Town Working Through Program To Clean Up Anticipated Y2k Woes

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With a comprehensive plan developed by town officials, Payson's information systems specialist Rich Edgar is confident the Town of Payson will have the upper hand on the Y2K crisis by June.

Y2K is the global term for the computer industries' short-sighted approach to programming. When the majority of the world's computer systems, software and other technological wonders were created, some were done so without the ability to recognize the year 2000. Without a fix to the problem, hundreds of computerized applications may cease operations at the stroke of midnight Dec. 31, 1999.

The Town of Payson started addressing the situation a year and a half in advance.

"We started about eight months ago, and we started by educating ourselves," Edgar said.

After brushing up on the latest information about the pesky "millennium bug," Edgar and Kelly Udall, administrative services director, turned their attention to the town's 100 personal computers. They downloaded files off the Internet designed to test the integrity of a computer system against the perils of the Y2K bug.

"We found out that about 60 percent of our systems were failing," Edgar said. Sitting in the business license office, he said the computer there was one of the units that failed.

"This has an older 'motherboard' and it failed," he said. "What we did was put a file on it -- year2000.com. We were able to fool the computer into knowing what the year 2000 is. We know that the hardware is OK."

Fixing the PCs, though, was merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to battling Y2K.

Edgar has not turned his attention to the various embedded chips found in virtually every piece of electronic equipment at Town Hall.

An embedded chip is a microchip soldered into a piece of equipment that makes it operate. Examples of embedded technology include fax machines, credit card readers, telephone systems and cash registers.

"Basically, if the device is digital, chances are that it has an embedded chip," Edgar said. That's not to say that all devices with an embedded chip will fail, he added. A microwave oven, for example, may have a chip that allows the user to program the date and time. However, the oven's operation is not date reliant, so while the display may malfunction and simply flash "0," the oven can still be used.

"That's the hardest part --the stuff we don't know about," Edgar said, pointing to a list of equipment that may be affected. These range from fax machines to cellular telephones, from microwave ovens to televisions, from security cameras to cash registers.

"For each of these items that may or may not contain an embedded chip, we have to contact the manufacturer. That's the first step," Edgar said. "You get them to send a letter of compliance.

"Everything we use, from our software to hardware, we're trying to get a letter of compliance. What you're doing, then, is essentially taking their word. That's the first step."

Next comes the testing, he said, and town staff is in the process of determining just how to test various techno-gadgets. "Like our cell phones," he said. "I don't know how we're going to test those. We're still in that process."

As for software, Edgar said the majority of the town's computers operate using Windows '95. By logging on to the Microsoft Web site (www.microsoft. com), Windows users can download a simple fix to most Microsoft applications.

Where we're at
At this time, Edgar said systems within the clerk's office, the parks and recreation department, administrative and finance departments have all been checked and fixed. By the beginning of summer, he predicts the entire town government will be ready for the next century.

"We've prioritized, and worked on the most needed areas first," he said. "If you can't write a letter, so what? If you can't bill, keep your finances straight, get the employees paid, issue permits, then you've got major problems."

Edgar offered an overview of what's been done so far:

  • Radios and paging systems have been verified.
  • Automobile manufacturers have been contacted for verification. Ford and GM have both responded with the same story. Their vehicles do contain chips, but they're not date-reliant for operation.
  • The town's water pumps are mechanical, not computerized, and will operate as normal, provided the flow of electricity is not interrupted. The town has checked, and verified that all of its backup generators will work.

"What we have to do is bank on everybody else doing their job, from APS to US West," Edgar said. "The flat matter of it is, if something goes wrong and we don't have power, everything else we've done becomes a mute point. Aside from that, we're trying to be as practical and as efficient as we possibly can."

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