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Emergency communications leaders confident about Y2K

By By Sherry Digmon
By SHERRY DIGMON
Advance Staff Writer
Escambia County's emergency communications leaders will be on the job New Year's Eve n just in case.
Brad Smith, director of Escambia County E911, and Bill Smith, director of the Escambia County Emergency Management Agency, both believe their departments are ready.
"We spent a small fortune upgrading our equipment," Brad Smith said. "All our vendors except one have sent certification that their products are Y2K compliant. That one vendor has given verbal certification."
Motorola has certified the 911 computer, BellSouth has OK'd circuits and database and Dictaphone has checked the recorder.
In addition, Smith has done testing of his own.
The E911 system is linked to the Bureau of Standards and Statistics in Ft. Collins, Colo., to keep the correct time on all components of the system.
"As long as they operate and have the correct time, this clock should keep up," Smith said.
Several E911 employees will usher in the new millennium on the job.
"We will have extra people on duty at 11:30 p.m. on the 31st," Smith said. "I will probably be sitting by the phone waiting for reports."
E911 usually has four people on duty. That night, Smith will schedule at least five, plus himself.
There are two potential problems Smith foresees, neither of which would be caused directly by a Y2K malfunction.
"We ask people not to overload the system by picking up the phone and dialing 911 at the same time to see if it works," he said. "Don't test this system [on New Year's Eve]. It's OK to test it the next morning, if someone wants to call just to make sure 911 is working."
The system has eight lines coming in. Smith fears an overload, and he's not sure how that would affect the system.
A current problem with wireless service could be aggravated by Y2K. Right now, he has no accurate routing of 911 wireless calls. Most calls in this area go to Wilcox and Washington counties. E911 will eventually be able to pinpoint a caller's location on the road, but they can't do it now.
Smith said he is as prepared as he can be.
"I think the biggest catastrophe on Jan. 1 is that all of the Y2K experts will be unemployed," Smith said.
Bill Smith, Escambia County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) director, will be working through New Year's Eve and part of the weekend afterwards.
But he's not expecting any major problems or emergencies.
"People are hearing some of the things that could happen but things that are not likely to happen," Smith said. "Nothing is going to happen that would be more than a routine interruption of our lives. There shouldn't be any major disruptions. If power is knocked out for a brief period, it will be a brief period People don't need to think it's the beginning of the Y2K Armageddon."
He does recommend that people do what they should do at the beginning of each hurricane season.
"Get a few extra candles and canned goods," he said. "Put a little bottled water off to the side. Don't stockpile food. That's a lot of wasted expense and effort."
As a precaution, the state EMA will man the state Emergency Operations Center as it does during any potential emergency.
"I will be here [in the Brewton office] about 24 hours before the clock turns," Smith said. "I'll be here and available.
"I think we should look forward to a good year to come and be grateful for the good things that happened last year."