County wants funds for bright New Year's Eve : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

County wants funds for bright New Year's Eve

Subin: $2.4M for generators is overkill

By KAREN LEE Journal staff writer

Only a few months after appearing on ``60 Minutes" to tout their comprehensive Y2K preparedness program, Montgomery County officials want an emergency appropriation to spend $2.4 million on 16 generators.

The emergency spending also includes buying wiring for generators at six of the county's 23 public high schools, which could be used as shelters in an emergency.

Montgomery County Chief Administrative Officer Bruce Romer said that, while the county is ready to deal with whatever computer problems the Y2K bug throws its way, the program assumes there will be power, a luxury many county residents had to live without during four days in January when a debilitating ice storm knocked out parts of the county's power grid.

Romer's request faces some opposition on the council.

Getting the extra generators is prudent, but it is unnecessary to spend $2.4 million on them, said council member Michael L. Subin, D-at large, who worked for three years as an emergency preparedness liaison officer for the U.S. Navy.

``This is your $700 hammer," Subin said. ``It's prudent to do it, but balderdash to the way they're doing it. It is too expensive, too grandiose and unnecessary in scope, although it's fundamentally a good idea."

Montgomery's emergency teams participated yesterday in a regionwide Y2K exercise, during which officials at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, which was leading the drill, created a number of scenarios to simulate emergencies that could occur during the six hours between 9 p.m. Dec. 31, 1999, and 3 a.m. Jan. 1, 2000.

Scenarios included scattered power outages, suspicious packages and Metrorail malfunctions, Romer said.

``The exercise was designed to challenge our emergency management system, and I think we're doing very well," Romer said. ``We're experiencing very few problems."

Romer said he expects the emergency management teams to be able to handle the real thing - as long as there is power.

``The hard fact is that this year, we spent four days without power because of something that had nothing to do with Y2K," Romer said. ``We wanted to prescribe a bit of emergency with Y2K, but we're not predicting there's going to be a power outage because of Y2K. It makes sense to require that type of equipment before the end of the year, when the bad weather hits."

The 200-kilowatt generators would be installed at the Montgomery County Detention Center, the Piccard Drive Crisis Center, the Dennis Avenue Health Clinic, the solid waste transfer station, five fire stations and the Montgomery County Public Schools' central office.

Six other generators would be equipped with trailers to move them between the six schools and the Department of Public Works and Transportation's maintenance depots.

Although Subin agreed with Romer's premise, the council member said there are other ways to get the generators for less money.

That $2.4 million, Subin said, was ``based on going to a pre-selected vendor with unique specifications."

Subin said that Romer and other officials either should have had companies competitively bid to supply the generators or take advantage of the generators state and federal military agencies provide to local governments in times of emergency.

Maj. Randy Jarrett, the Maryland National Guard's operations officer for military support to civil authorities, agreed that what Montgomery officials were prepared to spend is ``a substantial amount of money for emergency equipment."

However, he said, the military's generators are distributed only during a crisis and only if Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) approves requests made to the Maryland Emergency Management Agency.

Quentin Banks, a spokesman for MEMA, said that as far as he knew, Montgomery officials had not asked about the availability of generators.

``The only discussions we've had with the counties have been looking at their systems for the new millennium," Banks said.

Local jurisdictions, though, can buy surplus generators at greatly reduced prices as part of the military's property disposal program, Jarrett said.

``It ain't pretty, but if you put in a little time and effort, you can save some money," Jarrett said.

Romer and David Weaver, a spokesman for Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) said officials allowed companies to bid to supply the generators, which, Romer said, were not custom-designed except to make some mobile.

Three companies bid, and the job was finally offered to Electric Advantage, a Rockville-based electrical contractor, the officials said. Weaver said that not only did Electric Advantage have the lowest price, the company allowed the county until Oct. 1 to decide without increasing the price of the generators.

Romer said the $2.4 million actually was scaled back from an original estimate of $3.892 million, which would have been the cost if all 23 high schools had been wired for the generators.

And while the county previously has received equipment from the military, including ``a couple of pieces" during the ice storm, ``the military has to serve the needs of a number of jurisdictions," Romer said. ``While useful, it's an unreliable, unpredictable source."

Romer had the same complaints about the property disposal sales.

``The surplus property program can be useful, but it's erratic," Romer said. ``We don't know what will be available, and we don't know what size and capacity and whether there will be 16 of them."

-- Homer Beanfang (, September 02, 1999


I think that Montgomery County and the FAA have the same y2k plan First announce compliance and then spend the rest of the time backing up.

-- Mike Lang (, September 02, 1999.

"Romer said he expects the emergency management teams to be able to handle the real thing - as long as there is power."

Watching what they're trying to DO, not what they've said ...

-- Ashton & Leska in Cascadia (, September 02, 1999.

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