In Chicago, Emergency Preparation is Old Hat

With its history of extreme weather, volatile politics and NBA championships, Chicago has more experience than most cities in directing unpredictable situations.

On Dec. 31, at 6 a.m., the city will set up a command center, just as it did during the deadly heat of summer 1995 and after the six basketball championships Michael Jordan brought the city during the past decade. Those at the center, which will stay open until 6 p.m. on Jan. 3, will coordinate the police, firefighting and other services in the event of problems.

Chicago officials do not expect problems, but they have learned the importance of preparing as if they do, said Barrett Murphy, the city's Year 2000 project co-manager.

"You are playing catch-up if you are trying to crack down on the second day, instead of being prepared the first day," Murphy said.

The recent World Trade Organization conference in Seattle, which was disrupted by sometimes violent disturbances, could be case in point, he said: Seattle had a long time to prepare, but generally assumed problems would not occur, so the city was caught off guard.

Chicago officials realize that it is important to keep both city services and local businesses running as smoothly as possible to avoid stoking Year 2000 fears. For example, the city ran a major public awareness campaign to convince residents to shop ahead of time rather than cleaning out stores at the last minute.

"One thing we are going to be focusing on that night is ensuring that everyday inconveniences are not misinterpreted as widespread Y2K failures," Murphy said.

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