Montgomery County officials have worked for four years to make sure the county's computer systems are ready for the year 2000. Now, with the millennium rapidly approaching, they hope county residents take time over the next four months to make preparations--just in case.
Saturday, the county held the fifth in what will be a series of 12 "Year 2000 Town Meetings" held through the end of the year.
More than 100 people attended the gathering at the Executive Office Building in Rockville, and they came prepared with questions about how the Y2K computer problem might affect their daily lives and county services.
"I have a medical condition and require electricity to run my equipment. How do I prepare for electrical outages besides purchasing a backup generator, which is very expensive?"
"What has the police department done to prepare itself?"
"What if telephone systems don't work?"
"Will power be rationed? If so, who decides whose power will be cut?"
"If water service is interrupted, can we still go to the bathroom? Will commodes still work if we add water?"
County and state officials sought to assure residents that their critical systems are ready. "This is not going to be Armageddon. This is not going to be the end of the world," said Donald V. Evans, director of Montgomery's Information Systems and Telecommunications Department, who moderated the town meeting.
Evans said the county has spent $47 million since it began working on the year 2000 problem about four years ago and called Montgomery the "most tested" county in the United States when it comes to Y2K.
"Yes, there could be disruptions," he said, "but we believe that our contingency plans will keep that to a minimum."
Representatives from Potomac Electric Power Co., Washington Gas and the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission were also present and said their utilities did not expect disruptions in service because of the Y2K computer glitch.
"There isn't anything about Y2K that makes us believe we're going to have any kind of widespread problems," said Pepco's Karen Lefkowitz.
At the same time, county officials urged residents to prepare as they would for a hurricane, blizzard or other natural emergency that could knock out electricity or disrupt other services--such as last winter's ice storm, which knocked out power to parts of the county for up to five days.
"If we are prepared for those kinds of emergencies, then we will be prepared for Y2K," said Kathee Henning, the county's emergency management program coordinator. Though they said they did not foresee significant problems, Henning and other county officials urged residents to err on the side of caution and prepare for at least three days of possible interruptions in services by stocking up on such things as potable water, food and batteries and making other preparations.
"We have done our part internal to the government, fixing systems with contingency plans, but there are individual issues that are much too granular for the broad sweep of government," Evans said after the town meeting. "So we need individuals to participate, families to participate, and we hope that these meetings help guide them in making the appropriate choices for Y2K preparedness."
Mardi Maher, 56, an administrative assistant, attended the town meeting out of concern about the possibility of losing power or water service in her 13th-floor residence in Silver Spring.
"I can avoid it totally. I can keep stocking up, working from a position of fear. Or I can listen to what the community is doing and take my own independent steps," she said after the meeting. "I think that having a sense of what the community around you is doing gives you a better sense of what you need to be doing as an individual."
For more information about Montgomery County Year 2000 Town Meetings, call 240-777-2940 or visit the county's World Wide Web site at www.co.mo.md.us/Year2000.