OES bunker to be ground zero for 'paid paranoid' December 31 (Arkansas Y2k monitoring)

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OES bunker to be ground zero for 'paid paranoid' December 31 Two dozen state employees to be in Conway to monitor Y2K changeover By JAMIE STENGLE Associated Press Writer Tuesday, December 21, 1999 E-Mail this story to a friend Respond to this story Print this story

As people across the state count the last minutes to the year 2000 on New Year's Eve, about two dozen government workers will huddle in a Conway bunker near the Arkansas River.

Their secure accommodations were not made out of any fear of widespread panic of the "end of the world," but they will be there to monitor the state as the New Year arrives -- and dispatch help to communities if there any disasters develop.

"We don't foresee an event for a while that we'd have to bunk down for," said David Maxwell, plans and operations division manager for the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management.

The 8,500-square-foot Emergency Operations Center 18 feet below ground was built atop a hill in Conway in 1965 as a place for the government to relocate in case of a nuclear attack, Maxwell said. It stood down when the Soviet Union fell.

"It's a place where we can coordinate the state response in disasters and emergencies," Maxwell said.

It is the focal point of the state's Emergency Management Department. In a conference room, computers and telephones provide the office contact with all 75 Arkansas counties. They can put up links to the National Weather Service and Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"I look at my job as being the state's paid paranoid," Maxwell said.

He said he doesn't expect pandemonium as the year 2000 arrives. "I hope we're sitting here eating chips," he said.

He said that on New Year's Eve there will be about 15 workers from the Department of Emergency Management and about 10 other spokespeople for various government agencies.

"We'll have hours of boredom laced with 10 or 15 minutes of panic," he said.

He said they would be having a party of sorts, with food and even sparkling grape juice -- alcohol is prohibited on state property.

A state trooper will watch the gate and determine who gets into the center, which is normally staffed seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

The lack of a kitchen filled with food and water doesn't bother Maxwell. He figures that if there were an emergency, they could raid the vending machines and forage through offices for food for a while.

The facility, renovated last year, looks more like a normal office -- with its carpeted floors and mauve, beige and white walls -- than a remnant of the Cold War.

The old contamination room is gone and carpet covers one conference room that used to be just a concrete floor. Mattresses once stored in the facility were thrown away long ago, Maxwell said.

"It looks quite a bit nicer," Maxwell said.

Of course, there is still the escape hatch in the back of the building. And in addition to the family pictures and office work on one staffer's desk is a yellow device to detect radiation levels.

"I'm glad that never came about," Maxwell said.

He said the remodeling also included moving the heat and air conditioning units and backup generators upstairs.

"We go on the recommendations of FEMA and basically they've done away with nuclear attack awareness," he said. "Hopefully the Cold War is gone."

The modifications do not mean the facility is less safe. He said security improvements such as an addition of a gate outside the facility probably make it more secure.

"I feel very safe down here," said department spokeswoman Teri Pfeiffer.

Maxwell said one thing people should remember is that natural disasters like ice storms and tornadoes often happen in Arkansas and cause power outages and Arkansans should always be prepared for such emergencies. He's says the switch from 1999 to 2000 -- and its fears that some computers might not be able to keep up -- should be approached with the same preparations as for a bad storm.

"My greatest fear is that the power will go out and people will panic," he said. "I'm just glad it's almost over."

-- Homer Beanfang (Bats@inbellfry.com), December 21, 1999


Anyone keeping a running total on how many states will put government underground?

-- Hokie (nn@va.com), December 21, 1999.

A whole bunch Hoke-meister, many megabuck$ $pent, all for a problem that doesn't exist!!!

The yada yada yada goes on,


-- Y2Kook (Y2Kook@usa.net), December 21, 1999.

While most people SHOULD prepare for natural disasters, most DO NOT. So are we going to have 99% of the population try and prepare next week??

-- yk2 dave (xsdaa111@hotmail.com), December 21, 1999.

Is ANYBODY paying attention here? There is not a damn thing these people can do from that bunker they couldn't do from their offices and at a hell of a lot less cost, except maybe survive a nuclear attack.

-- Nikoli Krushev (doomsday@y2000.com), December 21, 1999.

>The lack of a kitchen filled with food and water doesn't bother Maxwell.<

Leave it to govt idiots to bunker down without food or water.

-- (non@sense.com), December 21, 1999.

From: Y2K, ` la Carte by Dancr (pic), near Monterey, California

...fears that some computers might not be able to keep up...

There's a cute anthropomorphic image.

-- Dancr (addy.available@my.webpage), December 21, 1999.

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