Smooth ride for state computers

Posted: Sunday, January 02, 2000

Most Y2K watchers were able to pack up and go home earlier than they expected Friday night.

The vast majority of the computer problems feared by many as a result of software mistaking ``00'' for 1900 instead of 2000 never occurred.

``It was very quiet, very calm, we had no problems,'' said PTI General Manager Jim Collard. ``That's the night we wanted.''

Even concerns that phone lines could be clogged by people testing them were unfounded.

``We even monitored that for a while after the calendar rolled over and there was not excessive calling, so we were grateful about that,'' said Collard, who was ready to go home shortly before 1 a.m.

The city's Y2K coordinator, Anne Stadnychenko, celebrated the New Year in the police station, watching the 911 switchboard roll over.

``We've had a pretty quiet evening here,'' she said. ``Not one glitch. We were happy about that.''

Though they'd warned people not to call 911 unless there was an emergency, several people did call just to see if it was working.

``That's how we knew it was working,'' Stadnychenko said.

Before 1 a.m. Stadnychenko was able to say the city had survived the calendar switch flawlessly.

``We don't really anticipate anything else. Most of the critical departments have already called in and reported no anomalies,'' she said.

She credited the uneventful night to the work that went into finding and solving computer problems in advance.

``We took care of everything that had to be taken care of and that helped,'' Stadnychenko said.

Mark Badger, chief technology officer for the state, spent the past two years preparing for potential glitches. He was not surprised the turnover to 2000 was anticlimactic.

``This has been an amazing ramp-up for an anticipated event,'' he said, adding that he also respected people's fears.

``The potential was really there,'' he said. ``I didn't try to dissuade concerns and angst.''

The state's mainframe computer handles 219 million instructions a second, said Ron Hensley, chief of computer services for the state's Information Technology Group. A problem could affect thousands of people. The state payroll, trooper and road-crew communications, the permanent fund, child support, the state's e-mail network and the statewide paging system are among the myriad systems linked to the computer.

Badger spent New Year's Eve on the fifth floor of the State Office Building, where the brains and hardware for Alaska's complex computer network are housed. Security guards and a crew of a dozen technology specialists were on hand to oversee the transition to the new year.

They were in close contact with the Statewide Emergency Coordination Center, located in a bunker at Fort Richardson near Anchorage. Representatives from 18 state and federal agencies were there, including officials with the Army National Guard, the Navy, the Air Force, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Alaska State Troopers and Alyeska Pipeline Service Co.

``There's never been a night when emergency response was so ready to respond,'' said Bob Poe, head of state's Y2K preparations.

There was nothing to respond to. Alaska Electric Light and Power, the Federal Aviation Administration, Alaska Communications Systems, Alyeska, the Coast Guard and Alaska Airlines all had similar reports of uneventful nights and working systems.

The state's e-mail network has been successfully receiving messages dated for the year 2000 since 7 a.m. Friday, when the turnover occurred in Japan and Australia. Analyst and programmer Brian Idzik said he hadn't seen any problems.

But Poe warned it may not be over yet.

``Our real test is going to be on Monday. A lot of things just aren't operating now,'' Poe said. ``The first week in January will be important for all of us to watch. Then again at the end of the month - there's a lot of end-of-the-month processing.''

Y2K made its presence known in small ways. After midnight, Associated Press software used by the Empire stopped accepting written descriptions of photos because they had the date 1/1/00.

Problems with PTI Alaska Internet service reported Friday were caused by maintenance work on one of the fiber optic lines, not Y2K, said network operations manager Jim Henry.

If Y2K problems develop in the next few days, people can notify the emergency center until Monday afternoon at (888) 794-8273.

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