In an emergency, National Guard won't call those who have critical civilian jobs : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

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Copyright 1999 Oregon Live .

In an emergency, National Guard won't call those who have critical civilian jobs

Wednesday, September 15, 1999

By Peter Farrell of The Oregonian staff

In a big disaster, governors often call out the National Guard.

If Y2K turns out to be a time of crisis, as some fear could result from widespread computer failures, some of those Guard members are the very people who might be needed at their civilian jobs.

The people who run the Oregon National Guard know that.

When the National Guard calls for help with a natural disaster, they allow the citizen-soldiers who work as police officers, paramedics and firefighters to remain on the job. That has been standard practice for floods and other disasters. But Y2K might be a little different.

"We do not take first responders," said Lt. Col. Mark Clink, planning and operations officer for the military support branch of the National Guard, based in Salem.

And if computer breakdowns do occur as the date changes from 1999 to 2000, it could matter more that the Guard leave in place the people who know how to keep water pumping, sewage systems dumping and planes flying without the help of the computers that increasingly keep basic services on schedule.

With just about every disaster they are called on to face, National Guard units go through the same process, deciding which members are more useful at home than with their units.

"Basically, we are able to fill our needs with volunteers," Clink said. "We call people and tell them what our needs are. If we need people for a forest fire, for instance, we wouldn't be taking people from critical work just to have them come out and drive a water truck. If a soldier is needed to keep the sewage plant working, he'll tell us that, and we will find someone else."

Some of the 10,000 Guard members in Oregon also are firefighters or police officers, which has caused people to question whether some people are accounted for twice in Y2K emergency plans. Clink said the problem is real but small because the overlap is only a few dozen.

Governor makes the call The decision to call out the Guard rests with each state's governor. If troops are mobilized at the turn of the year, they probably would be called to aid civilian law enforcement, transportation agencies and emergency medical crews.

The Y2K problem stems from a shortcut some computer programmers took to save memory space in older computers: They shortened dates by two digits, using only the last two numbers of years. So to many computers, this year is 99. When 2000 comes, it's possible computers won't know whether 00 means 1900, 2000 or no date.

The worry is that computers will crash or become erratic. Nearly all U.S. industries and agencies have tested their systems and replaced or upgraded computers to avoid the problem.

That includes the Oregon National Guard, which already has tested its own fallback communications system, a high-frequency radio system, for use in case of a telephone network meltdown.

The system is designed to keep Guard units in touch with neighboring states and with national headquarters near Washington, D.C.

Maintaining communication will be vital if problems do occur, said Lt. Col. Tom Schultz, a National Guard Bureau spokesman, but the Guard is satisfied it will be ready if Y2K causes a national emergency.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

-- Homer Beanfang (, September 16, 1999

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