NEWARK, N.J. -- Emergency management and emergency services officials from New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands met here today with federal representatives to discuss the potential consequences of Y2K disruptions and strategies to manage these disruptions in the second of 10 regional Y2K workshops sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
In the conference's plenary session, FEMA Deputy Director Mike Walker told participants that despite worries to the contrary, the Y2K problem does not have to bring catastrophe. "Based on current assessments, the sky is not falling. Y2K does not have to be a major problem," Walker said.
In a videotaped address, John Koskinen, chair of the President's Council for Year 2000 Conversion, said disruptions in national services do not appear likely. "There is no indication that the Y2K problem will cause national failures in basic infrastructures such as electric power, telecommunications, banking and transportation," Koskinen said.
Presentations by representatives of the U.S. Departments of Energy, Health and Human Services, and Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency, National Communications System and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reinforced Koskinen's claim that critical computer systems will be ready for the conversion to the Year 2000.
The Department of Energy reported that its own emergency management system is 100 percent Y2K compliant and, in coordination with the North American Electric Reliability Council, the department is working to erase doubt about the readiness of America's electrical supplies for the Year 2000.
The Department of Transportation reported that its agencies are working together with private industry to prepare the nation's transportation systems for Y2K. The Federal Highway Administration was among the first agencies to recognize the Y2K problem and began taking strong action in the late 1980s. The Federal Aviation Administration says that the 53 mission-critical systems in the National Airspace System must be Y2K compliant or have contingency plans in place by June 30, 1999.
However, Koskinen said emergency managers should be prepared to respond to a larger than average number of localized disruptions. "We do need to be prepared for the possibility that the Y2K problem could cause temporary disruptions in some services, especially in areas where government and businesses have not devoted appropriate attention to the problem. By themselves, such disruptions are manageable. But the unique challenge the Y2K problem presents us with is the potential for numerous disruptions happening all at once, which will place additional burdens on the most well-equipped emergency response mechanisms," Koskinen said.
Walker asked emergency managers to urge local officials and business leaders to make sure their computer systems are ready for Y2K. "As leaders in our respective communities, we should as a matter of first priority resolve to encourage those to fix that which has not yet been fixed. For that is the surest way to prepare for Y2K," Walker said.
Participants in the conference were urged to share Y2K information with their communities. Providing the public with the latest information on the status of key services, such as electrical and water systems, allows residents to prepare for Y2K and builds confidence that emergency managers will be able to respond to possible temporary disruptions. "Ultimately, we want to ensure that people are as confident in our ability to respond to the Y2K problem as they are in our ability to respond to storms and other natural events," Koskinen said.