County, Aspen try to stomp millennium bug in advance |

County, Aspen try to stomp millennium bug in advance

Jeremy Heiman

Pitkin County and the city of Aspen are moving forward with preparations for the much-anticipated and feared millennium bug.

Hilary Smith, Pitkin County’s risk management officer and acting assistant county manager, said the city and county formed teams in November to work on the so-called Y2K problem. Since then, the groups have been working on decision-making system to make certain county services continue without a hitch next January.

Smith said though most government agencies, utilities and other services will be well on their way toward coping with the millennium glitch in plenty of time, it’s important for the city and county to make a thorough effort to ensure emergency services and basic systems are not interrupted.

“We think as we get closer, a lot of questions will be answered. But we think it would be irresponsible not to develop some contingency plans,” Smith said.

The millennium bug is expected to hit computer systems that have not been programmed to handle the changeover from 1999 to 2000. Predictions of the resulting doom and gloom include empty grocery store shelves, malfunctioning air-traffic control systems, a banking shutdown and just about every other conceivable disaster.

The county’s Y2K preparedness is important from a business perspective, too. Tom Oken, the county’s administrative services director, notes that the issuer of a bond undertaken by the county to refinance the Courthouse Plaza and the Public Works building and to upgrade the emergency 9-1-1 system asks for information on the county’s preparation for Y2K.

The approach the local governments have chosen is modeled after typical emergency services and public safety organization structures.

“We looked at some different decision-making models and decided this was a good model to follow for assessing Y2K impacts,” Smith said. A flow chart was created that follows the “incident command” system, Smith said, and the city and county are using the chart as a model to delegate responsibility for preparedness in all departments.

The system prioritizes county operations, placing what are known as “critical operations” first. Law enforcement, detention facilities (the jail), the emergency 9-1-1 system and the county’s road and bridge operations are given top priority. Four-pronged approach The city/county Y2K effort is divided into four teams. Each team has a leader representing the city and one representing the county. These leaders collectively are known as the “overhead management team,” and will meet weekly. The teams are assigned to assessment, contingency, funding and logistics.

The assessment team is charged with the responsibility of collecting information on the scope of problems in preparedness in local government and keeping abreast of current news from other entities such as utilities.

“When U.S. West says ‘We’re ready,'” Smith said, “that information will be passed to the other teams.”

The contingency team will take that information and develop scenarios of emergency situations, 24 hours to 30 days out from midnight, Dec. 31, 1999.

Smith said the team has been looking at what other government entities have been doing up to now in the way of developing Y2K scenarios. Lubbock, Texas has conducted drills without electricity and telephones to study responses to auto accident and fire emergencies, and the Aspen and Pitkin County teams will study observations from those drills, Smith said.

The third team in the structure is the funding team, Smith said. Much of the funding for upgrades to computers and other affected systems will come from the city and county department’s own budgets.

For example, if it’s decided that a second backup electric generator for the communications center is needed, the funding for that would be arranged by the funding team, Smith said.

Oken, the county representative on the funding team, said a $600,000 upgrade is being arranged for the city and county’s emergency 9-1-1 system. That money will be repaid over a seven-year period by means of a 70 cent per month surcharge on telephone bills for both stationary and cell phones.

The fourth team, in charge of logistics for the project, has not yet been established, Smith said. It will preside over execution of the plan that is developed. Communications will be ready Brett Finster, communications director for Pitkin County and the city of Aspen, said the Communications Center should have an upgraded three-part communications system up and running by April or May of this year.

Though the scheduled 1998 replacement of the 9-1-1 system was put off because it took too long to choose a supplier, Finster said, the coming upgrade will allow the system not only to be Y2K compliant, but to be integrated with a geographic information system (GIS) setup that will show the location of 9-1-1 callers on a map displayed on a computer monitor.

Local governments are among the business and government entities around the world that are trying to head off headaches anticipated with the computers at the changing of the millennium.

According to Smith, Pitkin County and the city of Aspen are on top of the problem, and cautiously optimistic.

“I’m optimistic we’ll have a very smooth transition into the year 2000, but I don’t want to be naive about it,” she said.

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