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Y2K plus 10: Is fear of crash past?
A decade ago, agencies, governments scrambled to head off computer glitch
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Hall County Emergency Management Agency Coordinator William Wright's command center is set up to provide a comprehensive all-hazards approach to homeland security and disaster initiatives, mitigation, preparedness, response, recovery and special events. It's located in the basement of the Hall County Emergency Service Complex on Crescent Drive.

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William Wright, Hall County's Emergency Management Agency coordinator, recalls events leading to New Year's Day 2000 when he was in charge of Gilmer County's emergency management.

Despite the preparations, doomsday scenarios had many stocking up on bottled water and making sure they had cash on hand and a full tank of gas in the car.

The scare was that as the calendar turned to Jan. 1, 2000, computers wouldn’t recognize the new millennium and would shut down everything from power grids to banking systems.

But Y2K, as it came to be known, passed into history as another New Year’s night, with revelers getting out of hand being the worst kind of trouble for many communities.

"Being in the industry, there was a lot of activity and a lot of hype early on that kind of drove companies and organizations to get prepared so that it could be a nonevent," said Marty Comella, who runs a technology firm in Cumming.

"Actually, (the Y2K conversion) was one of the biggest successes in the (information technology) industry. It kind of went unspoken for a long time, but because of all the preparation on the business side and the IT world, it ended up having very few issues."

William Wright, Hall County’s Emergency Management Agency coordinator, was heading up emergency management in Gilmer County at the time of Y2K.

"We prepared and made all the changes to our computers and anything that had an electronic clock on it, like generators, to make sure they were what the technical folks were telling us was Y2K complaint," Wright said.

He also remembered how officials ushered in the new year with pizza and other food as they kept watch on the community.

"We had folks stationed throughout the county at radio sites where the generators were to make sure if the power went off that the generator would (start operating)," Wright said.

"We planned it for and nothing happened. ... You can have all the plans in the world and (they’d) be in a book, but if you don’t plan, if you don’t sit down with folks and go through the planned processes, then it’s all futile."

Preparation for the event also was hectic in Hall County.

Mazzie Combs was an administrative coordinator whose job was to ensure that Hall was meeting compliance requirements.

"We stayed at 911 dispatch to make sure that everything turned over correctly when it hit midnight," said Combs, who retired in 2005. "And we stayed until 1:30 or 2 in the morning ... and we didn’t have one glitch, not one glitch."

She remembers some of her preparation work included trial runs, notching up the date on some computers.

"And we made sure we had contact with the people from the phone service should we have an emergency," Combs said. "... We had two notebooks full of different pieces of equipment that we checked and rechecked. It was a daily thing for almost a year."

Kelly Randall, Gainesville’s Public Utilities director, was leading that department at the time in an interim role. He was named director in February 2000.

"It was pretty much a nonevent," he recalled. "I was not really that concerned because all of our equipment has manual overrides.

"If something quit working, we would just turn it back on is how I was thinking about it. ... It was never a fear of the water or sewer plant going out.

"It was a good media story."

For those who thought computers ruled the world then, consider technology’s advancements to this point. From Twitter to text messaging, connectivity is more widespread than it was 10 years ago.

Wright said he had a scare when he tried to withdraw money at an ATM and mistakenly typed in the wrong personal identification number.

"I tried again and tried a third time and it kicked my card out and locked it down," he said. "I couldn’t get any money out of the bank Saturday night, so I’m going to start carrying a little cash around."

Humans have become creatures of electronic habit, but they can adjust, Wright said.

"I keep a paper planner on my desk," he said. "If I put a date in the electronic calendar, it goes on the paper planner."

Still, Wright doesn’t fear any kind of cyber meltdown, bringing life as we know it to a screeching halt.

"I’m more concerned about the people who don’t like the United States ... than things like that," he said. "And natural disasters are always something that’s on my mind."

Comella said he doesn’t believe chaos would have reined in 2000 if industries and governments weren’t as prepared as they were.

"Some banking systems would have had issues," he said.

"I was working in a government technology project that was rewriting a lot of (systems) that had to do with Medicaid and Department of Human Resources, and those systems would have stopped. They would not have been able to process, because their systems were ... built around two-digit years."

Comella said some issues have cropped up because of all the connectivity.

"We’re giving Yahoo! and Google the ability to run all of our e-mail accounts, so when they have an outage, it has a big effect on us personally and as a business," he said.

"So, the more trust we put in these unseen organizations that exist only on the Internet, I think there is some risk there and something like a Y2K."

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