State, local governments warned they'll have to fend for themselves

State, local governments warned they'll have to fend for themselves

By Christopher J. Dorobek

GCN Staff

State and local governments will be responsible for handling any immediate problems in their own back yards that arise from date code glitches, the nation's year 2000 czar said last month.

'In this case, emergency preparedness starts at the local level,' said John A. Koskinen, chairman of the President's Council on the Year 2000 Conversion, at a news conference. 'We are not going to be able to fly blankets to everyone in the United States.'

Koskinen is concerned about the readiness of state and local governments, small and midsize businesses, and health care and educational organizations. Some of those groups are taking a risky wait-and-see stance, he said. The concern is that by the time they discover a problem, they might not be able to get the help they need.

'These organizations are placing themselves at risk of experiencing Y2K-related failures, which only increases the need for having good contingency plans in place on Jan. 1,' he said.

Local education organizations with systems that control electronic loan payments, class registration and building functions such as heating and security could face problems, Koskinen said.

In a survey by the federal Education Department this spring and summer, only 28 percent of the more than 3,500 superintendents and local education agencies indicated that all mission-critical systems were year 2000-ready, and only 30 percent of the approximately 2,100 postsecondary educational institutions said their systems were ready.

Unhealthy situation

Small local health care facilities also could face glitches. An Rx2000 Solutions Institute survey this spring showed that only 40 percent of these providers were year 2000-ready and that 15 percent had taken none of the basic readiness steps.

Some organizations are still assessing the problem, Koskinen said. 'It's getting very late in the day to be at that stage of the game,' he said.

According to a spring survey of local governments by the National Association of Counties, about 25 percent of counties did not have a plan for year 2000 fixes. Koskinen said that without a plan, it is difficult to run an effective year 2000 program.

Another issue for local governments is 911 call centers. The NACO survey found that only 37 percent of the centers were ready.

Local police agencies are urging citizens to use the emergency number for emergencies only. Excessive use of 911 for routine calls could overload the system.

Koskinen said that with the 911 system, as with many other aspects of the year 2000 issue, it is important to walk a tightrope between making the public aware and inciting panic. Panic could spur problems that would not have existed otherwise.

'If everyone picks up the phone at midnight to see if it's working, it won't work,' Koskinen said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is working on creating a system to monitor communities across the country so they can determine where the problems are, Koskinen said.

The administration has been urging communities to hold gatherings at which local officials could discuss preparations and status.

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