Ramsey calls city safe for revelers (D.C.)

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Ramsey Calls City Safe for Revelers Williams Declares Computers Fixed

By Stephen C. Fehr Washington Post Staff Writer Tuesday, December 21, 1999; Page B01

D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, seeking to assure area residents and visitors that it is safe to attend millennium activities on the Mall next week, said yesterday he is aware of no threats made against targets in Washington.

"We have no information at this time where a direct threat has been made. . . . There's no reason for us to believe that Washington, D.C., has been targeted at this time," Ramsey said at a news conference called by Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) at which the city declared victory over the year 2000 computer problems.

Police across the country have increased attention on terror since the arrest last week of a suspected terrorist in Seattle. Ramsey echoed comments made at the White House yesterday by National Security Adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger, who also said there had been no specific threats against particular targets in the United States. Both officials reminded revelers to be vigilant and to report unusual or suspicious activity to the authorities.

The renewed focus on possible terrorist threats is in response to the arrest of an Algerian man in Seattle last week. The man, who was detained near where the city plans its New Year's Eve celebration, has been accused of attempting to smuggle explosives into the United States from Canada.

Washington is expecting tens of thousands of revelers on New Year's Eve, drawn to the Lincoln Memorial for a show headlined by Will Smith. The District also will stage its own festivities on Constitution Avenue NW. The evening's activities will be capped at midnight with a fireworks display, set off by President Clinton.

Several law enforcement agencies will supplement the city's 3,500 police officers, all of whom will be working extended shifts through the New Year's weekend. Washington is home to many law enforcement agencies, and all are involved in the security arrangements.

At the news conference yesterday, Williams and Ramsey urged people to visit the nation's capital. Both emphasized that the city's critical computer systems have been debugged and that security will be heightened for the celebration in downtown Washington.

Nearly all of the city's police officers will be working on "high alert" status, with special emphasis on monitoring vital government buildings, monuments and memorials. Police also will set up sobriety checkpoints across the city to discourage drunken driving, Ramsey said.

Meanwhile, Williams said the District, which has been criticized for being behind other big cities, had succeeded in bringing its computers into compliance only 18 months after it tackled the problem. The $140 million bill to repair and upgrade computers will be paid largely with federal funds.

All 378 computer systems deemed critical by District government officials have been repaired and tested, the mayor announced, including such systems as the 911 emergency number. "We can all focus on enjoying the holidays and celebrating the millennium," Williams said.

That said, the mayor added that he will not be partying too much because he will be monitoring possible Y2K disruptions, even though none are expected. "I'm sure everyone will be watching [Y2K], from the president on down. You've got to do that. You're always on the job."

District officials also have been critical of what they say is the sloppy financial management of their Y2K effort. A consultant is trying to determine how the city has spent the money, though the extent of the problem will not be known until next year.

In the end, Williams said, the District believes it has achieved what it wanted: a government with computers that will function normally Jan. 1. "We had the desired result, but the process was lacking," the mayor said.

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

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