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D.C. Officials Try To Ease Y2K Worries

By Phuong Ly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 28, 1999; Page B4

Eliza Washington already has started collecting wood, canned food and gasoline.

Earl Shamwell plans to hold meetings in his Sixteenth Street Heights neighborhood to prepare for emergencies.

Washington and Shamwell were among nearly 200 people who attended a District Y2K community forum hosted by Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) last night, and all of them were concerned that the year 2000 computer glitch might shut down critical city services.

At the meeting at Howard University, D.C. officials assured residents that many important services such as the 911 emergency phone line are Y2K-ready. Still, D.C. officials, anticipating that all computer systems will not be compliant, are putting together a New Year's Eve mobilization of emergency personnel.

Shamwell, president-elect of his neighborhood group, said he wasn't too worried.

"I don't think we're in a position of panic," he said. "Having some forewarning can help you take the steps necessary to be prepared."

Washington, who lives in Brightwood in Northwest, is less optimistic. She plans to leave the city by New Year's Eve.

"I just don't want to take any chances," said Washington, who's stockpiling goods for when she has to return to the city for work.

The computer glitch referred to as the Y2K problem means that many machines will interpret "00" as 1900, not 2000. This means that systems could malfunction or shut down, causing some services to be interrupted.

Last night's forum was one of hundreds that the U.S. government has urged local officials to hold so that citizens could be informed.

Many federal government computer systems are already compliant, and John A. Koskinen, President Clinton's chief adviser on Y2K issues, said he didn't anticipate major problems on New Year's Eve.

The District set its Y2K preparedness deadline for the end of November, much later than deadlines set by Virginia and Maryland state governments.

"The fact of the matter is we started extremely late, and there's not really that much I can do about that now . . . except make up for lost time," Williams said.

D.C. Fire Chief Donald Edwards said contingency plans would ensure that disturbances in services would be held to "a minimum."

The police department plans to station officers at more than 120 locations across the city so that residents can report emergencies in person if needed. The Water and Sewer Authority is installing massive generators at city pumping stations to guarantee that drinking water flows.

Twenty-one "warming centers" across the District will provide residents with a place to go if utilities are disrupted, and D.C. General Hospital will have as many as 175 extra staff members available.

© 1999 The Washington Post Company

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