Like a Stephen King tale wrought with unknown and unforeseen terrors, Manassas Park is bracing for what could be the worst digital disaster yet. To protect the city's residents, City Council members voted Tuesday to purchase two generators for a makeshift emergency shelter.
The generators, which cost a total of $45,900, will be placed in Manassas Park Middle School, which city officials intend to use as a shelter for 400 to 450 residents should power failures occur when the new millennium arrives. The purchase order for the generators was the latest in a series of steps city officials have taken to ensure residents' safety, as the area prepares for what it hopes will be a smooth transition to New Year's Day 2000.
The unanimous vote was taken at an emergency meeting called by Mayor Ernest L. Evans. The vote came on the eve of Hurricane Floyd, which seemed to underscore the disaster scenario Manassas Park officials were contemplating.
Although Floyd caused little local damage other than some downed trees, it illustrated a very fine point, said City Manager David W. Reynal.
"It could have been much worse, and that's why we need emergency shelters," Reynal said yesterday. "A place where people can go if they lose their power or need help."
North Virginia Electric Cooperative (NOVEC), which provides electricity to Manassas Park, and Columbia Gas, one of the city's natural gas providers, have both been preparing for possible Y2K computer glitches since 1997. Despite such planning, both companies acknowledge there could be complications. They said recently that they plan to have extra personnel available as 1999 turns to 2000.
The council already approved leasing two other generators to provide backup power for two of the city's wells, for a total cost of $19,500. That way, "if the power goes out, the generators will kick on and draw water from the wells for the city," Reynal said.
After Jan. 1, and after potential problems are remedied, one of the new generators may be used elsewhere in the city "for backup," Evans said.
Because Manassas Park Middle School can accommodate only a limited number of residents, people with disabilities, the elderly and young children will be admitted first, city officials said. Food and other necessities will be made available for them, said council member Douglas M. Parks.
"We're going to take care of this town, and we're going to take care of the people," Parks said.