Whistler prepared for Y2K Computers are compliant, utilities are safe and emergency services are ready for anything By Andrew Mitchell When the clocks roll over at midnight on New Year's eve, nobody is sure what, if anything, is going to happen. In a recent poll, less than 10 per cent of respondents in Western Canada said they were "very concerned" about Y2K issues that could cause computer crashes, power outages and other related disasters. However, since the potential Y2K issue is not just a computer coding problem, but a potential problem built into almost every microchip, semiconductor and motherboard manufactured before 1995, it's best to be ready for everything. The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) is no exception. While more than 20,000 visitors attend New Year's Eve celebrations around town, Whistler's emergency services and utilities will be working behind the scenes to ensure that everything goes smoothly. For the past year, representatives from the RCMP, Chamber of Commerce, RMOW, Health Centre, Tourism Whistler and Whistler-Blackcomb, have been holding a Community Round Table Meeting once a month to discuss Y2K issues and ensure that the town is ready to handle both a large number of visitors and any Y2K-related problems. Once the round table was satisfied that they had done all they can to address issues within their areas, the actual management of emergency services will fall under the command of a special Emergency Operations Centre (EOC). Fire Chief Norm Dedeluk is the director of the EOC, which will be comprised of all the major department heads in the RMOW, emergency services and health services, and based out of the fire hall. "In an Emergency Operations Centre, you have all the various disciplines, such as an engineering section, a communications section, a clinic's section, and EHS (emergency health services section), RCMP, and so forth," says Dedeluk. "Together we cover about 10 key response groups within the valley that report back to the EOC on what's happening. Then we generate a plan of action and how to handle whatever the emergency is." Although TELUS has said it is confident its communications network and services will not experience Year 2000 related interruptions, the EOC is prepared to stay in touch with what's happening around town by two-way radio if necessary. Each year, Whistler's emergency services, health services and utilities have table-top meetings to go over procedures and contingencies in the event of a major incident. This year, in anticipation of huge crowds and the possibility of a Year 2000-related incident, there have been three meetings. "We go over made-up emergencies that can occur," says Dedeluk. "Be it a bus accident, be it a large fire at a hotel, or be it the roads are blocked because of a landslide or a snow-slide in the Duffey Lake area, which has occurred before, shutting us off both ways. How are we going to take care of a large number of people who don't have accommodations because they're day skiers who got stuck here? These are the kinds of things we're looking into." While monitoring activities in the village, the EOC will also be keeping an eye on Year 2000 events in earlier time zones that could have local repercussions, such as widespread phone or power outages. Action2000, the B.C. government's Y2K office, will e-mail frequent updates gathered from the news and the federal government to other EOC's around the province. Keith Bennett, the Manager of Park Operations and Y2K Project Co-ordinator for the RMOW, was responsible for making sure municipal equipment and services are compliant. "To the best of our knowledge, they are," says Bennett. "There may be some things that didn't show up in our analysis or repairs, but we expect that those things will be relatively minor. "We started in 1996, outlining computer systems that would be obsolete by 2000, replacing our core financials and other modules that go along with it, like our parking ticket program and our tax system. We've also upgraded a number of computers and network bits and pieces." On the utilities side, Bennett says there has been a complete audit of wastewater treatment, wastewater collection and potable water distribution systems. In Municipal buildings, heating and ventilation systems, elevators, security systems and fire panels were also audited and upgraded wherever necessary. One of the main concerns raised at earlier Round Table meetings is the possibility of a power failure. According to Bennett, the RMOW has received assurances from BC Hydro that everything is in compliance. "BC Hydro has said categorically that they do not anticipate any computer-related Y2K issues to interrupt power," says Bennett. "But they do say that normal traffic accidents, weather problems could still cause power interruptions." Every department of the RMOW has people working around the clock as well as a number of staff on standby to keep the municipality running. An operator will be working the phone lines at the Municipal Hall until 2 a.m. to answer emergency calls that fall under the RMOW's jurisdiction. Other emergency call should be directed to 911, which is Y2K compliant. "It was important to establish a division between technical issues, such as power failures, some component not working for some reason, and the issues of hosting a large 20,000-plus New Year's Eve party," says Bennett. "Much of the EOC contingency is geared towards managing that, with Y2K computer glitches considered to be a secondary issue." According to Staff Sergeant Frank Sheddon of the Whistler RCMP, 15 of his people will be on duty on the big night, and he hopes to have access to up to 40 more officers. Including the officers working road blocks outside of Squamish, he hopes to have close to 70 people at his disposal around Whistler. That's about 10 more officers than have been used in past years. In addition, Tourism Whistler has hired about 40 security guards to monitor the gates into the village. "At the road blocks, we'll ask people where they're headed, and if it's to the Whistler First Night, we'll look a little closer," says Sheddon. "If it's your run-of-the-mill family, we'll probably let them sail on through, but if it's a group that's clearly out to party, we'll ask them if they know it's dry, if they have liquor in the car, if they have a place to stay. We're not out to stop or discourage anyone, we're just making sure people know where they're going." In previous years, people who couldn't find a place to stay have turned up at the fire hall looking for assistance. Because of the added number of people expected this year, the RMOW wants to discourage people from coming to Whistler without a plan. For more information on municipality's Y2K plans, turn to "We're ready for the millennium" on page 51.