade software, network hardware, etc. It sounds like they just woke up and smelled the coffee. I sure hope the two new programmers are good (and quick).

BTW - It's pretty funny that you think hitting freezing 6 to 10 times a year is "nasty". By 1/1/2000 we'll have a couple of feet of ice on the local lakes! I was ROFL when someone asked a couple weeks ago "What's the big deal about water, why not just go to the creek and get some?" Hahaha. We use ice drills to go fishing around here in January!

I hope you know, I'm giving you a hard time here. (But not lying.) Hope you stay warm this winter, and every winter to follow. (Esp. 2000) :-)

-- Mike (, October 26, 1998.

I have another friend on Dianes Y2K Friends E-Mail List. Thought her comments were relevant to this local government topic:

I agree with you that we cannot panic. Education and preparation are our best hope for getting through this successfully. The following are some additional thoughts I have on the subject: Since I currently work for the (XXX County) government I have an inside track into the County level governmental systems. As per the latest assessment by our Data Communications Department (I use the term loosely) the "only" systems that are in jeopardy are the Treasurer/Tax Collector and Auditor. These departments rely on database and accounting software that were written years ago. They are just now looking into fixing the problem. They are going to be required to hire experts and the process of doing so can and will take months, if the Board of Supervisors feel like spending the money. Remember, politicians control the budget process. These are elected officials that are not required to have any qualifications in any area of business. They have to be "convinced" that the money need to be spent. With the current spin-doctors downplaying the problem this could be a precarious situation. There is something else people in California should know . This may apply in other states but California is all that I am familiar with: Even though you do not receive a real property or personal property tax bill you are still required by law to pay it. It doesn't matter if you do not know how much it is or even if the Treasurer/Tax Collector cannot tell you how much it is you are still required to pay. They cannot foreclose on defaulted taxes for five years but they can still charge late charges. I wonder if they will do that, and if they do attempt to do such an unfair thing, how people will respond. The same goes for federal and state income taxes. We all know the powers of the Board of Equalization, Franchise Tax Board and the IRS. There could be a massive revolt by taxpayers on all levels if our government invokes its rights under the current tax code. It will be interesting to see what happens. Another thing to watch will be the "Freeman Groups". Unfortunately, working for County Counsel, I have more contact with these groups than I would like. I know their tactics and the way they think. I see this as an opportunity for them to take advantage of our downed governmental system and the sentiments of the middle class, who will be hit hardest, if the tax situation turns ugly. I am not trying to frighten anyone but to enlighten people in order to be very aware of all possibilities. I am confident that this contact group will be able to come up with some answers not only for our protection but to assist others in getting through this intact. Thank you for your efforts. Blessings, Diane

-- Diane J. Squire (, October 26, 1998.

Trying to look at the "big picture" here: small city/county govts that believed Y2K to be very serious + started early + worked very diligently + found the problem to be more extensive than originally thought + STILL not finished yet = not much hope for those that don't/didn't/aren't. The reality is that, at this late date, even Y2K "good news" is actually bad news, because "success stories" (which always turn out to be "almost there" stories) like these always underscore how much work is involved, and therefore how hopeless it is to think that late starters, large cities, etc., can possibly be ready in time.

-- Jack (, October 26, 1998.

So you noticed that small fact too......

-- Robert A. Cook, P.E. (, October 26, 1998.

Good newz for Cobb. I just got a call today from ex policeman who runs our Crime Watch Program in which I am active. I asked when we would be having next meeting and if he knew of ANY contigency plans for our city/neighborhood, poor dude did'nt even know what y2k was. Oh my. When I went onto explain a lil bit, I could sense he thought I was a "kook" so I shut up. Guess I WONT be attending anymore meetings. I am SOOO tired of uniformed people who think i'm nutz. Guess i'll shut up and take a valium .

Thanks for lettin me vent.

-- consumer alert (, October 26, 1998.

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