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County prepares for Y2K

August 10, 1998|By MATTHEW BIENIEK

County officials are forming a committee to make sure county computers and equipment that rely on computer chips are ready for the year 2000, said County Administrator Rodney Shoop.

Shoop announced the formation of the committee at the July 28 Washington County Commissioners meeting. The group will be made up of representatives of each county department.

But county computers are prepared to cope with the year 2000 problem threatening government and industry functions throughout the world, said Norman Bassett, coordinator of the Washington County training office.

Bassett said he didn't think much taxpayer money had to be spent on fixing the problem because county officials attacked it in advance.

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"This is not something we all of a sudden jumped up and realized we had to do it," Bassett said.

County staff handled all program modifications needed to cope with the year 2000 problem, he said.

In Frederick County, Md., officials rewrote 1.7 million lines of computer code for county programs and commissioners authorized spending $150,000 for a computer to test the county systems.

Bassett didn't know if Washington County computer codes were rewritten to cope with the problem.

Washington County didn't face serious problems in the first place, he said, because the county's hardware and software were fairly new, and already 2000 compliant.

"Most of our desktops are 486's and those shouldn't have a problem," he said.

David Byrkit isn't as confident about the preparedness of 486 computers for the year 2000.

Byrkit owns Byrkit Technical Resources in Hagerstown. One of the company's specialties is 2000 preparedness.

"I'm concerned because if people continue to wait, the resources will become more and more expensive," he said.

"Some of the Pentiums are ready - but not even all of those," he said.

Problems with computers and the year 2000 are anticipated because in the 1960s and 1970s - when computers were large, expensive, and mostly owned by large industry and government - cutting back on memory usage was important.

One way to save was to abbreviate dates to six-digit codes. For instance, Oct. 29, 1929, could be displayed as 10/29/29.

But that could be a problem when 2000 arrives. Computers might recognize the year 2000 as 1900 since the code for both years is 00.

Computer experts warn that when 2000 arrives, confused computers could result in many countries facing widespread power outages, transportation foul-ups and telecommunications failures.

Digital technology in county equipment from radios and clocks to the 911 system concern Bassett more, he said.

Computer chips like those in home digital clocks and VCRs also can pose a problem.

The county uses the chips for everything from 911 communications to its landfill operation.

Right now, each department in the county is checking with manufacturers of products used in their departments to determine their Y2K readiness, he said.

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