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Allegheny Power sets Y2K drill

May 25, 1999

Allegheny Power Y2K drillBy KERRY LYNN FRALEY / Staff Writer

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




Allegheny Power will try to simulate as closely as possible the conditions it expects for New Year's Day during its second Y2K drill on Sept. 8 and 9, a company spokesman said Tuesday.

But customers don't have to worry about the lights going off because of the simulation exercise, said communications specialist Allen Staggers.

The drill will be conducted in a way that won't threaten service to customers, said Staggers, who gave a presentation on the company's Year 2000 readiness during an informal press conference at the company's corporate headquarters in Hagerstown.

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Reporters from several newspapers and radio and television stations in Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia attended the meeting, which also covered the company's plans in an era of deregulation and an upcoming report on chemical emissions.

The industrywide drill is part of the North American Electric Reliability Council's (NERC) coordinated effort to ensure millennium preparedness among electric power providers, Staggers said.

It's the second industrywide NERC drill, he said.

The first, on April 9, simulated the loss of communication systems in some of the company's service areas, Staggers said.

Overall, the company did fine and the exercise proved valuable, he said.

Because the internal phone system didn't have enough strength, they had to use a two-way radio system, Staggers said.

But the exercise - during which the systems were off-line - didn't uncover any problems that would have interrupted generation or delivery, he said.

Allegheny Power has been working on the Y2K problem for nearly a decade, after the company's information services group recognized the date-related problem would affect mainframe computers, he said.

The Y2K problem stems from the two-digit date shorthand early programmers used to save memory. The fear is that computers might shut down or malfunction if they recognize the "00" of the year 2000 as 1900.

Allegheny Power early on started changing date codes from two to four digits, Staggers said.

In 1998, the efforts were formalized with the creation of the Y2K Corporate Project Team, representing all business units within the company, he said.

The company has followed a five-part "action plan," similar to the one used across the power industry, which started with an inventory of all components that could possibly be affected, Staggers said.

The company has "some 72,000" components, he said.

The next step was to rank their priority by putting them into three categories: "mission critical," if it directly affects production, delivery or safety; "nonmission critical," if it indirectly affects those areas; and things that don't affect those areas.

A large percentage of the company's equipment that is visible to the public is electromechanical, not computerized, Staggers said.

Consequently, the potential for Y2K problems is minimal for most of the delivery system, he said.

The power stations aren't fully dependent on computers either, Staggers said.

Of the 10 "super-critical units" in the large plants that generate power around the clock, six use analog technology, he said.

The testing phase has been going on for most of this year and is finishing up now to meet the North American Electric Reliability Council's June 30, 1999, deadline for readiness of mission-critical systems, Staggers said.

The company is still working on contingency, or backup, plans to address any problems that do pop up despite the preparation and reduce their impact, he said.

As of May 1, 90 percent of the company's roughly 40,000 mission-critical systems were ready, Staggers said.

Also ready were 76 percent of the nonmission critical systems and 81 percent of the non-affecting systems, he said.

Critical external parties, like the telephone company, power station fuel providers and water providers, have been identified and worked with, Staggers said.

The company is confident they will be ready, he said.

While critical systems won't be online during the upcoming drill, all conditions expected to occur on Jan. 1, 2000, will be simulated as closely as possible, Staggers said.

Extra staffing and contingency plans will be put into play, he said.

Demand on New Year's Eve is expected to be half of the generation capacity, Staggers said.

The power grid, the national interconnectivity system among power companies, has been painted as "some sort of evil bogeyman," he said.

The truth is the system has built-in backup that increases reliability of power supply, Staggers said.

A generator going out somewhere because of a Y2K problem will not cause massive power outages throughout the grid, he said.

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