Jail Officials Share Ideas On Y2K Problems

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Jail Officials Share Ideas On Y2K Problems

I remember someone asking about this issue, on some lost thread. (Looking forward to that search engine). At least, officials are looking at possible solutions! -- Diane

Trying to Get a Lock on Y2K Problems

Jail officials share ideas on averting disaster

Todd Henneman, Chronicle Staff Writer Saturday, January 23, 1999 )1999 San Francisco Chronicle


Suspects in Bay Area jails may be locked up, but the Y2K problem could have jail employees scrambling for the keys.

Officials from nine Bay Area counties met yesterday in San Jose to share tips about preparing for Y2K problems, which could disable everything from jail ventilation systems to automated locks.

Law enforcement officials said they will practice ``low-tech'' and ``no-tech'' methods such as using keys instead of automated systems to operate cell doors as they prepare for potential computer glitches associated with the year 2000.

Jails need to prepare for worst-case scenarios and create contingency plans in case critical systems fail, officials said.

``Plan for failures,'' said Michael Hackett, administrative services manager for the Santa Clara County Department of Corrections. ``I don't really think that the sky is going to cave on us on December 31. I think problems can be easily mitigated by advanced planning.''

The Y2K problem stems from a programming shortcut that leaves many computers unable to distinguish between the year 2000 and 1900. Officials said a particularly hard-to- detect problem comes from ``embedded systems,'' computer chips buried in everything from microwaves and fire alarms to door-locking systems and buses used to transport suspects.

``There has been an expectation that if we look hard enough and plan hard enough, we can fix everything,'' said Kathy Holmes, a commander with the Contra County Sheriff's Office. ``What we're hearing is, no, there's no way you can fix everything. You have to do without. Do what you can to fix things, but don't feel comfortable you fixed everything. Have an alternative.''

In Contra Costa County, alternatives include training dispatchers not to rely on computers to track officers but instead write the officers' position on paper.

In Sonoma County, officials are determining whether the Y2K problem could ``pop open'' cell doors on January 1, Sheriff's Captain Phil Groat said. The sheriff's department also is considering a plan to have extra staff on all shifts from December 30 to January 2, an idea other counties are contemplating.

Santa Clara County recently spent $250,000 to upgrade the jail's door-locking and elevator systems to ensure that they will not malfunction.

``From what I've seen, the local agencies and the state prisons have taken a very proactive approach in addressing the Y2K issues in the critical systems -- the locks on the doors and the things that would keep the inmates in, secure and safe and would keep the public safe,'' said William Crout, deputy director of the state Board of Corrections.

The Santa Clara County Department of Corrections hosted the workshop to share preventative tips and to encourage cooperation in dealing with problems.

``We need everyone to be on the same page so if we need to partner --if somebody's jail doesn't work -- then we recognize that we're going to need to share some resources,'' said Tim Ryan, who heads Santa Clara County's jail.

-- Diane J. Squire (sacredspaces@yahoo.com), January 24, 1999


If the food supply fails, count on some jailers letting the inmates out rather than having them starve behind bars. Predators will abound. Hopefully the maximum security prison in my area [an hour and a half up the road] is far enough away. Sorry for the thought. L

-- L (have a @gun.com), January 24, 1999.

Good going Diane. The question has come up in my conversations with beginning GIs here in Little Rock, but we've not secured any reliable answers yet. So many letters to write. Anyone living in the San Francisco area should thank their lucky stars. The awareness, planning, and media coverage coming from that area is something we are painfully lacking in my neck of the woods. Guess I need to beat the drum a little louder around here.

-- Other Lisa (LisaWard2@aol.com), January 24, 1999.

You must make the distinction between Jails and Prisons. Jails are occupied by at least 90% technically innocent men and women. Jails, for the most part are for those awaiting trial, with a few misdermeaner convicts doing a jail sentence. Keeping this in mind, I would hope that jail cells would pop open and the prisoners allowed to escape. Disasters in jail situations are planned for and have been in place for years. An earthquake could twist the rails out of line and there would be, in the case of Los Angeles County, thousands of inmates trapped in their cells. A fire could knock out main and emergency power and they would be incinerated alive in their cells. Jail inmates are there for everything from common drunk in public to murder. They all have one thing in common however, They have not been proven guilty.

Bill in South Carolina

-- Bill Solorzano (notaclue@webtv.net), January 24, 1999.

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