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Experts say some 911 systems not ready for Y2K

March 10, 1999|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Emergency services operations across the country got a late start working on the year 2000 computer glitch and many are still behind, according to analysts.

"A lot better now than they were," said David Hall, senior consultant for ACS Technology Solutions in Chicago. "But the problem now is that it's very individual."

Hall said many 911 administrators are waiting for manufacturers to correct Y2K problems. But some of those companies may run out of time, he said.

Some administrators probably have problems they have not considered, Hall said.

Some experts also cautioned against accepting at face value letters from suppliers certifying that their equipment is Y2K ready.

"They're mostly worthless pieces of paper," said Leon A. Kappelman, a professor at the University of North Texas who has tracked Y2K issues for three years. "It's OK to show you covered your butt. But that's all you're doing."

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Kappelman estimated that manufacturers incorrectly certify their products about 25 percent of the time. That's fine when the product is a VCR, but not when it is an emergency communications device.

"When you rank the order of things you need to work on in a community, those are very important," he said.

Letters from companies certifying their equipment tend to be narrowly tailored, Hall said.

"Most places don't use it exactly like a vendor tests it," he said.

The only way to know for sure is to test the equipment, Hall said. Testing creates its own problems because it sometimes involves taking down the system - something that cannot easily be done in 911 communications.

Many smaller 911 centers also do not have the necessary expertise, Hall said.

"A lot of 911 systems don't have the technical people who can do it themselves," he said.

Hall said people should not unduly panic. No one thinks the power grid will stay down for an extended period of time, he said.

But prudence dictates taking precautions, Hall said. He suggested people find out what their local 911 centers need to do.

"Ask the question," he said. "The more citizens ask the question, the better off they are."

Hall said it also is a good idea to know the locations of hospitals, fire companies and other important places.

For emergency communications centers that are still scrambling to fix problems, Hall said it is not too late.

"Provided you find the problem and get busy on it," he said.

related story:

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

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