"Bug exterminator" nearly finished with arduous task | TahoeDailyTribune.com

"Bug exterminator" nearly finished with arduous task

Bill Schultz spends part of his day handing out small, colorful stickers to his best pupils. But Schultz is not an elementary school teacher, and his charges are not human – although some say that computers are getting pretty close.

Schultz, the Elected Recorder-Clerk for El Dorado County, is in charge of the county’s Y2K task force. His team has been laboring for almost three years to bring the county’s myriad computer and information services into Y2K compliance.

In essence, he is El Dorado County’s most important bug exterminator.

“We’ve been working on this for a long time, and I feel that we have a good handle on it,” said Schultz, a former air traffic controller for the U.S. Navy. “We feel that we have the critical areas under control. But there are a hundred little things still to check.”

And county officials have been aware of this for some time. The Board of Supervisors set a $443,000 Y2K budget in 1996, and the county recently installed a new computer system, which has been up and running for a year.

One might think that the dreaded Y2K Bug would not be much of a concern in bucolic El Dorado County, with its rolling hills and rural flavor. But the computer plays an integral role in keeping the county running. All the “paperwork” that keeps county government moving – legal recording, vital statistics, marriage licenses, communications systems, payroll, and a hundred others – are all kept on computer. And those systems which may have date-sensitive software must be checked to insure that they will continue to function when the clock ticks over to the year 2000.

Shultz is in charge of testing all 1,677 of the county government’s personal computers – a task which his team recently completed. Computers which checked out OK for Y2K compliance were affixed with a bright sticker. Shultz’s team found 296 which failed the test.

“It’s an enormous task,” said Information Services Director Russ Waltrip, a computer consultant who was hired by the county to head the technical arm of the task force. “The list (of things to check) goes on for pages and pages.”

So, when Jan. 1, 2000 gets here, will criminals be sprung from jail and roam free in the streets? Will the traffic lights go berserk? Will emergency systems malfunction? Will the fax machine go kablooey?

No, no, no and, well, maybe.

“People should know that we have backup generators,” Waltrip said. “So if there is a power outage of any significance, we will still have power to operate the jail and the communications centers. As far as the security locking systems in the jail are concerned, nothing will happen. If the system fails, the doors revert to a locked position. Then you use a manual key to get them open. Prisoners might get locked in, but that’s it.”

Waltrip has also checked systems which operate elevators, traffic lights and the county’s entire in-house telecommunications system. All are, or will be compliant by the county’s target date of July, 1999.

In addition, the county has contacted its many vendors – from corporations such as Office Max and IBM to small companies who provide the county with an array of services – to make sure of their Y2K status. By Schultz’s count, that was about 6,000 letters.

“Our philosophy has been that Y2K is no reason to panic,” Schultz said. “But it is a reason to be prudent. There’s going to be some problems, that’s a given.

“But this is normal living for folks like us up here in the foothills and the mountains. We’re used to being prepared. That’s especially true for you guys up there at Tahoe. Most of the people I know up there have a week’s supply of stuff on hand anyway.”

But while many people in El Dorado County may be prepared for a brief Y2K shutdown in power or government services, not all are. At least that is the contention of Placerville-based Y2K probability consultant Bill Thorpe.

“There are many of people out there in the community who will not be ready,” said Thorpe, who councils groups and offers strategies on Y2K preparedness.

“To me, the issues go beyond natural disaster readiness. Mental health issues are being overlooked. What will be the impact on the at-risk populations? What about single moms who don’t have the werewithall to set aside an emergency budget? There are many people in the mountains who have backup generators, but there are also people in living situations who can’t afford one.

“There are low-income, high-risk populations in Cameron Park, Placerville and South Shore who really depend on their welfare checks. If that system is interrupted, it would really hurt them.”

Thorpe would like to see a bigger emphasis on the people portion of the equation.

“We should develop strong dialogues between the public and nurses, mental health providers, Emergency Medical Services, police and fire officials, and even people such as retail clerks, to develop strategies to (deal with people’s Y2K fears).

“The issue is not simply computer compliance. Even though those problems may be fixed, we’re still vulnerable to other people’s problems.”

Randy Schraeder, Deputy Director of the El Dorado County Emergency Medical Services Agency, says that his department is aware of the human Y2K anxiety factor.

“We are making ourselves prepared,” he said. “That’s the nature of what we do. On the technical side, (Y2K) is not much of an issue with us. We have some medical equipment with embedded chips, but very little of what we do is related to date-sensitive systems.

“But yes, we are aware that Jan. 1, 2000 could be a busy time for us.”

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