PG&E Pacific Gas & Electric Company Y2K Problem & City Preparedness (Bob Burnett, City of Berkeley, CA) : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

PG&E Pacific Gas & Electric Company Y2K Problem & City Preparedness (Bob Burnett, City of Berkeley, CA)

This was e-mail sent out Monday, March 15, 1999 by Tom Atlee. Note: you will see legislative action being pursued in CA to encourage PG&E to come public with their Y2K actions. Its being pushed by many people, and municipalities including State Senator John Vasconcellos (Silicon Valleys Rep).


Message ...

The following is of special interest to SF Bay Area Y2K activists. But it is of broader interest to all those working on Y2K, as a good review of the problem with delays in utility Y2K compliance reporting. Bob Burnett is a technical consultant with the City of Berkeley for Y2K matters. PG&E is Pacific Gas and Electric, the largest energy utility in Northern California. -- Tom

PG&E Y2K Problem

Bob Burnett: Y2K/PG&E February 2, 1999

The Problem: PG&E is unable or unwilling to give municipalities the information they need to do comprehensive emergency planning relative to the Y2K problem.

Background: the city of Berkeley and most Bay-Area municipalities are advising their residents to take standard emergency precautions for YK. These precautions assume that Y2K will involve the sorts of power outages associated with an earthquake or a severe fire; viz., at the most 72 hours without power. (Most disaster plans assume that after 72 hours relief from outside the community will be available; e.g., Red Cross relief.) In terms of community preparation 72 hours represents a crucial dividing point. Most residents can survive 72 hours without power with minor discomfort. Most businesses can endure 72 hours without power with only minor financial impact.

However, if power is unavailable for longer than 72 hours, communities experience considerably more discomfort. Residents begin to experience symptoms of stress, hunger, and exhaustion. Businesses begin to shut down (those that have remained open with the use of gasoline-powered generators begin to close as they run out of fuel). Refrigerators thaw. Critical municipal services begin to shut down (e.g., the sewage treatment facilities will stop functioning and raw sewage will be dumped into San Francisco Bay).

For these reasons, it is vital to effective municipal Y2K planning that PG&E give us a clear statement of whether or not they will have fixed their power systems by 1-1-2000. It is also critical that if they do not expect to have all the systems repaired, they tell us what to expect in terms of power availability.

Unfortunately, PG&E is unwilling to make precise statements about whether or not they will have fixed their power systems by 1-1-2000. In their Year 2000 web-site they say, Based on our current schedule, we expect all mission- critical systems to be Year 2000 ready at the end of the third quarter of 1999. Regarding their level of confidence (Is Pacific Gas and Electric Company willing to provide Year 2000 compliance guarantees?), they report that PG&E is making every effort to be ready to operate and provide service to customers in a safe and reliable manner into and through the Year 2000. However, because of the complex interaction of today's computing and communication systems, we are not able to make any blanket warranties or representations regarding Year 2000 compliance.  [Emphasis added.]

If PG&E were to wait until the end of the third quarter of 1999 to announce that they would not have all systems fixed by 1-1-2000, municipalities would not have sufficient time to take alternative actions. If PG&E were to announce on 10-1-99 that Northern California should plan for power outages of greater than 72 hours, municipalities would not have enough lead time to take additional precautions. For example, there would not be time to procure generators.

How likely is it that PG&E will be late? No one can say for sure. However the history of large programming projects like this one are not encouraging. More often than not, projects of this size are late. (This is a multi-year, multi-million dollar effort of considerable complexity. For example, PG&E admits that this involves 305,770 mission-critical embedded systems.)

What keeps PG&E from being totally candid now? There appear to be a variety of issues that keep PG&E from a position of total openness. There are legal liability issues (whether the actual results are good or bad PG&E might be sued if their early predictions prove inaccurate). There are issues of public confidence (an early negative statement might cause public anxiety). There are also market issues (information might have adverse affects on PG&E securities).

What can be done? Ultimately this is an issue of public safety. Unless PG&E is totally candid now there could be an adverse impact on the public safety beginning on 1-1-2000. We believe that legislative steps should be taken to ensure that PPG&E is candid with public officials. This could take several forms: PG&E might be exempted from legal liability (the Good Samaritan laws might be strengthened). PG&E might be forced to total disclosure before the Public Utilities Commission.

When should this increased disclosure take place? Preferably as soon as possible. PG&E will participate in two tests of the National Power control Grid on April 9th and September 9th. By their own admission they will not be ready for the first test. The results of the second test will be known too late for effective municipal contingency planning. Therefore it would be best to have this disclosure before the end of the 2nd quarter.

Summary: Legislative assistance is needed in order to ensure that PG&E is totally candid with California Municipal authorities.

Tom Atlee * The Co-Intelligence Institute * Oakland, CA

-- Diane J. Squire (, March 16, 1999


See also ...

PG&E Y2K Statement In Latest Bill (& California Energy Links) 000aVy

And the link recommended at ...

California Senate Testimony - Feb. 24, 1999 000c5L

-- Diane J. Squire (, March 16, 1999.

This is one of those "gotta know, now, and I know they know so they gotta tell us what's goin' on - now" issues.

Ok, so PG&E comes clean. They say, "hey guys, we will have electricity up." Then all the internet pundits, say "they are lying, I know it, they couldn't have it fixed". The City of Berkeley will wipe the sweat off of their brow because that info lets them off the hook.

Or PG&E says, "hey guys, we don't think that we will be able to keep the grid up." The internet pundits will flame, saying, "why in the hell didn't they tell us earlier so we coulda got our generators, and stocked up on more stuff, ack." The City of Berkeley might be able to marshall administrative and fiscal forces in time to do........ what? Perhaps even the SF Bay area cities might be able to marshall enough administrative and fiscal forces in time to do.......... what? And then what about the more rural counties and cities and towns and villages? Oh, they will be able to marshall administrative and fiscal forces in time to do.......... what?

Do these people really think that an "honest" PG&E disclosure is going to make much of a difference at y2k plus 6 months? They must.

So what will NorCal do if PG&E says "no juice @ Y2k?" Quickly go out and buy big fuel tanks holding lotsa diesel, buy some beefy generators, begin a door to door campaign to urge people to prepare (assuming that they know what to tell people and know how long to tell them to prepare, assuming that people will believe, assuming that people will have the funds).

It is absurd. A PG&E disclosure, or a disclosure by any other utility company in the US, will at y2k plus 6 months, have very little to nothing to do with the social reality experienced by everyone in June2000.

Whether or not PG&E actually has usable juice in the grid come June2000 will make some difference to the common social reality.

As if (!) PG&E disclosure is the hinge upon which y2k impact will hit any area, city, or individual. Get real. Charlotte's Web or Indra's Necklace are two of the best y2k analogies, one plucked strand affects all the remainder, each pearl is connected to and reflects all the other pearls. Not only does a PG&E "honest" disclosure have almost no meaning, but whether or not PG&E is able to sustain their grid has marginal meaning - within the larger y2k picture.

I'm of the view that either we get almost 100% y2k usability of the core infrastructures, or we will have Famine and Plague, and with those two, a move to something social and technical that is meaningless to compare to the 1850's, or any other point in the human past.

I will go so far to say that even with near 100% usable core infrastructures (USA) it will be TEOTWAWKI, there will be just too much world wide long term snafu for the USA to sustain its present reality bubble (TWAWKI).

And there is nothing we can do as individuals to make sure those core infrastructures are going to work. Get used to it. If you want to prepare, prepare. If you don't, don't. But in either case, get a life, tracking each utterance of any y2k personage or each report isn't going to make one whit of difference. Forcing disclosure isn't going to make any difference. So what if Berkeley is prepared, what about the 7 million other people in the Bay Area who aren't? So what if you have enough food for lotsa years, are you really going to gun down your neighbors when they want some food, water, or heat?

Has anyone bothered to figure out the funds necessary to purchase the infrastructure and goods to sustain a city or county or state, even for short periods of time, let alone 3, 6, 9, or 12 months? Does anyone but the grassroot activists, active now for over a year, think that grass roots activism is going to work on any scale except the micro? The problem is too big, and for 98% of the whole population the problem is too abstract.

-- Mitchell Barnes (, March 16, 1999.

I don't think the utilities would have a problem with the "internet pundents" if they had third party verification. Is that so much to ask?

-- sardog (, March 16, 1999.


Terribly sorry you have no faith in the ability of a City or County to get anything done in terms of contingency planning and pre- positioning of supplies, personnel, etc.

The hurricane relief now is almost all prepositioned, I suspect that the municipalities could quite quickly learn from their Red Cross contacts how to do this. They would in turn enlist the aid of the usual relief agencies in their areas and accomplish quite a lot in terms of amelioration of discomforts.

But, then again I have faith in the local .gov to be able to see where it gets on and off.


-- Chuck, a night driver (, March 16, 1999.

The pundits aren't the problem. Even PG&E by itself isn't the problem. Third party verification isn't the problem.

The problem is widespread crippling reliance upon all that high speed information flows engender.

Hey, this is mid-March 1999, raise your hand if you think that 3rd party verification is going to make any difference in whether or not your entity of choice makes it or not come 2000.

What difference does it make whether or not there is 3rd party verification. Is it going to make the remediators work harder than they already are? Is it going to make the PR machines work any less harder at suppressing panic? Is it going to make any difference in how you prepare?

Would 3rd party verifications make any difference if they were conducted upon every company, every corporation, every system, every govt?

Nope. In fact, I'll bet you there would be some who would want another layer of verification. Just human nature when confronted with an insoluable problem, need more info, it is hardwired in, it is our bit of instinct - the very one that will paralyze us in action - lowering our ability to survive y2k.

-- Mitchell Barnes (, March 16, 1999.

I appoligize Mitchell,

My mind was on something else and I missed the entire point you were trying to make.

-- sardog (, March 16, 1999.

sardog, quit whining.

Chuck. Hurricane preparedness is one thing. Y2k another. Especially in context of this thread: Getting PG&E to come "clean" so the City of Berkeley can proceed intelligently and quickly with the city's CP.

What is Berkeley going to do? If y2k is bumpmonth, that is one thing. But if y2k is bumpmonth in US, but quite scarey elsewhere, what is Berkeley, or any other County or City, going to do about interrupted imports, and the standard y2k foreign fallout stuff? And if y2k hits bad, PG&E saying now that they can't guarantee juice, what difference will it make. Berkeley is part of a 7 million population megalopolis, so even if Berkeley is able to prepare adequately for the town and the University population, the city govt, its water and sewage, etc., what do they do about the freeways running thru, what do they do about the people in Albany and Oakland, on each side of them, who will see lights in Berkeley? Are they going to close the tunnels over to Concord and Orinda? Or are they going to be able to humanitarianly help those millions who flock to the City of Berkeley?

I'm not saying that city and county shouldn't prepare CPs. I'm saying that to hinge them upon a utility supplier's disclosure is absurd. There are way more than enough other y2k problems that could crop up even with utilities up and running. And on top of that, it shows, at least from what I've learned, that the people who are requesting this of PG&E do not have a real good grasp of the interconnections of the grid as a whole and how those connections effect an individual supplier. Read over the Western Region Grid Contingency Plan thread. I will go so far to say that I doubt that any but the largest govt entities have the ability to marshal resources to the degree necessary to prepare any dense population for two weeks, let alone a month or perhaps 6 months.

Sit down with your favorite prep list, then extrapolate that list out for a specific urban population size for a specific timeframe, work up storage facilities, assembly points, methods of dispersing the supplies, the number of Porta-Potties needed. Think about whether or not most cities or counties will get it together in time.

The most absurd thing about Mr. Burnett's letter "Unless PG&E is totally candid now there could be an adverse impact on the public safety beginning on 1-1-2000." First, what makes him think they aren't being candid? Second, what makes him think PG&E actually knows what the y2k impact will be? Third, even if PG&E had a time machine, went forward and looked then came back and told him what the status was going to be, what makes him think that info would be enough to prevent the adverse impact upon public safety? What does that have to do with toxic fumes blowing down from the refineries from Richmond?

To me the whole exercise sounds like a contingency planner confronted with an event that is too big to plan for, so the planner is setting up boogey men ahead of time in order to distract his own supervisors from the fact that he is unable to adequately plan for as large scale disaster as y2k very likely might be. But in Calif, I don't know about the rest of the country, his cry for public disclosure will be heard and echoed, because dagnabbit, the public has a right to know these things that affect us. Just more spin, keeping everyone's mind off of the fact that y2k is really BIG, beyond anyone's control actually, and certainly beyond any sort of contingency planning normally required by planners. If he get's the "facts" from PG&E, what is he going to go after next, the refineries, and then the chemical plants, and then Clorox Corp in Oakland, and then the Port of Oakland, and then Caltrans about the freeways?

The City of Berkeley needs to read February's PG&E bill insert. In it they lucidly present the problem, tell people they are working on it, and that just in case everyone better "make your own contingency plans in case communications, transportation, power or financial services may be interrupted by y2k. No one know if or how long any of these services might be affected..." What more does anyone need to be told? What more? If that insert doesn't say it all what will? Public disclosure? What more can they say? If a disaster planner doesn't get the message by now, the head is in the sand and he should be replaced.

It became real clear to me when the head of OES Calif was giving testimony & during his questioning at the Feb 24 hearings in Sac. Disaster Planners use the 72 hour plan because, outside help usually can come into the area by then, and 72 hours is about as far out as they can actually plan to have plans stick. OES has 4 emergency communication vans for the whole state, and now they are considering having the emergency comm network up and running prior to y2k. Ya think Berkeley might get one of those vans? Ya think 4 vans are enough?

Maybe the City of Berkeley needs to plant People's Park this spring as an example of what everyone should be doing in their own yard or in their own apartment.

-- Mitchell Barnes (, March 16, 1999.

Another excellent post Mitchell.

-- bardou (, March 16, 1999.

Agree with Mitchell, who, if one reads carefully, isn't dimissing short-term emergency help, but merely the notion that all the strum and drang at this point means jack. It's way too late.

The time for mass preparation was two years ago and would have required Churchillian leadership.

I have to admit, though, thinking through this thread, that an argument *could* be made that, IF the gov recognizes Mitchell's point, they can be excused for focusing on suppressing short-term panic, given that it's too late to prepare the "culture" anyway. At same time, IF they recognize the point, the "Mitchell Barnes'" within the Beltway must be fomenting some ding-dang big national contingency plans on the sly .....

Or, let me put it this way: as Mitchell himself says, if the infrastructure holds together, okay. Nasty, but survivable by most. Maybe this is the Koskinen "winter storm" scenario? And if it doesn't hold together, what good will a few drops of national preparation by 250M make at this point, except to crash the markets?

Mitchell: this might be worth a separate thread .....

-- BigDog (, March 16, 1999.

Tom Atlee, just sent this reply from Bob Burnett. People on the list also responded to it and sent in questions which Tom forwarded to Bob. -- Diane

Message ...

Bob Burnett has asked me to forward his reply to the list that received his original note. -- Tom

Tue, 16 Mar 1999 15:10:50 -0800

Tom (and others).

I wrote the note that Tom sent you on 2/2/99 so a lot has happened since then.

1. My local assemblyperson (Dion Aroner) arranged a meeting between representatives of PG&E, the CPUC, her staff, and me. We learned that the CPUC staff is upset because PG&E stamped CONFIDENTIAL on EVERY page of their report to the CPUC on their Y2K status. (by way of comparison Southern California Edison stamped 3 pages of a several hundred page report.)

2. During this meeting (and later) I talked by phone to the PG&E technical people in charge of Y2K. They gave me a lot of detailed data which made me feel better about embedded systems and their EMS (Energy Management System) status.

3. The CPUC pushed and got an assurance from PG&E that their next report (due out at the end of March) will not have CONFIDENTIAL stamped on every page.

4. We are looking for that report to give us more information so that we can do contingency planning (here in Berkeley and the East Bay).

5. What PG&E indicated is that they are most worried about communication with their (many) partners. (this has been complicated in California by divestiture - which basically means that we have many parties involved where before there were just two: PG&E and Southern California Edison.)

6. The State of California Auditor has picked up on this problem (the balkanization of the utilities) and recommended the that the Governor / Legislature "Designate one authority to assess, oversee, and report on the year 2000 preparations of critical public utilities serving California, such as electricity and telecommunications services." This is pending.

7. Several people have asked why these agencies were willing to talk to me. I believe that they did for two reasons:

a. I have been running a Y2K technical advisory group in Berkeley (under the auspices of the city Manager and City council) and we had each critical service provider come in and talk to us about Y2K. In these circumstances all have been very open (the big exception being PG&E).

b. The other reason is that I am a computer scientist and technologist and was the first VP of Engineering at Cisco, which gives me a certain cachet which helps get technical people to open up.

8. Here are answers to specifics;

At 7:29 AM 3/16/99, Curtiss Bury wrote:

One suggestion that might help get some additional information from PG&E: Ask them if they plan to do end-to-end testing of their power generation / distribution network, with all clocks turned ahead to Year 2000 dates. This should include all embedded chip dates as well. This question requires just a "yes/no" answer and should not involve a legal problem in their answering it.

This end-to-end testing is still an open issue with PG&E and NERC. It is NOT POSSIBLE to set the dates ahead on all the embedded systems. In my opinion this is an unrealistic testing objective. What should be possible is to complete test (some by simulation) the EMS and the communication between the various parties.


Legislative assistance is needed in order to ensure that PG&E is totally candid with California Municipal authorities.

What if "not knowing" is the totally candid answer?

Bob Burnett's writeup generates my congratulations to PG&E, not my support for further CYA legislation for special interest groups. I'd rather see "no fault" legislation for EVERYONE and EVERY organization, so we can ALL go about addressing the challenge of being prepared for the unpredictable - and not distracted by preparing for the inevitably long lines in court.

This is not a question of PG&E "not knowing". This is a matter of their doing everything that is professionally possible and responsible. I am not convinced that this has been done or is planned to be done. Further, the utilities need to give us a PROBABILITY of extended blackout so we can do contingency planning. This is a perfectly reasonable request.

If they need additional liability protection, so be it.


-- Diane J. Squire (, March 17, 1999.

I am assuming that Mr. Burnett is the author of the above fwd.

I am boggled at Mr. Burnett's assumption that PG&E is not be "doing everything that is professionally possible and responsible".

Mr. Burnett states that he cannot do Contingency Planning until PG&E gives him a "PROBABILITY of extended blackout".

The Berkeley City Council should fire that man immediately!

-- Mitchell Barnes (, March 17, 1999.

For you Mitchell Barnes, I stand and bow to you. You have it right on the money.

-- (cannot-say@this.time), March 17, 1999.

"The results of the second test will be known too late for effective municipal contingency planning. Therefore it would be best to have this disclosure before the end of the 2nd quarter."

To be fair to Mr. Burnett, maybe he's trying to devise a contingency budget (generators up that ante), and can't ask for extra cash without having sufficient data to justify the request.

I bow to Mitchell Barnes nearly every day.....

-- Lisa (, March 17, 1999.

Let's see... Dianne just posted this thing Tom sent her that Bob sent him after Tom sent Bob things people on some list sent Tom that he sent Bob and Tom asked her to make us aware of it so we could circulate it because, apparently, this is key. So would would we please add ourselves to this geneology and do as we feel is best with this information? Have I got that about straight?

Or maybe somebody (who has their address) could send Tom or Bob or both the url of this thread and tell them they ought to read Mitch's comments, click "Contribute an answer to," and speed things up a hair. Or is that too complicated?


-- Fernard (, March 17, 1999.


Because I attended a day-long workshop, Y2K Around The Bay in Oakland, and met both Bob and Tom, and was impressed by both, including by their Y2K presentations and awareness, I feel I can "vouch" for their Y2K sincerity and GI status.

They are real, and have some worthwhile information to share. Something that's not commonly "shared" by the local S.F. Bay Area newsmedia or many cities within other parts of the "greater" Silicon Valley basin.

Do with it as you choose. As will I.


-- Diane J. Squire (, March 17, 1999.

Diane --- don't know if Fernand was flaming you or not, but I ROFL since I had the same initial reaction to the tangled web of the attached emails. Who's on first? No, who's on second, what's on first? I didn't ASK you what's on first .....

-- BigDog (, March 17, 1999.


-- Mac (, March 17, 1999.

Yeah, had a similar reaction when I went to paste this most-interesting message (thanks, Diane!) into an e-mail to send to some GIs. Finally just sent it along with a note about the identities of "Bob" (Burnett) and "Tom" (Atlee), without trying to give too much background.

"Let me 'splain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up..."

-- Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

-- Mac (, March 17, 1999.


Just reporting.

BTW, I did e-mail the URL to this thread to both Tom and Bob. If they do choose to respond, please remember common "courtesy" extended to invited guests, guys.



See also thread ...

Y2K Message & Suggested Action Plan Sent to Governor of California By State Senator Vasconcellos (Silicon Valley) 000cCd

-- Diane J. Squire (, March 17, 1999.


No flame your way. Take no offense. I must confess though that when I first read the email (inclusion at another twisting point in the always convoluted trail - unrelated to your posting or this forum), I thought, "Didn't I read this a year ago?" I assumed it came from some relative newcomer to the mess who had missed the, "We gotta get these people to tell us what's goin' ON!!" vexation tournaments of last winter and spring. At the time of initial reading, I didn't remember that Bob Burnett is the person who gave the world the router and founded Cisco Systems. When I saw it the second time, I did. Oddly enough, recalling that made the basic PG&E note seem even more strange because, as Mitch pointed out, it seems such a moot point at this point: They will either make it or they won't, and I suppose we can only hope there are some kind of contingency plans in the works because it's been obvious for about a year that "they" have no intention of telling "us" what "their" status is, or what's likely to break down so that "we" can make "appropriate" contingency plans (personal or otherwise).

Sooooooooooooooo. Essentially, I found it peculiar the originators of the message would find it somehow new or surprising that PG&E (or any other entity), is doing exactly what they're doing in the disclosure department. Peculiar it seemed to be seen as something average or "grassroots" people should try to figure out how to rectify at this stage of the game. If mayors, congresspeople, public utilities commissioners, emergency planners, etc., haven't used their authority/ clout, telephones, automobiles, and the meeting rooms of the world to get the straight scoop from those type of people by now (so they could plan accordingly as possible), it should be completely obvious to all concerned that the average person is not only powerless to do anything about it, but in deep deep trouble if the boys (and women) in the backrooms don't make the deadline. Why those with "y2k vision" would be encouraging people (indirectly or otherwise), to spend their dwindling time, energy, resources, to "take action" aimed at getting those people to "fess up," is beyond me. "Frankly," it seems to show some kind of a lack of, or skewed sense of, "y2k vision."

And relatedly, I guess it would just be interesting if they would take 10 minutes to utilize the Direct Communications Power (DCP) of the Internet (that's just crawling with all those Cisco Systems routers), to come "out from behind the curtain," read Mitch's posts, and tell us what they think. Not necessary, but interesting.

All the Best,

-- Fernard (, March 17, 1999.

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