Lack of Y2k shelters worries Red Cross : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread


Lack of shelters for Y2K worries Red Cross

Wednesday, December 8, 1999


Red Cross officials worry local residents won't have enough places to find shelter should a Y2K disaster hit Genesee and Lapeer counties. The organization's local chapter is scrambling to find sites to be used as emergency shelters for people who lose power, water or heat if there is a major utility failure in the new year.

"We're not prepared if the whole county goes out. We don't have enough shelters if all of Lapeer and Genesee counties go out," said Red Cross official Jerry Guzick, who has been working feverishly to find shelters in Lapeer County.

The Lapeer-Genesee chapter of the Red Cross has secured 17 sites in Lapeer County to be used as emergency locations and 86 sites in Genesee County.

Just one site in Lapeer County and two in Genesee County - both in Flint - are equipped with generators.

Red Cross disaster specialist Edie Smith of the Flint office said the organization still is seeking places in Genesee County, but said generators and generator-equipped sites are hard to find.

"There are generators out there, but the city wants them all for their facilities," she said. "Until the day Jerry quits, we're going to be continuously looking and I have another man here in Flint that's doing the same thing here."

The Red Cross is relying mostly on churches - their kitchens make them attractive - and on service club halls, municipal facilities and schools. The four pages of paperwork to secure the buildings and work out liability issues is also a burden, say officials, but many well-intentioned organizations have tried to help.

Metamora Township emergency preparedness director George Sivertson said he has found little time to coordinate with the Red Cross, but he plans to.

The township recently replaced a failed generator with one purchased from the old Lapeer County Jail. It has bought cots, blankets and pillows - not for Y2K, but for general emergency preparedness for winter storms, tornados and other disasters.

Smith hopes more organizations come forward to help. But she concedes a large-scale system failure would spell disaster because powerless churches, halls and schools would be useless, and the two or three generator-equipped sites can hold only so many people.

"I am banking on only minor grids being out, or minor streets or blocks being out," Smith said. "If everything on Dort Highway was dead, we would go to Center Road or Fenton Road where they might still have power. We don't know what's going to be out, if anything, so we will wait and see."

Power company officials insist they're ready.

Meeting at a Y2K-readiness meeting Tuesday in Lapeer County's Emergency Operations Center, representatives of Detroit Edison and Consumers Energy said they achieved Y2K readiness in mid-summer. Both companies are in the final phases of compliance testing and are confident their systems will function.

But there is a caveat:

"While we fully expect there will be little or no interruption of service due to Y2K, we can't guarantee uninterrupted service," said Consumers Energy spokesman Kevin Keane.

Keane said the company has more to fear from New Year's Eve itself: snowstorms, ice storms and drunken drivers striking utility poles, all of which could cause minor power failures on Jan. 1.

Smith urges residents to be prepared on New Year's, a theme the Red Cross has pitched for more than a year.

"You've got to be prepared ... just like for a tornado or a flood," she said. "You've got to be able to be self-sustaining for the first six or eight hours of any disaster."

Tom Gromak covers Lapeer County. He can be reached at (810) 766-6365.

-- Homer Beanfang (, December 08, 1999



University plots worst-case scenarios to be ready for Y2K computer glitches

Wednesday, December 8, 1999


Sewage is backed up in one building, a gas alarm blares in another. Phones are down, power is out, and someone stole a couple of backup generators. A major crash on I-94 has packed the emergency room to capacity. An ice storm hits, and temperatures hover near zero.

What to do?

That was the task Tuesday morning, as several dozen University of Michigan staffers ran through a drill to test their Y2K readiness under mock conditions.

"One of the things you do in these exercises is plan for the worst," said Jim Snyder, a U-M professor of architecture and urban planning who designed the drill.

"If we can handle the worse-case scenarios," he added, "we should be able to handle the minor ones."

U-M has been preparing for Y2K for more than 18 months, testing computer systems and designing contingency plans if problems arise. With the rest of the world, officials will be watching Dec. 31 to see whether computer glitches - ones caused when computers read "00" as 1900, not 2000 - have been fixed. If problems occur, U-M has an elaborate plan of action.

But it's one thing to plan - quite another to execute.

So people from all corners of the university gathered to practice how their plans might work. They met for more than three hours in a second-floor conference room in the Department of Public Safety building near Crisler Arena.

On Dec. 30, the room will become U-M's emergency operations center, it's "Y2K bunker," said Jose-Marie Griffiths, chief information officer. Four TVs - tuned to CNN, BBC, local stations and The Weather Channel - will keep people informed of outside events. If needed, they have a generator to power the building and two portable toilets.

Thirty-two phone lines will feed into the room, which also will have nearly a dozen networked computers to send and receive information.

For Tuesday's drill, people who will staff the emergency center were seated at tables pushed into a ring, where they faced a large "status board" covering one wall.

Snyder and two graduate students, Moira Zellner and Charlie Kaylor, plotted a sequence of events that unfolded from 7 p.m. on Dec. 31 through 4 p.m. the following day. Any activity or news - from power outages to weather updates - was recorded on the board.

Sitting at tables around the edges of the room were groups from other parts of campus who won't be at the emergency center on Dec. 31 but who will be part of the communications chain.

During the drill, Snyder distributed pieces of paper describing events. Howard Rush, a manager at the Unit for Laboratory Animal Medicine, got a message that animal rights activists were demonstrating around campus and at Parke-Davis Pharmaceutical Research in Ann Arbor.

His response: Make sure everyone responsible for lab animals is notified of the incidents and that the buildings are secure.

Back at the emergency center table, Jim Smiley of the DPS briefed the rest of the group.

"Jim, do you think we should send out a press release on that?" asked Julie Peterson, director of U-M news and information services.

"I'd hold off," Smiley said. "I don't want to get anyone alarmed right now."

And so it went. Though phones and radios will be used during the actual Y2K rollover - U-M operates its own phone system which could run on backup power if needed - communication during the drill was handled via written notes using messengers.

A timely, efficient flow of information is critical in any emergency situation, organizers say. The drill helped identify potential flaws.

"It's so hard to picture what it would be like," said Theodosia Spaeth, a manager for the U-M Health System who attended the drill.

Spaeth now sees areas that need attention. "I need to make sure we're communicating broadly enough," she said.

After more than two hours, Snyder called a halt to the exercise. The group then gave feedback, offering suggestions on ways to improve the process.

One problem: With so much information coming in, the status board didn't have enough space to record it. So on Dec. 31, the emergency center will use paper flip charts in the front of the room to keep constantly updated status reports.

Other changes will be made as the groups review their performance. "My feeling is that the university is very, very well prepared," said Snyder, who has coordinated similar drills for agencies in Detroit, Atlanta and Phoenix.

U-M's efforts to prepare for Y2K will last long after the date is history, Griffiths said. She hopes to plan a similar drill each year, regularly training staffers to respond to any type of emergency.

Mary Morgan covers the University of Michigan. She can be reached at (734) 994-6861; e-mail at

-- Homer Beanfang (, December 08, 1999.'s just a little three day winter storm. The Red Cross sure seems to be ALARMED about something. Did someone just GI?

Red Cross disaster specialist Edie Smith of the Flint office said the organization still is seeking places in Genesee County, but said generators and generator-equipped sites are hard to find.

"There are generators out there, but the city wants them all for their facilities," she said.

Thanks Homer!



-- Michael Taylor (, December 08, 1999.

Here's a thought. Instead of finding big shelters to gather people to, why not tell them to prepare and stay in their homes? Damn, I should charge for ideas like this.

-- smfdoc (, December 08, 1999.

Anybody want to submit these stories to "Duh 2000?"

I swear, The Booth Newspaper chain, to which these lame brain publications belong, represents the stupidest news conglomerate in the United States. Amazing. It represents almost EVERY city in Michigan, with the exception of the Detroit Free Press, the Detroit News and the Lansing State Journal. The pay is low, so the reporters are stupid.

'Nuff said?

-- Lou (Grant@Mary.Tyler.Moore), December 09, 1999.

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