Several days of food, fuel called Y2K key; Howard officials again suggest simple precautions to take for year's end


Like the 40 other people who attended Howard County's second informational meeting on the potential Y2K computer problem in Clarksville last night, the slim, serious woman with the short blond hair waited patiently through seemingly endless official assurances that all is well.

Her question was as reasonable as the others: How can any unexpected glitch be fixed quickly if it doesn't appear until that moment when 2000 begins?

She seemed satisfied with the answer -- that it likely would be an isolated failure, easily bypassed -- as did others who attended the session in the Ten Oaks Ballroom.

"It was excellent," concluded another woman, Deanna McGunigal of Clarksville. "I really don't think anything will happen."

Philip Adinolfi, 76, a retiree from Ellicott City, had a similar conclusion. "The only preparation we'll be making is to get some water and canned foods," he said of himself and his wife, Grace.

Other questions seemed routine.

How much canned food and bottled water should we buy? Five to seven days' worth.

Should we buy auxiliary generators? Up to you.

Will the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear power plant be OK? Absolutely.

How about the county's water and sewer systems? Even if something fails, it won't affect you at home for days.

County Executive James N. Robey says his government is ready and will respond quickly if anything goes wrong that first night of the new year. He said public shelters will be available, if needed, and four times the normal police patrols will be on duty.

Last night's session was the second public meeting county officials have held on the potential Y2K computer glitch. Robey and other officials said the purpose of the meetings is to reassure Howard residents that county government is prepared and to warn them to prepare for a few days of inconvenience in case other governments and businesses are not.

Officials say people should buy bottled water, gas up their vehicles a day or two in advance and make sure they have enough supplies -- such as cash, battery-powered radios, canned food, firewood, their prescription drugs -- as they would if they were preparing for an ice storm or a hurricane.

More than 130 people attended the meeting July 26, which was broadcast live on county government cable Channel 70. Home viewers could e-mail questions live to the panel of government and business experts.

At that meeting, several residents complained that the county panel was too narrowly focused, ignoring possible regional or national problems that could result if one major utility has a problem and others had to help.

But Robey patiently explained that the county could concentrate only on its readiness and warn people to prepare for what they can't control. He repeated last night that he is powerless if oil stops flowing from the Middle East or some other global catastrophe strikes.

The county is prepared to use fire and police stations as shelters and to distribute drinking water. Neighbors were urged to help each other, and to use restraint if something goes wrong.

"You have to be able to make the distinction between something that's an inconvenience and a life-threatening emergency," Fire Chief Jim Heller said.

County officials believe extreme measures won't be necessary. They express confidence that Y2K will arrive with a smooth, if not perfect, transition.

All of which didn't completely satisfy the slim woman with the short blond hair.

"There's plenty of things scary about this. There's no way anybody on Earth knows what will happen," she said, declining to give her name.

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