NEW YORK TIMES: New York City residents store water, get ready for Y2K... : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread


Is the Big Apple finally 'getting it'?

From the lead-in to this fascinating NEW YORK TIMES story...

November 26, 1999

Some Fear a Shortage of Water

By TINA KELLEY If there's been one constant to life in New York City, it's that water from upstate reservoirs will always flow from the tap. But now, with the millennium approaching, a few New Yorkers are not so sure, and they've started stocking up -- just in case.

One skeptic is Steve Molloy, 28, of Bayside, Queens, who pitched in with four friends to buy a $10,000 trailer full of Glaceau bottled water, about 250 cases each. He is storing his stash in his garage, and he figures he will go through his supply of 3,000 bottles in a year or so..."

[Nice of Steve to let his fellow-New Yorkers know where all that clean, pure water is stashed, via the New York Times. There may be a lot of thirsty people checking the phone book for his address on January 1st...:)]

-- John Whitley (, November 27, 1999


You obviously do not understand the New York mentality. This is not drinking water, this is buying and selling water. Wonder if Steve is a Democrat ?

-- Ken G. (None@this.time), November 27, 1999.

Ken G.

I was thinking the same thing. All the NY Times did was tell his customers where to find him. 3,000 bottles? Sheesh! Article or not, he'll cash out the first day the taps come up dry.


-- TECH32 (TECH32@NOMAIL.COM), November 27, 1999.

The correct link is omp.html

Here's the full story, since the Times requires registration, which many are reluctant to do. Fair use/educational purposes:

With Double-Zero Day Rapidly Nearing, New York City Officials Ask `What if?'


Last month, after searching and testing hundreds of computer systems and countless electronic devices in New York City's vast inventory of technology, city officials took one of the final steps in a four- year, $300 million effort to prevent any turmoil stemming from the Year 2000 computer problem.

They canvassed every city agency, from Corrections to Sanitation, to identify each jackhammer, bullhorn, tent, chain saw and portable toilet. They made a list of every city employee who is a qualified nurse, elevator mechanic, electrician, cook -- even scuba diver -- so appropriate gear and specialists can quickly be dispatched should trouble erupt after clocks in computers tick from 1999 to 2000.

The challenge is that despite spending more than any other city in the world to fight the computer glitch, New York's technology and emergency-management experts say things may yet go wrong -- and no one can be sure which things, or how New Yorkers will react.

The Year 2000 computer problem could manifest itself almost anywhere, in ways small and large, because computers and microchips have become enmeshed in every aspect of urban life. Or -- given how much repair work has been done -- it could cause almost no trouble at all, as most city officials and independent experts expect.

The city's Year 2000 experts say they have checked for almost every conceivable situation:

 They worried about traffic lights all blinking yellow, or failing altogether. (The traffic-management system has since been tested four times by rolling the date past 2000.)

 They envisioned death certificates delayed, with bodies piling up at funeral homes. (That computer system has since been updated and tested.)

 They imagined the chaos of scrambled city checks. (The system was overhauled, and as an extra precaution, the city has preprinted several hundred thousand payroll and pension checks.)

But what is left could still add up to a host of disruptions.

The problem stems from the early days of computing. To conserve memory, years were usually indicated as just two digits. Unfortunately, 00 -- instead of being read as 2000 -- may be interpreted as 1900 or simply not compute. The result in both cases can be a frozen computer or faulty data.

Multiplied by the number of computers and chips involved in daily living, this bit of shorthand has added up to the first potential global crisis of the Information Age.

New York's own success or failure in preventing disruptions in services and commerce will have implications far beyond the city's five boroughs, given its status as a hub of finance, trade and travel. And if prevention alone should not suffice, officials are determined to be ready for any eventuality.

The city is assembling a small fleet of truck-mounted generators to deploy should some high-rise or housing project go dark. More than 50,000 self-heating boxed beef-and-mushroom dinners sit waiting to be rushed to shelters in case of evacuations.

Thousands of city employees normally on vacation over the New Year's weekend have been told to plan on working, including 4,000 additional police officers.

"You have to balance between panicking people and having people prepared," Police Commissioner Howard Safir said. "I expect things will function as normal, but if not, we're ready to go in and help."

On Dec. 29, the city's emergency management "bunker" -- a sleek $13 million room on the 23rd floor of 7 World Trade Center -- will become the round-the-clock home for more than 100 crisis managers from several dozen city agencies, power, banking and phone companies, and emergency response groups ranging from the Red Cross to the Coast Guard.

Through New Year's Day, and for several weeks beyond if necessary, it will be the nerve center for the city's handling of any trouble stemming from the Year 2000 computer problem.

In the meantime, the computer and crisis managers are still working to eliminate or anticipate any still-hidden snags before Zero Day, as they are calling the date transition. In the hottest of many hot seats are Jerome M. Hauer, the director of the Mayor's Office of Emergency Management -- known to some as the office of "what if" -- and Brian T. Cohen, executive director of the city's Year 2000 Project Office, which has been pushing city agencies for three years, occasionally even browbeating them, to fix everything.

Cohen, who chain-smokes Marlboros and rarely tightens his tie, sat at his cluttered desk recently and said that the checking and rechecking would continue even as the ball drops in Times Square. "There are going to be no parties here," he said. "I'm going to feel good about nothing until long after Jan. 1."

Government Keeping the Pressure on City Agencies

Joseph J. Lhota, the deputy mayor for operations, recalls having his first briefing on the Year 2000 problem sometime in 1996, while he was director of the Office of Management and Budget.

He said he did not really absorb its significance until he went home that night, booted up his desktop computer, and fiddled with the electronic calendar to see if he could enter dates beyond 1999. He couldn't.

He reflected on the hundreds of date-related city functions that depended on computers. "That's when I knew this was very real," Lhota said. And the clock was ticking.

That year, with an initial budget of $300,000, the city, with consultants from IBM and other contractors, began the first thorough assessment of its vulnerability -- and how much it would cost to fix things.

After sifting the technology of all its agencies, the city identified 657 computer processes that were essential for the government to fulfill its many missions. But initial work focused on several dozen systems whose failure would have a large, immediate effect on New Yorkers or city government itself -- things like the 911 emergency dispatch system, arrest and prison records, traffic lights and tax collection, payroll and pensions.

City computer experts and outside consultants have since examined and re-examined the equipment and backup equipment and contingency plans for every city agency and related institutions. More than 65 million lines of computer programming code were inspected to find spots where the date problem might cause a crash or misinterpretation of data. The software was patched up or replaced. More than 70 obsolete or fatally flawed computer systems were retired.

The first system deemed repaired, tested and ready -- the computer that tracks the 11 million parking citations issued each year -- was finished in July 1998. And while the city missed its goal of full readiness by mid-1999, only one system -- a program that tracks the deployment of transit police -- is still not ready, according to Cohen. (The information can be gathered by phone if the system is not ready as planned in mid-December, he said.)

Even with all critical systems accounted for, the city's Year 2000 officials have plenty of reasons to remain nervous. There will invariably be some incompatibilities with the computer systems of outside suppliers or state agencies who have made their own changes to deal with the date confusion, and the city could be in dire straits if those connections falter.

In recent months, to keep pressure on city agencies, Cohen and several senior officials have presided over biweekly meetings in which commissioners are grilled about every detail of their Year 2000 work and their emergency plans.

The Year 2000 team only half-jokingly refers to the meetings as a kind of quiz game called "Stump the Commish."

In one such meeting in October, in a conference room adorned with framed, yellowed New York City maps from the last century, Joel S. Miele, the city commissioner of environmental protection, faced a phalanx of questioners across a conference table, who probed to see if his agency was ready for the next century.

Water would continue to flow, he said, because 99 percent of the supply is gravity fed, requiring no pumps or computers to get water at least to the sixth floor in most city buildings. Keeping sewage plants running was relatively easy, too, Miele said, because the city plants are mostly so old that manual systems still exist to take over for computers should the computers fail.

For more than an hour, Miele described every detail of the agency's plans to keep things running. "This is very satisfying," said Allan H. Dobrin, the city commissioner of technology and telecommunications. As Miele headed for the door, Dobrin added: "You guys have really come a long way. See you next month."

Cohen, Dobrin and the others would see three other agency heads that day, and more the next, and the next.

Vital Links Smoothing the Way for Planes and Trains

Of course, even if the city's own computer connections work perfectly as 2000 begins, that does not ensure that all will be well. Failures of computers or other systems at independent public agencies like the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Board of Education, at financial or medical centers, chemical plants or a host of other enterprises could also produce turmoil in the city.

The key agencies are talking every bit as confidently as the city. Officials at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the port, the airports, commuter trains to New Jersey, and the World Trade Center, say it spent more than $100 million in its own effort, testing everything from the Trade Center elevators to the computers controlling security doors at the airports -- even the three special, computer-laden Saab sedans that check the friction of runways at the airports. It turned out that the cars' computers could not pass muster. The cars are being replaced.

The M.T.A., which serves six million riders a day, says repair work is finished and contingency plans are in place, including preparations for double to triple the normal Times Square subway traffic on New Year's Eve. The authority spent $35 million but, officials say, actually had a far easier challenge than transit agencies in cities like Washington and San Francisco with newer, much more automated systems.

Consolidated Edison says it completed Year 2000 preparations last month. Several crucial sites, like its East River steam plant, have already switched their computers to the Year 2000 without encountering problems.

Con Ed also expects, like many utilities, to have power plants that would normally be off-line on New Year's Eve operating at low levels and ready to swing into action if problems arise.

The power company plans to have 1,500 extra employees on hand over New Year's Eve, many of them in repair crews and trucks positioned in neighborhoods where crowds might make it hard to move in help in the event of any power disruptions. Additional personnel will be at its control center on the Upper West Side and other command posts.

"We know it's going to be busy," said Mike Spall, a Con Ed spokesman. "People are going to assume that any problem is a Y2K problem."

The July blackout in upper Manhattan, which showed that generators at some city hospitals were inadequate, served as an alert, administrators at several hospitals said.

In general, public and private hospitals have been given high marks in independent reviews. They have sifted through tens of thousands of medical devices looking for microchips that might cause malfunctions, and most have prepared elaborate contingency plans.

At New York-Presbyterian Hospital, the 400 workers in the hospital's information services department on East 38th Street will be on duty through the holiday weekend. They are being told to treat the New Year's transition like "a week of going to camp," according to Juanita Brassard, head of the hospital's contingency planning team.

They are being instructed to bring empty gallon jugs during the last week of the year to store water in their cubicles, as well as a sleeping bag, a pillow, three days of nonperishable ready-to-eat food, flashlights and extra batteries. Those who live farthest away are being scheduled to work the first 12 hours so that the second shift is made up of workers more likely to reach the office if transportation problems develop.

Contingencies an Emergency Center to Plan for the Worst

Independent experts who have analyzed the efforts of Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani's team say the city is in good shape. In recent weeks, the city comptroller, Alan G. Hevesi, whose office audited Year 2000 computer work by 49 city agencies over the last two years, raised most of the grades to "good."

But despite the expenditure of so much time, money, and effort, no one expects every computer or hidden chip to make the transition to 2000 flawlessly and no one can be sure how the public will react -- perhaps in ways that create new problems. For example, if everyone picks up a telephone at 12:01 a.m. New Year's Day to check for a dial tone, circuits will quickly become overloaded.

"They can say what they want, but something will happen," said one city official who helped investigate the readiness of many agencies. "Everyone has to have a fallback position." So a separate effort has been under way for more than a year to plan for the worst.

The challenge is particularly daunting because any technical problems may coincide with an epic celebration that is expected to swell the city's population by a million or more, and with officials on alert for possible terrorism or other millennial disorder.

The main emergency operations center at 7 World Trade Center, used most recently for Hurricane Floyd in September, will hand off problems to clusters of experts on things like communications, power, elevators, and medical problems. Through multiple telephone and radio links, it will serve as the hub of a network of crisis centers operated by individual city agencies, Con Edison and others.

The Police Department will have its own command center running on the eighth floor of 1 Police Plaza, focused on tracking crowds at the millennium celebration and any attendant troubles, police officials said.

In many ways the backup plans for entering the next century involve going back to the last one. The city is planning to use dozens of old coal-heated schools -- once seen as a sign of the school system's state of disrepair -- as shelters, because the boilers can run without electricity to pump fuel oil.

Police officials say they are prepared to abandon temporarily their new system for digital fingerprinting and revert to the old "ink and roll" method used on suspects' fingers for generations.

With five weeks to go, Hauer, the city's emergency management director, is never far from a three-inch-thick binder that lays out the overall contingency plan. In an office near the emergency operations center, there is a wall nearly filled with the each agencies' preparations.

The next-to-last step will come on Dec. 8, when the city's computer crisis team meets in the emergency center at 9 p.m. for a full dress rehearsal, with the clock running forward as if it is New Year's Eve -- and with an assortment of imaginary crises coming at them from every phone and computer.

The scripts that will control the mayhem facing them during the drill are being written now by Hauer's staff.

"We expect this real-time drill to be far more stressful than New Year's Eve," Hauer said. 'It's going to have a lot of scenarios we don't think will happen."

But no matter what imaginary scenarios unfold during the drill, the Year 2000 team, and the city, will still confront the unknowable as Zero Day arrives.


There are also a few graphs and sidebars, but you'll need to register and click through to see those.

-- Steve (, November 27, 1999.

Actually, Steve, this was the article I was reading...:)

[reproduced solely for fair-use educational and discussion purposes]

November 26, 1999

Some Fear a Shortage of Water

By TINA KELLEY If there's been one constant to life in New York City, it's that water from upstate reservoirs will always flow from the tap. But now, with the millennium approaching, a few New Yorkers are not so sure, and they've started stocking up -- just in case.

One skeptic is Steve Molloy, 28, of Bayside, Queens, who pitched in with four friends to buy a $10,000 trailer full of Glaceau bottled water, about 250 cases each. He is storing his stash in his garage, and he figures he will go through his supply of 3,000 bottles in a year or so. "I'm not paranoid about it like other people are. I'm concerned about the water supply, and it never hurts to be cautious," said Molloy, who works in car sales. He is also stocking up on canned soup and food.

"Hopefully everything will be all right," he said.

The concern over the water supply is one early indicator of how people are already beginning to get ready for Y2K. Even some government officials have said that people might want to stock up on certain supplies -- much as they would for a natural disaster -- before the New Year, because computer problems could hamper distribution systems.

But in terms of the water supply, city officials are confident that they are prepared for the next century.

"The systems are almost exclusively gravity-fed and operate with minimal mechanical assistance," said a statement on the city Department of Environmental Protection's Web site. "Department staff can override these systems in the event of any problem, and no service interruption is anticipated as a result of Year 2000 issues."

Still, some people are going out of their way to play it safe.

At Ace Pump Corporation on West 21st Street, there is a six-week wait for gravity-operated water filters. A man who answered the phone at the company but declined to give his name said customers who had purchased baby pools or large garbage cans to store water wanted filters to keep it from tasting stale.

Sensible Solutions 2000, which provides emergency backup water systems to corporate clients, particularly in the financial district, has experienced an increase in business also. Joseph Santos, the president of Sensible, which is based in Brooklyn, is having trouble finding drivers willing to stand by to deliver 5,000-gallon water tanks. "Drivers want to spend Y2K with their families," he said.

Because of possible commercial traffic restrictions around New Year's Eve, deliveries may have to begin on Dec. 30 and end on Jan. 1, with a driver on duty the entire time, he said.

Many water suppliers said they had not had an increase in business yet. But some said that it was apparent that institutions were concerned.

Glenn Downing, the branch manager for Culligan, Long Island, which provides bottled water for Brooklyn and Queens, as well as Nassau and Suffolk Counties, said his company had received orders from nursing homes that do not usually stock a lot of water, and from New York State, which ordered 300 five-gallon bottles for two detention centers.

A spokesman for Better Waters Inc., a Manhattan-based company that sells water purification systems to restaurants, corporations, hospitals and residences, said it had received calls from churches looking for purification systems that do not require electricity.

"On one hand I think it's bizarre," said Matt Kaye, the spokesman. "On the other hand, we had a big rainstorm" that crippled the city, he added.

James D. Sinegal, the president and chief executive officer of Price/ Costco, the warehouse chain, said there had been an increase in water sales but "hardly to the point of hoarding."

Sales of other goods, he said, were a different story. "Champagne sales are off the chart," he said, "as are generators. They've been very, very strong for months." Even suppliers admitted that stockpiling water may not make much sense.

"They're some nuts out there. People who think Armageddon is coming, quite frankly, scare me. I want them to get their product and get out of here," said one seller of water products, who said he would rather keep those customers than give his name. "I can't imagine opening a water faucet on Jan. 1 and not getting water."


-- John Whitley (, November 27, 1999.

Figures the 1st system they got compliant was the for parking tickets. Don't you just LOVE big-city living!!!

-- SideShow (, November 27, 1999.

Sorry, John. The link you originally provided gave me "page not found", and I couldn't find it from the main page. Can you post the URL?

-- Steve (, November 27, 1999.

>"I can't imagine opening a water faucet and not getting water."

As for me, I can't imagine staying in the Big Apple during the rollover or anytime during the first quarter of the New Year. Guess I don't have much of an imagination. ;-)

-- cgbg jr (, November 27, 1999.

The article Steve linked was front page on the New York Times on Nov. 27, with full page continuation on page B6. I also was struck by the quote "I can't imagine turning on the tap and not having water..." Based on what? Simple lack of imagination, or lack of reading? Optimism is one thing, but blind faith in mechanical systems? Well, as I love to point out, our post-Enlightenment gods will soon be put to the test.

-- Spidey (in@jam.yesterday), November 27, 1999.

This is really kinda sad. They point out Steve and his buddies as their first example a spending big dollars to have water really don't have a water problem. I'm sure they could have spent those dollars elsewhere for important items.

The article touched on the truth about NYC's water system, it's gravity flow all the way from the Catskills to the city. And it has enough pressure once it gets to the city to service buildings up to five stories high without additional pumping.

That's why the old brownstones all over NYC are five stories tall. It was the practical limit of running water in pre-electric days.

And here poor Steve in Queens, living in a house at street level is worried that if the power goes out, he won't have water. That's one of the crying shames of lack of government disclosure about the ramifications of Y2K. If the city government had announced "Even if the power goes out for an extended period, our water will gravity feed up to five stories high.", then Steve and many others could have been spared a lot of hassle.

And maybe some folks like Steve could have sold their homes to panicked, rich high-rise dwellers and been able to afford to move out to the country.


-- Wildweasel (, November 27, 1999.

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