January 18, 2022

Waterville area officials prepared for Y2K > Millennium bug expected to cause little trouble

FAIRFIELD — They endured the ice storm of 1998, which left much of Maine frozen and in the dark for days.

If they could handle that, emergency response officials say, they can handle any problems Y2K might send their way.

“I’m not expecting too much to happen,” Waterville Fire Chief Ray Poulin said Wednesday.

“The hospitals have all done their homework and gotten ready for it,” he said. “They’ve been preparing for over a year. I think everyone’s going to wake up the next morning and realize it was no big deal.”

Y2K, also known as the millennium bug, refers to a problem computers might have in recognizing the change of year at midnight Friday.

To save memory, programmers years ago designed computers to recognize only the last two digits of a given year. As a result, some people fear that computer systems unprepared for the change might read “00” as the year 1900 and shut down.

Local emergency response officials, however, say they don’t expect widespread trouble.

Banks, hospitals and utilities recognized the potential problem early on, and they say they have dealt with it. Many institutions, including Central Maine Power Co., have held successful dress rehearsals for Y2K.

But other institutions are prepared in case something does happen.

The Kennebec Water District has generators and backup power sources at its filtration plant in North Vassalboro and pumping station in Waterville.

The utility provides water from China Lake to about 8,500 customers in Waterville, Winslow, Fairfield, Benton and part of Vassalboro.

General Manager Jeff LaCasse said the utility already has installed new software to make its computer system Y2K-compliant.

Even if something does happen, he said, water will flow from faucets as usual. The utility has a two-day supply in storage, giving technicians time to fix any problems.

“We can operate manually, if we need to,” LaCasse said. “It won’t be a problem at all.”

Public safety officials offer much the same story. They are prepared for problems but don’t really expect them.

Al Blouin, emergency services director for the American Red Cross chapter in Fairfield, said the agency will have two shelter teams ready.

“It’s just a standby situation,” Blouin said Wednesday. “We’re just preparing for any Y2K disruptions, the same as we would a major winter storm.”

Fairfield Fire Chief Dale Sweet will have generators ready to power emergency shelters.

Emergency crews will work from the pantry at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church on High Street. In addition, the town’s Baptist and Methodist churches have been designated as shelters, if the power fails.

Traffic lights pose another potential problem, Sweet said. If the computer chips in some of them fail, causing them to blink or shut down, public safety employees will direct traffic.

“We, as a community, have been preparing for this since January,” Sweet said. “I think we’ve covered all our bases.”

Waterville has a similar plan. Public safety crews will be on standby with generators and other emergency equipment.

“It’s like any other emergency,” said Poulin, the fire chief. “We’re always ready.”

In Clinton, Fire Chief Gary Petley also expects no problems. Fire and rescue crews will work their normal shifts, and the local water district will have two generators ready in case of power disruptions.

“We’re pretty low-key about it,” Petley said Wednesday. “We don’t hear too many people talking about it around town.”

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