Oregon (again): City of Portland Year 2000 Council (a report)

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[Note: What follows is my attempt to make some sense of the scrawled and scribbled notes I took on March 30, 1999, at the first public meeting of the City of Portland Year 2000 Council. As of yet, there is no real Y2K web presence for the city of Portland, OR, and thus no URL for me to point you all to for information on this council and its activities. Hopefully, this report will provide at least some insight into what seems to currently be going on here in Portland. The one URL I can provide is http://www.oregonlive.com/business/99/03/bz033101.html, which is to a Steve Woodward article for the Oregonian following the council meeting, entitled "Public's reactions a worry for Y2K".]

The meeting of the City of Portland Year 2000 Council was held at City Hall, in the Rose Room, at 2:30pm on March 30, 1999.

Two items of varying degrees of importance from the very start of the meeting or just prior: 1) Mayor Katz cracked a comment along the lines of, "Did I not do a gender balance here? Where are the women in all of this?"; and 2) A preliminary date was set for the next meeting, to be held on April 19 from 3:00pm to 5:00pm.

Mayor Katz informed us that she has a $250,000 placeholder in the city budget intended for Y2K-related items. It will be coming up before the City Council this month (April).

On the subject of what the Year 2000 Council is for, Katz gave 4 main points: 1) To be a forum for key leaders responsible for community infrastructure; 2) To help understand the risk factors for community infrastructures; 3) To help understand what we should and should not do to prepare; and 4) To share service provider plans for communicating with constituencies and customers.

Mike Lindberg, the council's Co-Chair (along with Mayor Katz), mentioned the "Three Ps": Preparedness prevents panic. Also mentioned the importance of understanding that even if we as a city and community are prepared, Y2K possesses a larger interconnected context (and this is crucial because the lack of this perspective has been one of my biggest criticisms on the way certain segments of the city, most notably the emergency management people, had seemingly been approaching Y2K).

Dick Hofland, manager of the city's Year 2000 Project, said there are two general areas that need to be considered: 1) What will happen between now and December 31, 1999; and 2) What will happen after December 31, 1999.

Mayor Katz then opened up the meeting for 5 minute presentations from each council member -- excepting members of the city itself, who will present their information at the next meeting. Meaning, we heard only from representatives of the business community. Importantly, Katz told these representatives that she did not want to hear what they were doing or what they were accomplishing, but instead wanted them to tell her what their concerns and contingencies are. And for the most part, she made them stick to that path for the remainder of the meeting.

The representative from NW Natural expressed a concern about upstream providers of natural gas. He did also however, express some concern over the 100s of regulator stations around the region which drop the gas pressure form the high levels it needs to get through the large pipelines down to the lower levels needed just to get it through the pipes to customers homes. These regulators are indeed electronic in nature, but can be operated manually. To make sure they can be staffed for manual operation if need be, NW Natural is, he says, even bringing in retirees.

The representative from the Bonneville Power Authority listed four main concerns: 1) The possibility that they could miss something; 2) The security of the system (meaning malicious indidividuals or groups could take advantage of any disruptions during Y2K Days to mess things up even more); 3) Back-up communications; and 4) Public information.

The representative from PacifiCorp expressed concern over telecommunucations, and the need for people who are purchasing generators to install them properly (and if I recall correctly, they currently do, or will be doing, mailings and/or inserts that try to make this clear). Also made reference to the electric utility test on 4/9/99 (which was later pointed out by another electric represeantive to be only a telecommunications test, not an electrical generation test).

The representative from Chevron spoke about environmental concerns (operational monitoring and control systems), safety concerns, employee preparations, electrical, sewer, water, communications, product supply (upstream), marine vessel traffic, and supply/demand balance.

The representative from Prtland General Electric irked me most of all, because his greatest concern, and just about the only thing he talked about, was public perception and the need for a coordinated message to consumers -- going so far as to express concern over the mention of security concerns by the representative from BPA because he thought the public shouldn't hear about those sorts of things because they would get nervous about it.

The representative from the Port of Portland raised an interesting concern I had never thought of: In the event of travel disruptions (for example, flight delays or cancellations at the airport), the fact that it will be New Year's Eve will mean that many, many people will be stranded here in Portland at the time -- so what do we do with them all? (Mayor Katz at this point mentioned her intentions to have a large city event that night in the Downtown area, and how such an event would be a good thing to direct stranded travellers to). Also mentioned (the need for or the existence of; I can't recall because my notes don't say) an emergency operations center. Has concerns about the FAA (and says he's not worried about whether or not the airlines -can- fly, but whether or not they -will- depending on both the FAA and the airlines' insurers); steam ship lines (apparently 15 under foreign flags using the Port of Portland); and also electronic systems, which are now heavily used for things like ship manifests and such.

The representative from the Oregon Crdit Union League unfortunately used a cope of the National Enquirer to try to make a point about how there is a media problem. Then went on to express concerns about liquidity, educating credit union members, robberies, deposits after January 1, 2000, records of accounts, supply chain failures (utilities, etc.). Mentioned that some credit unions were installing generators but that some were reluctant to do so because (get this) their communities might notice they have power and come to take over the building. Some joking and not-so-joking comments went around the table about "and would that be a good thing or a bad thing?" Also said that they were recommending $500 per household withdrawals goign into the Y2K weekend.

The representative of the Oregon Bankers Associations expressed concerns about a build-up of cash in member banks, liquidity, and public perception.

The representative from the Red Cross talked about the time of year and the threat of winter storms, bad weather, and power outages at the time anyway. Said they were having difficulty finding/locating shelters with back-up power supplies in thew right places. Katz interjected with a comment (not really discussed at this point, but she was throwing it into the discussion) about a large community that can't afford to prepare.

The representative of US West's main concern appeared to be the so-called Mother's Day Effect, in which large numbers of people all pick up the phone after midnight on Y2K to see if the telephone system works -- number so large, in fact, that for many people it will not in fact work, and they will immediately think Y2K computer problems have crashed the system. Expressed the phone system's interdependency with power. Said they have generators with fuel for 3-5 days. Their focus is on education and 2 messages: 1) What to expect; and 2) Responsible use -- message mainly intended to prevent the Mother's Day Effect. Provided a toll-free number for US West customers to call which connects you to a switching station at their laboratory in Colorado which is already running with the clocks set into the year 2000 (1-877-837-8925).

The representative of Tri-Met (Portland-area public transportation), expressed concerns over power (electric and diesel fuel), communications; said that rail vehicle control is done via fibre optic lines, while buses utilize satellite GPS systems. They have 3 months of stored diesel fuel as part of their new supplier contract (in fact, part of a Y2K provision in that contract).

And that was pretty much it. City representatives get to speak at the next meeting.

One last but utterly critical note is that Mayor Katz at one point expressed and understanding (or at least preference) that simply mailing a brochure out to all city residents is just not enough.

-- President b!X (bix@millennium.portland.or.us), April 02, 1999


FYI, I will be attending the next meeting of this council, and will attempt to distribute a similar report afterwards.

-- President b!X (bix@millennium.portland.or.us), April 02, 1999.

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