County averts Y2K glitch at the jail | AspenTimes.com

County averts Y2K glitch at the jail

Jeremy Heiman

Oops. The computer-operated doors in the Pitkin County Jail could have failed when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve.

Not that the doors would all have swung wide open, letting an array of criminals run free or anything, but it would have caused a few headaches, admitted jail administrator Don Bird.

The potential Y2K glitch has, however, been detected and the county will spend $24,000 to fix the locking system before the year 2000 arrives. County employees will replace the hardware and software that make the door locks work.

Starting last December, the county conducted an inventory to find computers and computerized equipment that could fail due to the so-called millennium bug, which is expected to wreak havoc with computers that haven’t been reprogrammed to deal with the change from the year 1999 to 2000 in their internal clocks.

But the computers that control the jail doors, locking and unlocking them in sequence at the command of jail employees, were overlooked. And during the summer, two employees most knowledgeable on the subject, the county’s communications director and a jail employee, resigned.

“It just fell through the cracks,” Bird said. “The two guys who would have known about it quit. We’re just glad we caught it when we did.”

Had the problem gone undetected, and the locking system actually failed, the prisoners would not have been set free. The system is designed so that the doors lock or remain locked in the event of computer failure, Bird said.

“It just would make it a pain in the butt to move around in here,” he said. The jail employees would have had to unlock each door the old-fashioned way, with keys. With the computerized system functioning, one touch of a computer screen can lock down the whole facility.

Assistant County Manager Hilary Smith asked for approval from the county commissioners Tuesday to spend $24,000 to upgrade the locking system. The fix involves upgrading both the computer hardware and the locking system software, basically replacing the system, Smith said. The hardware and software must be ordered from out of town, but it can be installed by a county employee, Bird said.

The expense is due to the intricacy of the system. Also, due to the fact that systems of this type are only used in detention facilities, Smith said, it’s not a mass-produced item and it must be customized for the Pitkin County Jail.

The Pitkin County Jail currently has an average daily prisoner count of about 18, Bird said. Three county prisoners are housed in Summit County right now, he said, because it’s a little crowded. The jail’s capacity is 24, Bird said, but double-bunking is required to achieve that number.


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