Prince George's County officials are preparing for the worst but expecting nothing to happen when the clocks roll over to announce a new century on Jan. 1.
Officials are advising residents to go to the nearest fire station if disaster strikes on New Year's Day. Among the potential scenarios: loss of power, telephone service or any number of worst-case possibilities that have been played out on the Internet, in the media and in a recent made-for-TV thriller about a catastrophic Y2K computer disaster.
Prince George's County Council member Audrey E. Scott (R-Bowie) said she has advised her constituents to have on hand plenty of batteries and a couple of days' worth of food--just in case. But she said she will be surprised if there are problems associated with the turn of the century.
"I don't anticipate airplanes will be falling out of the sky," she said. "I've had people from the community ask me about the automatic locks at the jail. We've tested all of them. I don't see suddenly all the jail doors are going to open up and all the prisoners are going to be wandering the streets."
The county has established a hot line for residents to call if they have questions or worries. The number is 301-Y2K-1999. The hot line is staffed with 15 to 18 county employees who have been specially trained to answer questions.
Libby Clapp, the county's information technology director, said that if the lines get flooded, more phones and operators will be added. But she said it's hard to predict how busy the hot line will be.
"Who's got the crystal ball on this one?" she said.
In the days leading up to New Year's Eve, county workers are backing up all computer systems and taking the data to the Largo government center on Landover Road, where it could be made available if there is a major power outage or other equipment failure. The information will be stored on stand-alone computers not linked to a network that could be affected by other problems.
At some point before Dec. 31--Clapp declined to say when for security reasons--the county will check for computer viruses on incoming e-mail. The system also will be rigged so that no files can be downloaded from the Internet--another precaution against viruses.
On New Year's Eve, County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D), all department directors and emergency preparedness and public safety officials will be at a command center in the county's 911 emergency dispatch center. The center is equipped with telephone and computer data lines.
A staff of 20 to 30 computer system specialists also will be on hand at the Largo government center, which houses the fire department's administrative offices.
The Largo government center was built with a special generator that has a 31-day supply of fuel. Special orange-coded electrical outlets in the building are connected to that generator.
"Our backup is that we keep doing business as usual," Clapp said. "The whole building can run on its own. We'd just deploy people there."
Clapp said county officials will start monitoring the Internet and reports from federal agencies at 8 a.m. on New Year's Eve, when officials in Australia get the first peek at the new year.
As an added precaution, there is limited time off for all county public safety personnel, which includes 1,385 police officers, 655 professional firefighters and medical technicians and 350 corrections officers.
The school system will dispatch workers at 6 a.m. Jan. 1 to make certain that everything is working in time for the schools to reopen Jan. 3.
"If something happens, we will just close the schools down and add another date to the end of the year," said school board Chairman James E. Henderson (Seabrook). But he isn't worried that there will be problems.
The county has spent about $23 million to replace and upgrade computer systems and parts that would not have worked in 2000.
That figure is small compared with other area jurisdictions. Montgomery County spent $50 million on Y2K preparations.
Even so, some County Council members criticized the amount spent on Y2K computer fixes.
"It seems to me too much money has been spent on it," said council member Isaac J. Gourdine (D-Fort Washington). "To be frank, I don't see the problem. A lot of the problems that people have are in their minds."
Council member Walter H. Maloney (D-Beltsville) said he is more concerned about what he calls the county's "Y1999 problem."
Maloney said the Y2K bug has been an excuse for the county to spend money. "We got new hardware, a color scanner," he said of his own office. "I could have gotten two or three other gadgets if I had asked. Maybe I could get my office painted."
Clapp, the county's information technology director, said her biggest worry is that people will overreact because of something unrelated to Y2K.
She said a snow or ice storm could cut power, a normal winter occurrence that wouldn't necessarily cause a panic. But a power outage near New Year's Eve could be blamed on Y2K glitches.
She noted that the county underwent an unplanned test of traffic signals during Hurricane Floyd when parts of the county were without power for four to five days in September.
She said traffic signals already are equipped with backup systems and are programmed to blink red or yellow in case the power fails.
One of the systems that had to be replaced was the computer that controlled the scales at the landfill. The component that logged the license and registration of a dump truck was not Y2K-compatible and would have rejected the vehicle after Dec. 31, believing its license or registration to be expired.
Council member Ronald V. Russell (D-Mitchellville) said the county has no choice but to take Y2K seriously.
"Hopefully we're going to be as prepared as any jurisdiction," he said.
"Is this a marketing scheme? I don't think so."
Just in Case: A Checklist of Y2K Helpful Hints and Phone Numbers
If the new year brings problems to Prince George's County, here is a list of places to go and phone numbers to call. In the case of a power outage, you should have extra batteries, a water supply (at least one gallon per person per day), at least three days' worth of canned goods and enough cash for a few days. Also make sure that your gas tank is more than half full and that computers, security systems, thermostats and other home equipment are Y2K-compatible.
More information is available on the Internet at www.y2k.gov
County officials will announce any changes in plans through the media.
The county has set up a hot line: 301-Y2K-1999.
Important phone numbers and Web sites:
American Red Cross, 301-559-8500, www.redcross.org/y2k.html
Bell Atlantic, 1-877-819-7332, www.bellatlantic.com
BGE, 410-685-0123, www.bge.com
Maryland state, www.mec.state.md.us
Potomac Electric Power Co., 202-833-7500, www.pepco.com
President's Council on Y2K Conversion, www.y2k.gov
Prince George's County Office of Emergency Preparedness, 301-499-8050
Prince George's County Year 2000 Web site, www.co.pg.md.us/y2k/
Washington Gas, 703-750-4440, www.washgas.com
Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, 301-206-8100, www.wssc.dst.md.us/y2k/
Accokeek Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad-Station 24, 16111 Livingston Rd., Accokeek. 301-883-7724
Baden Volunteer Fire Department-Station 36, 16608 Brandywine Rd., Brandywine. 301-883-7736
Beltsville Volunteer Fire Department Inc.-Station 41, 3939 Powder Mill Rd., Beltsville. 301-883-7741
Beltsville Volunteer Fire Department Inc.-Station 31, 4911 Prince George's Ave., Beltsville. 301-883-7731
Berwyn Heights Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad Inc.-Station 14, 8811 60th Ave., Berwyn Heights. 301-883-7714
Bladensburg Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad Inc.-Station 9, 4213 Edmonston Rd., Bladensburg. 301-883-7709
Boulevard Heights Volunteer Fire Department-Station 17, 4101 Alton St., Boulevard Heights. 301-883-7717
Bowie Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad Inc.-Station 19, 13008 Ninth St., Bowie. 301-883-7719
Bowie Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad-Station 39, 15454 Annapolis Rd., Bowie. 301-883-7739
Bowie Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad Inc.-Station 43, 16400 Pointer Ridge Dr., Bowie. 301-883-7743
Branchville Volunteer Fire Company and Rescue Squad Inc.-Station 11, 4905 Branchville Rd., College Park. 301-883-7711
Brandywine Volunteer Fire Department-Station 40, 14201 Brandywine Rd., Brandywine. 301-883-7740
Brentwood Volunteer Fire Department-Station 4, 3712 Utah Ave., Brentwood. 301-883-7704
Capitol Heights Volunteer Fire Department-Station 5, 6061 Central Ave., Capitol Heights. 301-883-7705
Chapel Oaks Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad-Station 38, 5544 Sheriff Rd., Chapel Oaks. 301-883-7738
Chillum-Adelphi Volunteer Fire Department Inc.-Station 34, 7833 Riggs Rd., Adelphi. 301-883-7734
Chillum Fire Department-Station 44, 6330 Riggs Rd., Chillum. 301-883-7744
Clinton Volunteer Fire Department Inc.-Station 25, 9025 Woodyard Rd., Clinton. 301-883-7725
College Park Volunteer Fire Department Inc.-Station 12, 8115 Baltimore Ave., College Park. 301-883-7712
Cottage City/Colmar Manor Volunteer Fire Company-Station 2, 3840 Bladensburg Rd., Brentwood. 301-883-7702
District Heights Volunteer Fire Department Inc.-Station 26, 6208 Marlboro Pike, District Heights. 301-883-7726
Fort Washington: Allentown Road Volunteer Fire Department Inc.-Station 32, 8709 Allentown Rd., Fort Washington. 301-883-7732
Fort Washington: Allentown Road Volunteer Fire Department Inc.-Station 47, 10900 Fort Washington Rd., Fort Washington. 301-883-7747
Glenn Dale Fire Association Inc.-Station 18, 11900 Glenn Dale Blvd., Glenn Dale 301-883-7718
Greenbelt Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad Inc.-Station 35, 125 Crescent Rd., Greenbelt. 301-883-7735
Hillside Volunteer Fire Department-Station 6, 1234 Larchmont Ave., Hillside. 301-883-7706
Hyattsville Volunteer Fire Department-Station 1, 6200 Belcrest Rd., Hyattsville. 301-883-7701
Hyattsville: West Lanham Hills Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad-Station 28, 7609 Annapolis Rd., Hyattsville. 301-883-7728
Kentland Volunteer Fire Department, Inc.-Station 33, 7701 Landover Rd., Kentland. 301-883-7733
Landover Hills Volunteer Fire Department, Inc.-Station 30, Annapolis Rd. and 68th Ave., Landover Hills. 301-883-7730
Lanham: West Lanham Hills Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad-Station 48, 8501 Good Luck Rd., Lanham. 301-883-7748
Laurel Volunteer Fire Department-Station 10, 7411 Cherry Lane, Laurel. 301-883-7710
Laurel Volunteer Rescue Squad Inc.-Station 49, 14910 Bowie Rd., Laurel. 301-883-7749
Morningside Volunteer Fire Department Inc.-Station 27, 6200 Suitland Rd., Morningside. 301-883-7727
Mount Rainier Volunteer Fire Department-Station 3, 4051 34th St., Mount Rainier. 301-883-7703
Oxon Hill Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company Inc.-Station 21, 7600 Livingston Rd., Oxon Hill. 301-883-7721
Oxon Hill Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company Inc.-Station 42, 1100 Marcy Ave., Oxon Hill. 301-883-7742
Ritchie Volunteer Fire Company-Station 37, 1415 Ritchie-Marlboro Rd., Ritchie. 301-883-7737
Riverdale Fire Department, Inc.-Station 7, 4714 Queensbury Rd., Riverdale. 301-883-7707
Riverdale Heights Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad-Station 13, 6101 Roanoke Ave., Riverdale. 301-883-7713
Seat Pleasant Volunteer Fire Company Inc.-Station 8, 6395 Addison Rd., Seat Pleasant. 301-883-7708
Silver Hill Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad Inc.-Station 29, 3900 Old Silver Hill Rd., Silver Hill. 301-883-7729
Tuxedo-Cheverly Volunteer Fire Company Inc.-Station 22, 5711 Tuxedo Rd., Tuxedo. 301-883-7722
Upper Marlboro: Forestville Volunteer Fire Department-Station 23, 8321 Old Marlboro Pike, Upper Marlboro. 301-883-7723
Upper Marlboro: Kentland Volunteer Fire Department Inc.-Station 46, 10400 Campus Way South, Upper Marlboro. 301-883-7746
Upper Marlboro: Marlboro Volunteer Fire Department Inc.-Station 45, 7710 Croom Rd., Upper Marlboro. 301-883-7745
Upper Marlboro: Marlboro Volunteer Fire Department Inc.-Station 20, 14815 Pratt St., Upper Marlboro. 301-883-7720
-- Compiled by Karen Hilliou