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Provo tests its gear for compliance

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City computer doctors are busy inoculating Provo against the millennium bug.

That means taking steps to ensure computer-driven water and power systems and other essential services don't go haywire when the year 2000 dawns.Russ Hansen, city information systems director, has mapped out a yearlong strategy to safeguard Provo from Y2K problems, including a five-month cushion to probe for any land mines before the digit counters fall.

Despite some doomsday predictions, Hansen says Provo and the rest of the nation are in good shape.

"I feel comfortable that some of the hype is over-hype. I feel there is need for preparation," he said. "But I do not feel worried. I feel worried for Third World countries but not this country."

While the technical portions of the city's plan appear on target, money to put it in place could prove more problematic.

"How's your budget?" City Councilwoman Shari Holweg asked Hansen at a recent meeting.

"My budget's empty," he replied.

Robert Stockwell, chief administrative officer, didn't want to venture a guess as to how much Y2K work will cost the city.

"At this point, we just don't have a real good handle on it," he said. "Hopefully, we're not talking about great big expenses, but we just don't know."

Some of the most expensive computer systems have already been replaced, he said. Other outdated equipment will be supplanted through attrition.

Hansen said he doesn't expect a huge financial impact. "What we're more concerned with is that we don't fail," he said. As are more than 100,000 Provoans who rely on the city for everything from water to police protection.

Provo's Y2K team must replace at least 100 of the city's 400 computers over the next year. "The police department is at most risk," Hansen said.

"They have 51 computers at this point that would fail."

Council members expressed concern about maintaining the 911 emergency system. Stockwell said the city budgeted money to replace the system. Also, the telephone system can be replaced out of current revenues, he said.

The city power department was in the fortuitous position of having to overhaul its outdated system anyway, said Jeff Wilson, systems analyst. In so doing, it was able to test the new system for Y2K compliance as it ran parallel to the old one. Technicians watched the clock artificially roll over to the year 2000.

"It held up just fine," Wilson said. "It's about as close a mock-up as you can get."

Even though the city will do all it can to keep the lights on and the water flowing, Hansen said, some matters will be out its hands. It's still dependent on outside utility companies, for example, to ensure telephone and electrical lines work.

"It's kind of an unknown. You cannot control every organization or agency to do what they should," he said.

The city's insurance carrier has promised coverage for Y2K incidents as long as Provo does "due diligence" to find and fix all known problems, Hansen said.