The Federal Emergency Management Agency will have more than 800 staff members on duty Dec. 28 through Jan. 4, ready for what the government's Y2K cadre calls "event management."
FEMA officials think it is highly unlikely that a Year 2000 computer problem will create an "event" that will overwhelm state and local emergency crews and require federal assistance. But FEMA officials assume they must plan for the worst-case scenario: simultaneous electronic disruptions in all 50 states combined with some of nature's winter weather disasters during the New Year's weekend.
"It is still an unknown," FEMA operations director Bruce Baughman said of Y2K. "I think it would be negligent on our part not to have our operation centers stood up, knowing it could happen during that window."
A computer failure would have to cause widespread physical damage or threaten public safety before FEMA would be asked for assistance, officials said.
That would mean any Y2K crisis would have to overwhelm state and local efforts to respond to the emergency. FEMA will be prepared to send power generators and to provide emergency communications systems and other aid to states, if governors make such requests.
FEMA will not actually fix computers but will try to help state and local governments find federal agencies and private companies that can assist them in making repairs if a system interprets "00" as 1900 rather than 2000 and malfunctions or shuts down.
With less than three months before Jan. 1, Baughman said, "I don't think we're going to get much" in the way of requests to help quell electronic disasters, in large part because most federal agencies, many states, and the nation's electric power and telephone companies report that they are Y2K-ready.
Much of FEMA's activities over New Year's will focus on supporting the White House's new Information Coordination Center. The center will rely on FEMA to gather reports from states on the status of their critical infrastructure, such as power, telecommunications and health care.
Other federal agencies, including the departments of State and Defense, will provide the coordination center with updates on Y2K problems abroad and their possible effects on U.S. strategic and economic interests.
The Millennial Malaise
Tired of Y2K? You may not be alone.
State Department Inspector General Jacquelyn L. Williams-Bridgers recently warned that the government needs to be on guard against complacency:
"In this country and around the globe, a phenomenon known as 'Y2K Fatigue' is beginning to occur in a public grown weary of hearing about this arcane computer problem."