Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, April 5, 1999

Y2K bug receives healthy swat, but it's not dead yet

By Andrea Vargo

"You've killed the Y2K bug," said Howard Lake City Administrator Christina Frankenfield, as City Councilman Don Danford swatted an errant bug that landed on the table in front of him Tuesday.

If it were only that easy.

In an effort to better plan for Jan. 1, 2000, the Howard Lake City Council hosted a special year 2000 meeting with its various departments and providers for local utilities.

Reliant Energy Minnegasco, Sprint, Northern States Power (NSP), and Wright-Hennepin Electric Cooperative had representatives at the meeting to update the council on their readiness for the year 2000.

Reliant Energy Minnegasco program manager Arnold Hendrickson informed the council that his company started assessing the Y2K problems in 1994.

"We are concerned with three areas: deliverability, customer service, and internal systems," said Hendrickson.

The company purchases its natural gas in the United States, so foreign problems will not affect delivery, he said.

Computers control measuraments, but movement of the product can be done manually. The system doesn't rely on electricity for power. It is a system of valves.

Internal data systems have also been through a trial run.

"In Minnetonka a couple of weeks ago, we ran 24 hours with data systems as if we had to rely on our back up in Chicago. Eighty percent ran flawlessly. The others were minor glitches that we feel can be fixed quickly," said Hendrickson.

"We will have the people on board to take care of regular problems.

"I mean, someone could hit a meter and cause an outage. The problem would come if someone can't get through on a phone to call it in," he said.

Next, Darrin Lahr of NSP reassured the council the company has been working on the Y2K problem since 1995-96, when it organized a year 2000 office.

NSP dedicated $24 million and 400 people to address the problem, said Lahr.

"We are confident that these issues (with embedded chips) are not a problem. We found it is sort of irrelevant who makes the chip. Our chips use a time cycle," explained Lahr.

The computers don't care what year it is. They just monitor a time cycle. For instance, how many seconds it has been since the last cycle.

Lahr told the council, "It doesn't affect the functionality of the equipment the computer operates."

Very little is microprocessor based, as to the production of electricity, said Lahr.

NSP is about 90 percent finished with critical items, and expects to be completely finished with that by June 30.

Systems that are not quite as critical, such as billing, should also be fine.

Transmission systems? There is not too much that is Y2K sensitive, he said. Distribution is mechanical with wires and switches.

"We don't think the likelihood of an outage is any greater that night, than any other night," said Lahr.

Rod Nikula of Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association added his assurance that power is expected to be consistent with any other night of the year.

All the sub-stations tested fine, said Nikula. The business systems are fine, and the personal computers are being replaced as needed, he said.

Home security installed by Wright-Hennepin doesn't care what year it is, Nikula stated. Software is more of a concern and the suppliers assure readiness for 2000.

Most of the issues for Wright-Hennepin are in the stack emissions at the manufacturing end.

Many microprocessors make sure harmful emissions are not released, and all have to be tested to make sure something isn't shut down accidentally, explained Nikula.

Communications seemed to be the only place where any amount of trouble will be experienced.

Sprint representative Karyn Gibson said it all depends on how many people call their mothers at 12:01 to see if they have power.

She said she expects it to be the mother of all Mother's Days. People will have to be patient because they will get a recording, if all the lines are busy.

If they insist on redialing immediately, they will tie up their own line, she said.

The new digital systems don't crash. People just get a recording to call again, she said.

"We will put inserts into the bills to explain that," said Gibson.

If there are any billing problems, they will be corrected the following month, she said.

Sprint has battery back-up for 24 hours, and then if needed, the generators kick in.

Her company expects 100 percent compliance by June.

Councilman Danford asked about dependency on other countries for utilities. Minnegasco, Sprint, and Wright Hennepin have no dependency or connection.

NSP is connected to Manitoba, and intends to maintain that connection, but Hendrickson said Manitoba could be walled off, if necessary, with no interruption of power to customers.

Hendrickson said, "NSP has scads of people to speak to communities and organizations."

"We go everywhere, all the time, with speakers," he said.

Whether it is to a church on a Sunday morning or to a city council meeting, NSP is trying to publicize the Y2K issues and solutions.

All the utilities and the City of Howard Lake will do inserts into their billings as the year draws to a close.

Maintenance Supervisor Tom Goepfert said, "It should only take one guy to check and see if everything cycles (at the waste water treatment plant) and I think gravity will still work (water tower)."

Fire department and ambulance personnel will consider it a normal night. Pager and 911 systems are checked from the county level.

The city's plan for that night includes having a few key employees on the job and others on call.

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