No problems expected locally for Y2K

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 12/15/99.

A year ago, dire predictions were being made about the consequences of the change from the year 1999 to 2000. The change poses a problem to many computers, which were originally programmed to read just two digit dates, like 83 for 1983. The Y2000 problem, or Y2K, was feared to effect computers and microchips and potentially devastating scenarios were imagined.

Now, with the new year just over two weeks away, the general feeling seems to have changed. One hears more now about how Y2K will be a nonevent, in large measure due to preparations already made.

"We do not believe the Y2K issue will create significant problems in the United States, but individuals should be prepared for the possibility that there could be temporary disrup-tions in some services," said John Koskinen, chair of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion.

The Minnesota Department of Commerce monitors the state's energy and telephone utilities and its financial institutions. After overseeing Y2K testing and preparations for utilities, state-chartered banks, and credit unions, the commerce department feels there's little cause for concern.

"We are confident that the vast majority of Minnesotans will not experience any disruptions in their essential services, said Department of Commerce Commissioner Steve Minn. "While 100 percent compliance cannot be assured by anyone, Y2K poses no more of a threat to utilities or financial institutions than a Minnesota storm or a bad winter day."

Mary Voss, a Y2K coordinator for Northern States Power Company, agreed, saying, "We don't anticipate any more problems than we do any other day of the year. It is winter, you know."

If there is a power outage, Voss expects it would be local in nature and temporary. She said that a power outage would more likely be caused by a reckless driver hitting a power pole, an animal disrupting the lines, or the winter weather. NSP reportedly spent more than $24 million in Y2K preparations.

Peak power for NSP is required in the summer, so in the winter the company has twice the generating capacity it needs. Their coal plants typically have a 35 to 40 day supply of coal on reserve.

If there is an NSP outage that affects you, Voss said to call 800-892-0343.

Lakedale Telephone has stated their readiness for Y2K, and the city of Paynesville expects to be able to provide sanitary sewer and water to city residents, even without normal electricity. The city has a generator that could pump water into the water tower, and another portable generator that could be used to power the various lift stations around town for the sanitary sewer.

Joe Spaulding of F & M State Bank said that the safest place for money is on deposit. He warned people to be wary of any financial scams. The Department of Commerce reported that all the state-chartered banks and credit unions have received a satisfactory rating for their Y2K preparations.

Marvin Klug, Stearns County Emergency Services Director, said his advice is the same that has been prominently stated: have preparations ready to survive a winter storm. Primary items to have on hand include nonperishable food, stored water, flash lights, and a battery-powered radio. (See the shaded box on page 2 for safety tips.)

Klug said Paynesville will serve as a hub for emergency services on New Year's Eve. He will be in radio contact with Bill Drager, the civil defense director for the city of Paynesville, at city hall. Lake Henry, Spring Hill, St. Martin, Roscoe, Belgrade, and Brooten will be able to report problems to Paynesville, which could relay them to St. Cloud. "I don't anticipate any problems at all,"Ęsaid Klug.

"We feel we're well prepared for anything that could happen," he added. "Everybody should just enjoy the evening. If anything should happen, we'll handle it."

One warning from the Department of Commerce is that people are being urged not to pick up the phone right after midnight. It's feared that everyone will want to see if there phone is working, but an unusually high demand at once could overwhelm the system.

If you can't contact the Paynesville Area Health Care System, you should bring the patient to the hospital or send someone to the facility to get help. "We can get people to them if they come to us," said Bev Mueller, patient care administrator at PAHCS. The hospital system will have extra staff on hand, including department heads, and will be in contact with the dispatchers at Stearns County by radio.

"We're definitely ready," said Mueller, of the system's preparations. They have about a month's worth of supplies on hand, a generator for emergency power, and have made arrangements for extra fuel and to run without city water, a vital resource at a health care facility. One minor preparation will be that resident patients will be scheduled for baths on New Year's Eve instead of New Year's morning.

More information is available at,, and The President's Council has a free information line at 1-888-USA-4Y2K. Stearns County Emergency Services can be reached at 320-259-3940.

Y2K safety tips
(These tips are from the American Red Cross and the Minnesota Department of Commerce.)

•Stock disaster supplies to last several days to a week for yourself and those who live with you. This includes having nonperishable foods, stored water, and an ample supply of prescription and nonprescription medications that you regularly use.

•Have some extra cash or traveler's checks on hand in case electronic transactions involving ATM cards or credit cards cannot be processed. Plan to keep the cash or traveler's checks in a safe place and withdraw money from your bank in small amounts well in advance of Dec. 31.

•As you should in winter, keep your automobile gas tank above half full.

•In case power fails, plan to use alternative cooking devices in accordance with manufacturer's instructions. Don't use open flames or charcoal grills indoors.

•Have extra blankets, coats, hats, and gloves to keep warm. Please do not use gas-fueled appliances , like an oven, for a heat source.

•Have plenty of flashlights and extra batteries on hand. Don't use candles for emergency lighting.

•The safest place for your money is still your bank or credit union. If you decide to withdraw cash, hold only as much as you would for any holiday weekend. Minnesota's banks and credit unions are well prepared for the date change, and the Federal Reserve ensures that enough cash will be on hand to satisfy withdrawal requests. Remember, large amounts of cash could be lost or stolen. Funds on deposit in a bank or a credit union are federally insured.

•Keep current records of all personal financial accounts, including paper copies of bank statements, transaction receipts, investment balances, mortgage payments, and other major billing records. In the weeks before and after Jan. 1, 2000, check all bills and receipts for accuracy.

•Be aware of Y2K scams. Be skeptical of anyone selling products, services, insurance, or investments that are "Y2K safe." Do not provide financial account information, including credit card or Social Security numbers, to anyone you don't know.

•Examine your smoke alarms now. If you have smoke alarms that are hard-wired into your home's electrical system--many newer ones are--check to see if they have battery back-ups.

•Be prepared to relocate to a shelter for warmth and protection during a prolonged power outage or if for any other reason local officials request or require that you leave your home. Listen to a battery-operated radio or television for information about where shelters will be available.

•If you plan to use a portable generator, connect what you want to power directly to the generator. Do not connect the generator to your home's electrical system. Also, be sure to keep a generator in a well-ventilated areas, either outside or in a garage. Don't put a generator in your basement or anywhere inside your home.

•Stay off the phone and the Internet on New Year's Eve. While our public telephone network is not expected to experience Y2K related problems, too many people picking up the phone at one time can overwhelm the system. If this happens, callers may get a message that the circuits are busy or there may be silence. In that case, the smart thing to do is stay on the line and wait for a dial tone. Hanging up and picking up the phone will only perpetuate the problem.

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