WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials are urging the emergency management, fire and emergency services communities and the public to get ready now for Y2K.
"It is very important that counties, municipalities, school districts and other organizations that have not yet begun to work on Y2K issues, start now," FEMA Deputy Director Mike Walker said. "While some failures will be minor annoyances, some may have more serious consequences."
The Y2K issue is worldwide and refers to electronic and computer system problems that may occur because of the inability of date-sensitive devices to compute "2000" when systems move from 1999 to the Year 2000 (Y2K). Virtually all systems that rely on computers or electronic devices that refer to date and time may be affected by Y2K in one way or another. This includes power, dispatch and communications systems, 911 systems, microcomputers, and much more.
In a recent FEMA survey of state emergency management directors concerning Y2K issues at the state and local levels, the directors reported that although Y2K fixes are well underway in state-level emergency preparedness offices, the emergency service systems of many counties and municipalities remain untested.
"Generally states and the larger local governments are aware of and making some progress toward resolving Y2K issues, however, many smaller local governments as well as some state and territorial governments seem not to be aware of the problem," Walker said. "Clearly the most serious potential for problems is at the local level, and this is what we are concerned about."
In February and March, FEMA will conduct Y2K Consequence Management workshops around the country to identify critical issues, assess vulnerabilities, review contingency plans and consider policies and decisions that need to be taken to deal with possible Y2K consequences. Participants will include state Y2K emergency coordinators, emergency managers and state fire marshals as well as regional representatives of FEMA's Federal Response Plan partners.
Many states also reported that they have not developed contingency plans specifically for Y2K problems; instead they plan to address problems under existing emergency plans or they expect to have their systems Y2K compliant in time. Most states expressed some level of concern over the possibility of power failures, especially where power is provided by smaller utilities. Other areas of concern cited by the states include limited or lack of resources to assess, test and validate systems and fixes for Y2K problems.
"Every community, every organization and every individual has an obligation to learn more about their vulnerabilities and take action to prevent potential problems before they occur." Walker said. "Potential problems need to be identified and addressed now."
As chair and coordinator of the Emergency Services Sector (EES), FEMA is one of 34 sector coordinators working with the President's Council on Y2K Conversion, headed by Presidential Advisor John A. Koskinen. The EES group is working to make sure that all segments of the nation's emergency management community operate normally through the cross-over period from 1999 to the Year 2000 and beyond.