Rich Edgar, Payson Town Hall's information systems specialist, was trained as a computer network engineer, but for the past year he's also been working as an exterminator. His mission: squash the year 2000 bug out of every town-owned computer, phone, police car, water pump and fire truck.
Now, nearly six months before the numbers on every electronic calendar in the world flip over to 2000, confusing outdated software, computers and imbedded computer chips that depend on the last two digits of the date to tell them what year it is, Edgar says "I can't wait."
Most of the town's critical public safety services such as water, fire and emergency medical aid have already been protected from the Y2K computer bomb.
The police department, which can function without a computer system, is scheduled for a Y2K computer upgrade by the end of July and the town is awaiting a letter of compliance for its traffic light system from the Arizona Department of Transportation.
"Public safety is our top priority," Edgar said. "Overall, my concern is making sure the public safety departments are fully operational by the end of July."
Nevertheless, town officials are leaving little to chance.
They're developing backup plans to make sure residents will have safe streets, water, emergency medical aid and police and fire protection even if power goes out and phone lines go down Jan. 1.
The town's water system, which is mechanical, doesn't rely on computers, but it does rely on power, town hydrogeologist Mike Ploughe said.
"The town already has a couple of generators and we'll probably buy another backup," he said. "We'll probably secure another one on a rental basis (for the New Year)."
Even without power, the water department, which will have 6.6 million gallons of water in storage by Dec. 31, could supply water to customers through its gravity-feed system for five or six days, he said.
The fire department's equipment -- from its trucks to its sirens to its emergency medical equipment -- has all been checked and debugged, Edgar said, as has the police department's patrol equipment, which includes vehicles and radios.
The town's 911 emergency phone system is completely dependent on U.S. West Communications, Edgar said. If that goes down, 911 goes down.
However, U.S. West spokesman Jim Roof said Wednesday that 98 percent of the company's Arizona switching stations, which control phone calls, are Y2K-proof, and the remaining stations will be in compliance by July 31.
Although town officials are still unsure whether ADOT's traffic lights on Highways 87 and 260 in Payson are Y2K compliant, he said police officers can direct traffic if they fail.
The town has asked ADOT to check the lights and make any needed upgrades, he said, but the agency has been slow to act.
The town also has upgraded its phone system, which would have been crippled by the Y2K bug, and most of its operating systems, Edgar said.
"We started planning to upgrade the town's systems three years ago, even before we started thinking about Y2K," he said, "so these upgrades actually came at a pretty good time for us."
So far, the town has spent $60,000 to upgrade the phone system, $60,000 to upgrade the town's computer systems and $10,000 to upgrade the town's emergency operations plan, he said.
To date, the operating systems in the finance, water, community development, fire department and clerks' offices have been upgraded and readied for the end of the year.
That means water bills, business license renewals and building fees should all continue to go out on time and the town will be able to continue to track town funds and fire and emergency medical calls.
The police department's operating system, which tracks officers on duty and records arrests and other information, will be upgraded by July 31, he said.
"That system won't affect officer performance," he said. "They've worked during server upgrades before. They don't like it. They have to record everything the old-fashioned way -- by hand -- but they won't miss a beat."
Overall, Edgar said he doesn't expect the town to suffer any serious Y2K problems. "But it all depends on power," he said.
Power a key issue
An Arizona Public Service spokesman could not be reached by press time, but according to the company's Web site, APS has been updating its systems for two years and officials expect all service-related equipment to be Y2K-safe by the middle of this year.
Officials for other local utilities, which aren't controlled by the town, are also confident they won't let their customers down on New Year's Day.
Northern Gila County Sanitary District Manager Joel Goode said his firm has replaced or upgraded all of the plant's equipment that was vulnerable to the Y2K bug.
"We feel pretty comfortable," he said. "We'll be doing simulations in the coming months to prepare for worst case scenarios and establish emergency procedures, but we think we'll be fine."
Energy West officials, who supply propane to Rim country customers, said their company also has completed its computer and equipment upgrades.
In case of an emergency, however, the firm plans to top off its lease-tank customers before the New Year and has purchased back-up generators to keep pipeline customers supplied.
Y2K on the Web
For more information about the Y2K issue, check out these Web sites: www.year2000.com, one of the oldest and biggest sites on Y2K, or www. y2ktoday.com, an archive of Y2K articles and more.