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Tuesday, Nov. 30, 1999 at 23:08 CST

Y2K fears cause some to curtail Jan. 1 operations

By Neil Strassman
Star-Telegram Staff Writer

FORT WORTH -- A handful of Texas industries concerned about possible Y2K problems are temporarily halting or scaling back operations on the New Year's weekend, according to an Austin-based public interest group and an industry trade group.

Nine of 70 Texas companies surveyed by Public Research Works will shut down some operations or add extra people during the high-risk period over New Year's Day, said Robin Schneider, Public Research executive director.

"There is some momentum building for companies to take a safety holiday or to slow their operations on the last day of the year and on Jan. 1," Schneider said.

But Amy Collier, Texas Chemical Council communications director, said most companies have been working on Y2K readiness for years and are prepared.

"Nearly 100 percent of them are fully prepared," she said. "For some companies, it is safer to shut down and they are doing it as a precautionary measure, but for others, it is safer for them to keep working."

And many companies, including some listed on the survey as willing to change their operations because of Y2K concerns, said they were only closing down because of the holiday weekend.

"It's more of a holiday issue," said Matt Glascock, who handles health and safety issues at a Union Carbide Co. plant in northern Dallas County that makes adhesives and sealants. "It doesn't take a lot to shut down."

Robert Olds of Air Liquide America, a north Dallas company that packages chemicals and gases for the semiconductor industry, said the company will operate.

"We will have more people on stand-by and on call," he said. "Everyone's monitoring and has contingency plans."

And in Keller, John Lawrence of Southstar Logistics said the grocery distributor is shutting down on Dec. 31 as "a normal occurrence."

The Y2K problem, or the millennium bug as it is sometimes called, involves computers mistaking the year 2000 for 1900 and causing date-sensitive programs to malfunction. Most industries say they are prepared for Y2K and expect minimal, if any, problem.

But at risk, say federal and state environmental officials, are the many automated processes and control mechanisms at chemical plants and other industries controlled by computer chips that are date-sensitive.

Federal agencies and some states have warned fire departments and regional emergency planning committees as well as chemical companies, refineries and other industries that use, store or distribute hazardous chemicals that there could be some computer-related problems as the calendar rolls over to 2000.

"Because Y2K problems can affect so many devices, cascading failures are possible," the Environmental Protection Agency wrote in a February 1999 Y2K bulletin to business. The bulletin encouraged businesses to develop contingency plans, to prepare for unanticipated events and to be ready to operate some systems manually.

"The concerns are there, but people should not be overly fearful," said Jo Schweikhard Moss, spokewoman for the Texas Division of Emergency Management. "A lot of contingency planning has been going on for a long time and many companies have a disaster plan in place, even if it is not specific to Y2K.'

TXU, which supplies power to many of the North Texas companies is ready, said spokesman Eric Schmitt.

"We are looking good. We have tested all our generating plants, moved the clocks forward with operators in the control room, and no problems have been encountered. We are ready for 2000," he said.

Companies that fail to identify and address Y2K problems will not be excused for noncompliance with environmental regulations, said the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission in a statement issued yesterday.

The state environmental agency has sent letters to thousands of businesses in the state, warning them of the Y2K problems they could face.

"My hope is that everybody is taking prudent measures and has appropriate contingency plans," said Jerry Poje, a member of the National Chemical Safety Board, an independent technical and investigatory federal agency.

"There's been an enormous amount of effort, but there is no universal knowledge that everyone has done what needs to be done," he said.

Neil Strassman, (817) 390-7657


-- John Whitley (jwhitley@inforamp.net), December 02, 1999


Im still looking for info on large petroleum refinery shutdowns or cutbacks. Anybody have any specific companies, locations or even rumors???

-- Downstreamer (downstream@bigfoot.com), December 02, 1999.

Great news John! Let's hope other states follow their example!

-- Hokie (nn@va.com), December 02, 1999.

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