Notes y2k Community Conversation, Austin (long) : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

I attended the y2k Community Conversation in Austin, TX on Saturday 7/10/99. I was surprised at how poorly it was attended (about 300 people, in a city of 700,000!) but since I don't live there I don't know how it was publicized. There was an enormous and stellar panel of 25 people from various industries and governmental agencies including John Koskinen himself. It was well organized and well put together (my compliments to the Austin y2k citizen's group that arranged it). It was very interesting to say the least, especially to be able to see body language and hear tone of voice of the panelists. There was a question and answer format and I tried to take fairly complete notes, until I got too tired to write any more. I will insert my own editorial comments in parentheses, otherwise what follows is very close to what was said.

Introduction, Koskinen: "This community conversation is being held to get information into the hands of citizens. Our concerns are at the local leve. People need to pay attention to the problem while they have time.

Y2K is a serious problem. No one can guarantee everything is going to work. If you don't do anything at all, though, you *will* discover that things don't work. Update your emergency and contingency plans now."

(Then there was a U.S. made video. It was at the lowest common denominator level, man on the street approach and the most basic of questions. Ended with Clinton looking sincerely into the camera and assuring us that they were working on making it the last headache of the 20th c. and not the first crisis of the 21st.)

Then Steve Collier, who was the (I think) Fire Chief of Austin gave an intro, he acted as the moderator. "Issues is the code word for problems." He talked about embedded chips in the infrastructure and how dependent things like water treatment are on them. (Koskinen fiddled with his pen) Then he talked about interdependencies and co dependencies and just in time inventory, and how nobody really understands how all the pieces fit together. (K's body language showed he was uncomfortable)

Then they introduced all the panelists. Folks from banks, Tx Dept. IR, HEB groceries, Huntsman R&D, SW Bell, So. Union Gas, Water/wastewater Austin, LCRA flood control, Austin Energy, Asst. Fire Chief Austin, Director Emergency Medical Services, Asst. Chief APD, Travis County Sherriff's office y2k, Travis County EMS Director, TDS Y2K Director, TDS Emergency Services, Health Authority, St. David's Hospital, Victim Services Division APD, Bergstrom Airport, FAA, Union Pacific Railroad. 25 in all.

Q: Austin is a high tech city, we have petrochemical industry here as well as lots of companies that use hazardous chemicals. I'm concerned about self reported auditing. OxyChem has 40 plants, in their self audit they showed 3000 systems that needed upgrading. When an independent auditor was brought in, that number rose to 30,000 systems that needed updating. Is there any way to enforce independent audits of processing systems and suppliers?

A: Vernon Pohlmeier, Mgr of Technology Demonstration & Transfer, Huntsman Corporation (petrochemical industry). "We have done a corporation wide y2k inventory, and ranking, and on the most critical one tested for compliance. All systems have been upgraded. EDS is doing the reviews for computer interface area."

A: Les Bunte, Assistant Fire Chief Austin Fire Dept. "Safety systems should work as planned."

A: Randy Goss, Director Austin Water & Wastewater Deptl "Everyone will be working at rollover."

A: Tim Brechbill, Sr. Mgr Info. Systems, Union Pacific Railroad. "Embedded systems effort has completed an independent audit of one of our major facilities." (how many do they have?)

Q: (directed to Officer McDonald, APD) What backup contingency plans does Austin Police Department have in place for civil disruption? Also internal backup if Austin Police Department's own systems don't work?

A: Michael McDonald, Assistant Police Chief. "We have been working on Y2K since '96. We are continuing to work on our contingency plan through November. We just got the first rough draft. (little late) We do plan to have support patrols at each substation.

A: Michael Hembry, Travis County Sheriff's Office "We do train for civil disturbances on a daily basis, it is one of the things we are always prepared for."

A: Steve Collier, Director Office of Emergency Management, City of Austin. "We are treating the rollover as a disaster response situation, there will be maximum effort and staffing."

Q: I have heard that 35% of the nuclear plants are not ready. The dates went from June 30th to now Oct 30th and Nov 30th. I am particularly concerned about the GlenRose facility. (Comanche Peak)

A: Carol Gittinger, Information Tech Proj Mgr y2k, Austin Energy. "The problem with the dates is that everyone already had their testing plans scheduled to work with planned outage times in place before the deadlines were imposed."

A: John Koskinen. "At none of the places that has missed the date is there a safety issue. NRC will monitor very carefully and will be prepared to take appropriate regulatory actions. On Jan. 1 they normally operate at about 50% load, and nuclear plants probide about 20% of our power needs overall. We could shut down all the nuclear plants and not affect the grid."

Q: Mr. Koskinen, you have said you are as concerned about complacency as about overconcern. Can we expect any leadership from Clinton in terms of prudent preparation?

A: John Koskinen. "We don't think there will be national problems. We encourage people to deal with their local providers. Just because we have increasingly good news nationally does not mean there will not be local problems. We think nationally *everyone* ought to be prepared as for a normal disaster, 2-3 days. Different communities are basing their time period to be prepared for on their experiences in past emergency situations. In Miami they are talking about preparing for 7-10 days, in Los Angeles 5-7. Ask yourselves, what's our experience locally? What should we as a community do to prepare?" (that's a 'no', right?) It's worth everybody's time to listen and everybody's time to prepare."

Q: The goverment at all levels has the tendency to hide problems. Whether it's to keep us in the dark or just not wanting to cause panic. When the clock turns over we will know. Having the president on that video looking at *me* telling me there are no problems does *not* make me feel OK. (much laughter and applause from audience) My question is for financial people. Information tells us that third world countries are not ready at all. If their countries lose all of their money and go under their only recourse is to come to us for bonds. Are there any safeguards being put into place to avoid a stock market crash like the one in '29?

A: Randall Jones, Deputy Commissioner Texas Dept. of Banking. "We work extensively with the Federal Reserve Board and are involved ina lot of activities with foreign banking. The interrelationship - what happens when other countries are not as ready? If your funds are in a federally insured deposit they are protected. Period. (K fiddles with pen) When you start getting into the securities business it is a bigger picture. The Federal Reserve has acted in the past to stabilize the economy if something goes wrong. I can't guarantee for you that something will happen."

A: Damon Herrin, Y2K Awareness Officer, Frost National Bank. "I have been working nationally with a group, BIA Banking Forum, for a year and a half to make sure that the banking indusstry stays the leading sector. We have provided information to the European banking system. We're all in the business of serving our customers. *I have concerns as well*. I do see the information sharing increasing. I'm actually encouraged.

A: Koskinen. "It's an important question. It's in the government's interests to share risks with you now. One of the reasons we focussed on local issues is that 25% of the counties in the country don't have a plan. (Anyone know how many counties there are in the country?) There is a high risk of failures and they're gonna happen. There's still time for people to make emergency and contingency plans. The signs are that in trade with Canada and Mexico they are making very good progress. The risks are in the developing countries. You're likely to have more significant impact if you deal with those countries. Many of them don't have time to complete their work. We expect a flight of capital *to* the United States. We don't expect problems with the stock market other than some people think it's overpriced right now."

(the questioner responds) What a lot of people are telling me is that they are pulling their money out of the stock market. We haven't had information out telling people to be prepared. People don't understand that there will be problems.

Q: What has the LCRA done to prevent the possibility of flooding?

A: Ed Schaefer, Emergency Management Coordinator. "Unfortunately rainfall is *not* a Y2K issue. (big laugh) LCRA has one flood control structure - Mansfield Dam, which was built long before computers. The controls are electromechanical. Someone goes over and turns it on and off. We are in the process of upgrading. We feel very comfortable. We are installing additional generators so that even if we lose our power feed we will be able to operate our floodgates. We will be staffed up for rollover. If the automatic system fails, people will be on site at key locations so we can monitor and issue warnings as appropriate."

A: Koskinen. "State Dept. will have travelers' advisories out in September. For companies in this area that deal with Indonesia, etc. you need to get the individual companies to get you that information. Inevitably we are looking at international problems." (I didn't take complete notes here, his point was that since Austin's high tech industry works a lot with just in time inventory from other countries there might be problems with their manufacturing)

Q: (this was a long involved question about cash reserves)

A: Damon Herrin, Frost Natl. Bank. "CD Yield part of the question: every account you have $ in the bank, all of those systems fall under 'mission critical', the majority of those were done in Dec. 98. As of Jan 99 we were 100% tested. The banking system has met nationwide and are preparing to have any cash available that the consumers will want on hand. The bulk of the questions we have received about money, the answer is if your money is in an insured account, yes, your money is safe. If you have maintained your depository accounts in advance you will have access to your cash. (he was very specific in this statement and I really wonder what it means - that you will need hard copy to withdraw anything?) The Federal Reserve is printing some extra funds so if there is a need for extra cash those funds will be available within 3-4 hours. Crime is not going to take a holiday.

Q: I work at Family Eldercare; what risks do remain? What do we need to do?

A: David Thomsen, Director of Quality, St. David's Medical Center. "Regarding prescription medications. It is important for folks not to go out and cause a false shortage. Do refill 5-7 days before the prescription runs out."

A: Kim Eerkes, Victim Services Supervisor Austin PD. "Some companies will make contingency plans to allow you to take out more than one months supply in advance but you will need to work it out with your insurance plan's office."

A: Dr. Harris, Health Authority, Austin/Travis County Health & Human Services Dept. "We'd like to emphasize that our mission is to be able to provide care for our customers. Our warehousing equals three to six months worth of medical supplies."

A: Keith Lindsey, Executive Director SBC Y2k Southwestern Bell. "We expect that on January 1st that there will be a lot of testing to see if the phones work. We expect that *everyone* will pick up their phone, and you *will* get a 'slow dial tone'. That doesn't mean that the system isn't working. Hold one, don't hang up because it puts you to the back of the line. If may take a few minutes to get your dial tone. We think it will be a short term situation."

A: Gavin Nichols, Director IS for HEB Groceries (arguably *my* best-prepared "personal vendor") "We think the biggest risk will be panic buying and hoarding at the last minute. Start earlier and don't wait. Remember Christmas and New Years is heavy retail season anyway."

A: Koskinen. "Social Security payments on the 3rd are a high level priority. If there are problems we are committed to having those funds available within 24-48 hours."

Q: Why the negative spin on preparedness, why are the words used always "stockpiling" and "Hoarding". Mr. Koskinen, as much as you can please give us a detailed overview of the embedded chip problem.

A: Koskinen. "A year and a half ago we were very worried, because there were 40-50 billion embedded chips and nobody knew which ones were date sensitive. We were lucky - the vast majority are *not* date sensitive. Oil and gas, they turned out to be control systems rather than operating systems. (I don't understand why I should feel good about that but I don't understand the mechanics of it either) In the Defense Dept., novody has found an embedded chip that couldn't be fixed. No one can guarantee that with all the interrelationships, all problems can be found in advance. Everyone needs a contingency plan and everyone needs to be prepared."

Q: How can we be sure that numerous local failures won't add up to overall failure?

A: Koskinen. "Public panic and overreaction is a real issue. *If* people feel that they're comfortably prepared, people won't panic. *Anyone's* failure *will* have a ripple effect. There *will* *be* risks. In a normal emergency if the city and county can't handle it they ask the state for help, if it's too big for the state they ask FEMA for help. If we have (and we may) 100 or 200 communities in the country with problems we will quickly run out of FEMA staff to help. If we have 700 or 1000 communities in the US with problems clearly we *don't* have enough people in FEMA to handle it. People have to be prepared to deal with problems at a local level and *that's* where the cascading issue comes in."

(Well, that's when my tendinitis kicked in and I stopped taking notes. I hope this is helpful to you all in gathering the information you need. I think Koskinen clearly wishes he could count on those above him to show leadership on this issue but knows he doesn't run the show. Read between the lines and see what you think. Does anyone out there know how many counties in the country? That'll give us something to think about in terms of 25% not having a plan. My email is real if you remove the antispam X.)

-- Mommacares (, July 12, 1999


Thanks, Mommacares, for this very detailed report.

There was a posting over on the Michael Hyatt site about this meeting, too. Seems as if things got significantly more interesting once Koskinen and the local press left the building...

Link to thread on Michael Hyatt site

-- Don (, July 12, 1999.

Thanks Momma. Nice job.

-- mabel (, July 12, 1999.

Momma, thanks. I couldn't make it and hoped somebody on the 'net would...

I live in a little bitty resort town about 30 miles NW of Austin. I presented Y2K to the City Manager via the Rotary Club in January: he'd been given statements of compliance (from vendors) for the City's payroll, etc. stuff, but hadn't given any thought to sewer, water, etc backup plans. A month later, at our first Y2K meeting, he had it figured out & covered. Good man.

This, from 'aprogrammer' (via Hyatt link) who caught the after- party, is what I need to give to our mayor: three weeks IF YOU FEEL LUCKY. Lago Vista (my town) has not offered any personal preparedness info - actually, the City has initiated no public discourse. I'll get this three-week figure into the local paper next week or so.

Thanks again - wanted to make it, but had guests.

-- Lisa (, July 12, 1999.


Actually, it was "a three day to week period" for the "if you feel lucky" crowd, but they were recommending more preps than that 3-7 days' worth. Just making sure the details are correct...

-- Don (, July 12, 1999.

Momma, sorry I missed meeting you at the meeting, my husband and I went.

It was about what we expected, less than we hoped. I was surprised at the lack in attendance, too. But we didn't see or hear anything about it anywhere until the Thursday (tiny little blurb you had to look for) before in the Austin American-Stateman. Conversation it barely was. It's like they could say 'we tried but no one came'...argh. We did meet some folks that have good products to offer and that should help us in our preps.

The panel did not inspire confidence in us although they all said "We are confident..." over and over..

The meeting went pretty much like momma explained, they tried to limit replies to 2 minutes..some conversation. The mayor couldn't stay, he had to take his kid to Camp!! wow. I guess he's not a worry wart like me, or he's got his preps done. Hmmm.

One man (water & wastewater,forgot name, maybe Randy Goss?) on the later prep panel said to put water in bathtubs ( a few days before rollover) for flushing toliets...but then said after 3-4 days of no power that sewers would begin to back up!! So, why do that? Does that football/blocking device in sewer line work or will it cause methane to back up and blow up your pipes?? Anyone have the real lowdown on this??

They all said one thing in common - PREPARE...for what they would say...local failures, thats all. It would not be national failures but local many before it becomes a national problem???

I want to thank everyone that posts here...I've been lurking for several months and it helped me explain to my DGI relatives and friends (many who really seem to be ostriches and should know better and more than I...IT professionals and such. Your continued support and information and ideas mean so much.

Diane, thanks for all the research you do...means much to me.

Stan, thanks for you continued posts for newbies...helps with telling the few folks who dare to listen..

Brian, you do a great job too.

Thanks to the Greenspuns for this family and I are better prepared to live through this whatever happens because of you.

Thanks-- Janice

-- Janice (, July 12, 1999.

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