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County is ready for Y2K

by Christy Chalmers

Friday was one of several troublesome dates that haven’t yet caused any trouble – and Douglas County officials think the trend will continue.

Like everyone else, county leaders have been preparing for New Year’s Day 2000 by updating computer-driven systems and establishing plans to counter disruptions that could occur if computers can’t recognize the new date. Naysayers have predicted the change could mean everything from the loss of crucial information stored in the machines to widespread chaos caused by failed utility systems and food shortages.

Douglas County leaders have a brighter perspective, however. Buoyed by the uneventful passage of several potential problem dates, they say the worst residents have to fear is fear – the kind that causes panic.

“If we have any real problems, it’s going to be caused by the people that panic, not by the computers themselves,” said Claudette Springmeyer, the county comptroller and a member of its emergency management team.

Springmeyer and Communications Director Dick Mirgon have been overseeing efforts to upgrade the county’s computers. They say that though the county is computer-intensive, the systems aren’t old enough to threaten emergency services like 911.

“You may not have the enhancements, the extras, that we now have with our 911 system, but the calls will still come in and they will still be dispatched,” said Mirgon. “There may be inconveniences, but it will be silly things that are human oversight more than anything.”

Springmeyer, Mirgon and county Information Services Supervisor John Endter are basing those predictions on the passage of six dates tagged as possible problem days. The most recent was Friday, the start of the federal government’s fiscal year, which brings new budgets and many references to the year 2000. Sept. 9 was also regarded as an important harbinger because the numerical sequence -9/9/99 – was used in a computer programming language called COBOL to signify the end of a file.

“All of the naysayers said these are the critical dates, and we’re going to have mass chaos,” said Endter. “These days came and went without any major problems. This is showing us that this is not catastrophic, as far as everything breaking down.”

Still, Mirgon, Endter and Springmeyer recognize an equally important factor: Public perception. Mirgon and Springmeyer cited the New Year’s 1997 flood, which closed all of the Carson Valley’s major roads, as well as the bridges between the Gardnerville Ranchos and the rest of the community.

Despite their isolation and the short duration of the flood, some residents descended on gas stations and grocery stores. Mirgon worries that rumors of runs on stores and banks, or coincidences like power outages that happen Jan. 1, could spur panic that feeds on itself. So could reports about problems in other areas – Nevada and the rest of the Pacific Time Zone will be one of the last to make the switch.

“If people prepare for other winter-type problems (storms or power outages), it should be more than enough to get you through any Y2K problems,” said Mirgon. “Nobody’s going to go hungry. Nobody’s going to have a problem. We’ll make sure we’ve got enough fuel. We don’t think we’ll need it, but we’ll have it.”

The county will also have an emergency command center ready to use if needed. New Year’s Eve attracts thousands of revelers to the Stateline area, and officials are bracing for an extra 20,000 or so, up from the estimated 40,000 that attended New Year’s Eve 1998. A command center will be established to handle the New Year’s Eve celebration, and it can be used for any Y2K-related problems in the following days.

“Every time there’s been a disaster and we’ve opened up shelters, nobody comes,” Mirgon noted. “People in this county seem to take care of themselves.”

“If anything happens, the services aren’t going to stop,” said Endter. “People know how to do things the old-fashioned way.”