Maryland unveiled a $4.5 million disaster control center here today, a high-tech nerve center that state officials say will enable them to monitor and react quickly to any Y2K problems that occur across the state.
The State Emergency Operations Center, about 10 miles northwest of Baltimore, will function beginning Dec. 31 as a conduit between thousands of local fire, police and public safety workers and their commanding officers, allowing them to be deployed across jurisdictional lines, if needed, and for activation of the National Guard.
Officials at the center will also be able to monitor power, water and banking systems and will be linked directly to the federal government's massive Y2K operation.
State officials said they don't expect major problems during the "rollover event," their term for the year's end. The vast majority of the state government's computers, which run the prison system, send out welfare checks, operate traffic lights and manage hundreds of other crucial tasks, have been cleansed of the Y2K computer glitch, they said.
Officials are worried, however, that some non-Y2K glitch problems, such as the failure of a few automated teller machines, could be interpreted as a widespread computer problem by the public.
"How are people going to behave? That's what we're most concerned about," said Warren Campbell, the Maryland Emergency Management Agency official heading the Y2K effort.
To keep the public up to date about any problems that occur, one purpose of the center will be to investigate quickly any reported or rumored problems so that media representatives can spread correct information, officials said.
The around-the-clock vigil at the new control center will begin at 9 a.m. Dec. 30 and will continue at least until late Jan. 3. Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) is expected to stop by on New Year's Eve. If there are problems, he will stay.
The center replaces the Pykesville "bunker," as it is known, which has seen Maryland through dozens of hurricane and snow emergencies over 40 years, most recently Hurricane Floyd.
The new center's heart is an amphitheater lined with about 50 high-speed computer terminals overlooking five giant projection screens. On New Year's Eve the screens will be filled with the latest in traffic, weather, crime and political news from around the country. Each terminal is assigned to a state agency, with front-line departments including the state fire marshal, Coast Guard and Maryland State Police at the head of the massive room.
A county-by-county analysis of crucial sectors like crime, food, health and finance will be relayed regularly to the federal government's Y2K operations center in the FBI Building in the District.
CAPTION: At the control center near Baltimore, Warren Campbell, of the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, discusses the Y2K problem.