The Anne Arundel County publicity campaign currently airing on local television is intended to calm frayed nerves about potential year 2000 calamities, but County Executive Janet S. Owens may have made one small miscue.
After a parade of county department heads offers videotaped promises that the county has prepared for any possible Y2K glitch, a chipper Owens (D) waves farewell and says, "I'll see you in the bunker!"
Therein lies the contradiction embedded in the county's detailed plans for New Year's Eve: After countless assurances that nothing could possibly go wrong, county officials continue to prepare for the sky to fall.
Many older computers use only the last two digits of the year to figure the date and may not be able to recognize that 00 is the year 2000, not 1900.
Some fear the confusion could cause computer-induced power failures, transportation and telecommunication disruption, as well as banking and general business problems.
County officials don't believe anything that drastic will happen. But they are not ignoring the possibility, either.
Consider this: County officials say traffic signals have been tested and retested to be certain they won't shut down in the new year; but crews still went out last week to prepare 85 key intersections for the quick installation of stop signs, should the traffic lights go dark.
Or this: The county's emergency 911 telephone system has been rolled forward past Dec. 31, 1999, in tests to make certain it will work when the clock strikes 12; but a group of amateur radio volunteers will be in the county's emergency operations center New Year's Eve in case all communications shut down.
"We are absolutely ready," said William Ryan, Anne Arundel County's Y2K coordinator. "But we also would be foolish not to be prepared for a major disturbance or anything that isn't normal. You have to be ready for anything."
To that end, Anne Arundel has taken pains to gear up for any number of potential, if unlikely, scenarios. Should a run on food create a shortage, the county plans to feed its workers jail-house grub at the local detention center.
Should the water system fail, the county has stockpiled bottled water.
Ryan says it is unlikely they'll need to use it but is cagey when asked where the water is stored. "Just can't tell you," he said, presumably for security reasons.
Anne Arundel County police have scheduled four teams of 15 officers each to handle "anti-looting patrols" this weekend, police spokesman Charles Ravenell said.
And the fire engines at Baltimore-Washington International Airport will be revved up just before midnight to be ready for any incidents there, said Chief Stephen Allen, of BWI Airport Fire and Rescue.
None of this, county leaders promise, should make anyone nervous.
"Precautions like this should make people feel even more calm," Owens said.
Her advice is for residents to plan as though there's going to be a big winter snowfall. "Have enough food and prescription medication on hand to take care of yourself for a couple of days but don't panic."
County officials suggest residents make sure their cars are full of gas, that any fuel tanks at home are full and that they have enough nonperishable food and bottled water to last three days. They also said a battery-operated flashlight, radio and cash or travelers checks would be wise.
And they have set up a nonemergency hot line for people to call this weekend if they have needs or concerns stemming from Y2K-related problems. That number is 410-222-8040.
As for that bunker, it's just a nickname for the county's emergency operations center, Owens said. She plans to be there, along with roughly 25 other key county officials, to coordinate a response should a problem arise.
Everyone from the fire chief to representatives of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. will be in the room, connected by special telephone lines to their workers, said Joe Burns, the county's director of emergency management.
The phone lines have all been tested, Burns said. "But we are asking everyone to bring a cell phone with them, just in case."
JUST IN CASE
A Checklist of Y2K Helpful Hints and Phone Numbers
If the new year brings problems to Anne Arundel County, here is a list of phone numbers to call.
Non-emergency information: 410-222-8040.
County's Web site: www.co.anne-arundel.md.us..
What supplies should you have on hand in case there are Y2K problems? The same food and equipment you would keep for a weather emergency, according to federal Y2K experts, as well as up-to-date financial and medical records.
Bottled water (a gallon per person per day).
At least three days' worth of nonperishable, ready-to-eat food.
Flashlights, battery-operated radio, extra batteries.
Extra supplies for infants, the elderly or others with special needs.
Make sure your car's gas tank is more than half-full.
Enough cash for a couple of days, but not too much because of the risk of theft.
Check with the manufacturer to determine whether computers, security systems, programmable thermostats and other home equipment are Y2K-compatible.
More information is available on the Internet at www.y2k.gov.
SOURCE: Federal Emergency Management Agency, President's Council on Y2K Conversion.