On standby for Y2K in Cedar Rapids Iowa

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Area dispatchers will practice with paper maps and logs

Posted December 5, 1999 By Steve Gravelle Gazette staff writer

CEDAR RAPIDS -- Remain calm, everybody.

As the clock ticks toward 00 hours, 1/1/00, computer failure is the least of Ned Wright's worries. Which isn't to say he doesn't have any.

"We're concerned that people will start getting nervous," said Wright, Linn County emergency management director.

Wright said he has little doubt computers supporting the region's essential services will hum through midnight without a glitch.

It's the human response to Y2K that he fears. He cites an ice storm two years ago that coated automatic teller machines, leaving them inoperable.

If a similar situation occurred New Year's Eve, Wright fears at least a few customers, unable to withdraw cash, will jump from the logical conclusion to the extreme: That the dreaded Y2K Bug has struck.

"A rumor gets started, they will create a panic, and now we've got a problem," Wright said. "That's what we're worried about happening. And that's a civil problem, not a technology problem."

There's also a more sinister factor. Wright said the FBI is warning police across the country there's a chance extremists may use a millennial pretext for violence.

"They're hearing the alarms will shut down at the bank, and they can rob it," said Wright.

To handle whatever problems, civil or technological, arise, the county Emergency Operations Center in the City Hall basement will be staffed for 24 hours, starting at noon Dec. 31.

Across the Cedar River, the city's police and fire dispatch center will be staffed at 150 percent  nine dispatchers  for three days, according to Dennis Warren, joint communications manager.

"I think we've covered everything we need to cover," said Warren. He said compliance checks have been run on every segment of the city's public safety dispatch system.

Just to be sure, Warren said, dispatchers will practice working with old-fashioned paper maps and logs instead of the city's new computer-aided dispatch system.

"The only thing that could cause us problems would be the (outside) telephone system," Warren said.

To handle the worst case, the dispatch center will be equipped with cell phones whose numbers will override other calls in the area. Those numbers will be publicized between now and New Year's, with instructions for residents to call them for emergency aid if the regular telephone system should fail.

Sheriff Don Zeller will be at the Emergency Operations Center or his office at the other end of May's Island. The department's computers require an annual end-of-the-year tweak, he noted.

"We need to do that anyway, so we'll have all three of our communications and computer people there," Zeller said.

The sheriff said the department has run three Y2K tests.

"Everybody will be at alert status in case something will happen, but we don't expect that will be the case," Zeller said.

Deputy Chief David Johnson of the Police Department's Field Operations Division said extra uniform, support and command staff will be working New Year's Eve.

"We're thinking we're ready for anything," said Johnson. "If we need to, we'll get other staff in here."

Specific numbers weren't determined, but Johnson said the uniformed force's adoption of 12-hour workdays, set to occur at 8 p.m. Dec. 31, will itself put more officers on the street. Vacations and leaves are also being put off until after Jan. 1.

A police representative, along with one from the Sheriff's Department and from local utilities, will help man the Emergency Operations Center. Linn County will be linked to the state's operations center in Des Moines via telephone, microwave and radio. Amateur radio volunteers will be ready to step in if local communications are disrupted, according to Wright.

Rob Henry, the city's director of information technology, said all critical systems have been checked.

"We don't see anything that's going to be any disruption in service," Henry said. If problems arise, he predicted, they'll be internal ones.

"Somebody may have written an Excel spreadsheet and used a two-digit date code. Hopefully, they're looking at that stuff," Henry said.

Two city task forces have completed their Y2K troubleshooting, according to Doug Neumann, executive assistant to the mayor and City Council.

John North, water utilities manager, said the city has backup generators for the water system in case power is lost.

Extra city staff will stand by for emergencies over the holiday weekend.

"We'll have, for instance, bus drivers ready in case we have transportation needs," Neumann said. "We will have, at City Hall, a council member here at all times, so there's a decision-maker on hand in case something happens."

The city may hold a Y2K forum around Dec. 17 for residents to quiz city officials and service providers.

Despite their soothing predictions, planners have provided for plans going awry, complete with subsequent loss of power and regular communications.

The Grant Wood Chapter of American Red Cross has stocked emergency shelters in the five counties it administers, according to spokeswoman Sara Cross. But the shelters' locations won't be revealed unless there's an actual emergency.

"We're prepared to open shelters if we need to," Cross added. "That's why people should have a battery-powered radio available so they can listen" for instructions.

Barring that extremely unlikely situation, the experts repeat by-now-familiar advice: Treat this New Year's as if it's a big winter storm  one you've known was coming for a few years.

But don't panic.

"If you have a concern, fill your gas tank up early," said Wright. "You don't need five 10-gallon gas cans in your garage."

-- y2k dave (xsdaa111@hotmail.com), December 07, 1999


Y2K Dave: Thanks for the post.

Mrs. Rimmer attended a Red Cross Y2K meeting in Cedar Rapids late this summer and was told about the "we have shelters but we're not telling anyone where they are unless they're needed" stuff. I had posted on this several weeks ago. Good to see this information being confirmed from a second source (not that I didn't believe Mrs. Rimmer but the rest of you don't know her the way that I do).

The Red Cross also informed her at that time that these would be warming shelters only. No plans for food were being made. Apparently, the word "stocked" in the article refers to blankets?

When Mrs. Rimmer asked the host what they would do if food was needed, the representative responded, and I quote, "We'd just call the local grocery stores and delicatessans".

Our personal read on this is if power goes off for, oh say 3-4 hours max and then only affects, oh say, a 5-square block area, then the Red Cross should be well prepared to handle Y2K in Cedar Rapids.

-- Arnie Rimmer (Arnie_Rimmer@usa.net), December 07, 1999.

No food? Warming shelters only?

Call me dense, but, why did they bother?


-- gene (ekbaker@essex1.com), December 07, 1999.

Because it's what they do.

They're the Effendi. They bother. It's how they make a living.

On a related note, the local excuse for a newspaper (Oceana's Herald Journal) just ran a piece that ran counter to their *other* tripe. This one, of course, wasn't written by the snoozhounds at the rag, but by the local Emergency Dude.

The column, "Winter/Y2K Pose Challenges", points out that:

*****[begin excerpt]*************************************************

The local Emergency Preparedness office has identified a number of schools and churches that can serve as shelters for the community, but none of these shelters are currently equipped to remain heated in the event that power is not available. We are trying to identify electricians willing to install the switches needed to link these shelters to a generator, and we are also seeking funding to help with the cost of the switches.

We would welcome any suggestions that will help us to prepare local shelters for auxiliary power. Ideas may be offered by calling 873- 4473.

*****[end excerpt]***************************************************

I hope that warms the cockles of your heart, because it looks like it'll be leaving your ass out in the cold -- if you live here and need it.

Then, the tax bill comes from the township. Says *it*'s lined up a couple of shelters, but they'll only be available from November 1 to March 31. Three days, you say? Oh, and while they're prepared to put you up for FIVE MONTHS in a school, the township hall, and a church, it'll be strictly heat and water. I hope you don't lose too much weight going without food for five months.

Oh, and if you're *still* in need come April (THREE DAYS, riiiiigt), you can show up at Wheeler Farms Packing for water. Bring your own container. And don't come after October 31.

There you have it. A motley collection of shelters and would-be shelters, some heat, some water, some looking for handouts so they can have heat -- and apparently no food -- for what appears to be a total of [scritch scritch scritch] ONE WHOLE YEAR.

-- Ron Schwarz (rs@clubvb.com.delete.this), December 07, 1999.

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