Alaska: Always on Alert for Ground-Shaking Events

When the New Year begins, some Alaska residents may face a lack of electricity, water or working phones, along with disruptions to government services and business. But not necessarily because of the Year 2000 computer problem.

Alaska has spent $15 million fixing its critical computer systems and anticipates no major Year 2000-related problems. But hurricane-force winds, earthquakes and even volcano eruptions (in some remote locations) are a constant possibility across the state, so its residents generally are prepared to tough out the loss of basic services.

Given the rugged terrain of the state, "you naturally expect to be independent," said Bob Poe, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Administration. "Power outages are not exactly a unique experience for Alaskans." As a general rule, he said, the further people live from the urban clime of Anchorage, the better prepared they are for problems.

The state developed its Year 2000 contingency plan as an annex to its standard emergency response plan, which it uses to respond to earthquakes and other natural disasters. As part of the plan, the government will manage an emergency coordination center at Fort Richardson Dec. 29 through Jan. 5, headed by Poe and Brig. Gen. Phillip Oates, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

On Jan. 1 at 2 a.m., the staff will begin calling representatives of the local emergency planning committees in communities throughout the state for status reports on power, telecommunications and other operations.

The center also will track reports on key systems within each state department, focusing on 89 essential operations and services. Problems with many of these systems, if they occur, likely will show up the next Monday, when agencies resume normal operations, Poe said.

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