Area's 911 administrators say they're ready for Y2K

March 10, 1999

Washington County 911By BRENDAN KIRBY / Staff Writer

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer

The millennium bug will not bring emergency services to a halt, according to Tri-State area 911 administrators.

"I'm confident that we're ready," said Washington County Fire and Rescue Communications Chief Ronald H. Karn.

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The year 2000 problem, also known as Y2K, stems from the widely used computer memory-saving practice of abbreviating dates to two digits in the early days of programming. Many experts fear computers will crash when they interpret 00 as 1900.

The only piece of equipment in the Washington County 911 center that has a Y2K problem is a computer that accesses recordings of 911 calls, according to Karn, who said officials plan to install corrective software within a few weeks.


Even if the computer did not work, it would not affect operations. Karn said it simply allows him to access recordings from his desk.

Karn said other equipment is fine. He said the dates on the 911 center's alarm-receiving devices can be set manually.

"We've tested them. We've set it, and it's worked fine," he said.

Being in the business of emergency communications, 911 dispatchers said they are used to dealing with the unexpected.

Like other emergency services dispatch centers in the Tri-State area, Washington County systems have an uninterruptible power supply in case of power failure. The center also has a backup power generator with a three-day supply of propane gas.

Karn said the center will make arrangements with its supplier for more fuel in the event of an extended power outage, something he considers highly unlikely.

During severe storms, the 911 center uses alternative power sources in case the power should go out. The equipment also is periodically tested throughout the year, Karn said.

"Beyond that, I don't know what else we can do to prepare," he said.

Karn and his counterparts across the Tri-State area said they have obtained letters from phone companies and other businesses certifying that their equipment will work on Jan. 1, 2000.

New equipment

Many 911 systems in the region benefit from being new.

Fulton County, Pa., for instance, doesn't even have 911 service yet.

The county, which contracted to Cumberland County, Pa., for 911 service, expects the system to be operating by summer.

Fulton County will install communications equipment that can be switched on in case an emergency takes Cumberland County offline.

"We have absolutely no Y2K problems because all our equipment is new. Thank God," said Lynn Joyce, Fulton's 911 coordinator.

Morgan County, W.Va., does not expect to launch advanced 911 service until next year. Until then, County Administrator Bill Clark said the county benefits from being low-tech.

Clark said county officials have been gathering information about everything that might cause a problem.

"They were covering things that I hadn't even thought of," he said. "It's basically taking a very detailed approach, thinking of every possible scenario and being ready."

Jerry Flasher, director of emergency services in Franklin County, Pa., said the county installed a new computer-aided dispatch system in January and has periodically tested the system.

None of the old equipment was Y2K compliant, but the new system is, Flasher said.

"To the best of my knowledge, we don't have any Y2K problems," he said. "The majority of out equipment is new That helps a lot."

Berkeley County, W.Va., is in the process of correcting flaws associated with the year 2000 problem, said Mary Kackley, director of 911.

Kackley said the county will accept bids for a new computer network in April and award a contract in May or June.

The first part of the new network will be in place by July and will be customized by October, she said.

Kackley said the county will run the new and old systems together for several weeks to work out the bugs.

Kackley estimated the new network will cost between $125,000 and $150,000.

In addition, the phone company will make upgrades to the 911 equipment in the next few weeks, Kackley said.

Other concerns

Even if the 911 systems work, problems with systems used by fire and rescue companies could cause problems.

In Washington County, Karn said his office probably will ask the volunteer companies to have extra personnel at the stations on New Year's Eve.

Robert P. Cumberland Jr., the administrative planner at the Washington County Volunteer Fire & Rescue Association, said the group will sponsor a workshop on the Y2K issue.

"I'm sure this will be a joint effort with the county and municipalities," he said.

Alan Matheny, EMS coordinator at the Halfway Volunteer Fire Co., said the department has checked its life-saving equipment, like defibrillators and life-support systems.

"Most of our stuff's been taken care of," he said.

Still, Matheny said Halfway is bracing for potential problems. If chaos strikes at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1, the fire company must be ready, he said.

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