Aspen ready for `Y2K bug’ |

Aspen ready for `Y2K bug’

If the dreaded “Y2K bug” bites Aspen in any truly troublesome way, local officials have come up with a few plans to keep the citizenry informed and, if all else fails, even warm and alive.

At least that’s what the City Council was told at its informal brown-bag luncheon meeting on Monday,

The issue arose when council member Jim Markalunas asked about local contingency plans for New Year’s Eve, which is the night that the well-publicized Millennium Bug will either wreak havoc in the world or buzz off into the oblivion of feared events that never came to pass.

Because computer programmers for years indicated dates with only two digits to signify the year – for example, 99 instead of 1999 – it is feared that some computer systems may crash when the clock turns over from Dec. 31, 1999 to Jan. 1, 2000.

Some experts predict everything from meltdowns at nuclear power plants to airplanes falling from the sky to the massive failure of power grids.

Others say there will be only minor disruptions in isolated areas, arguing that the nationwide panic about the problem has done little but fuel an entire new industry made up of highly paid Y2K consultants.

But if the lights do go out in Aspen just after midnight on Jan. 1, said City Manager Steve Barwick,the city has its own contingency plans to cope with the problem.

To begin with, local public safety agencies have canceled all leaves for that night, so all local police and fire officers will be on hand. Local utilities, hospitals and other public service agencies will be on alert that night, as well, he said.

Barwick said backup power has been arranged for City Hall, the Pitkin County Courthouse, the city’s water plant and the city shop, and three weeks’ worth of diesel fuel and gasoline has been stockpiled to ensure that government vehicles will have plenty of fuel.

In addition, he said, the Wheeler Opera House has its own backup power source, so “the Wheeler may be one of our few facilities that will be up and running.”

On New Year’s Eve, he said, the basement of City Hall will serve as the nerve center for local governments, and if trouble arises, local elected officials and staff will come in.

“This becomes one of the emergency operations centers,” he said. If the power goes out, teams will be sent out to shut down the various government buildings and facilities to keep damage to a minimum.

As for general public safety, he said, local governments are working with the Red Cross to establish shelters, and Pitkin County is setting up eight “aid stations” around the county.

On a lighter note, City Council member Tony Hershey said the Aspen Skiing Co. is planning to have its lifts running on emergency generators, if necessary, because “the Skico is desperate for money.”

Local officials will be watching news reports on television to check how the Y2K problem manifests itself as it moves westward from the international date-line in the Pacific Ocean, starting with Australia and Japan, Barwick said.

“If Japan gets nervous, we’re going to start taking things real seriously,” he said.

Details of the Y2K contingency plans will be made public as they are firmed up, he said.

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