Snowbelt Town Takes Y2K Seriously

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City administrator Michael Nolan has tried to make sure Norfolk, Neb., can handle whatever trouble Y2K-stricken computers hand out next year. He doesn't want anyone left cold, dark and hungry on a Nebraska winter's night.

Norfolk (pop. 24,000) has contingency plans for most things that could go wrong and since last year has been Y2K-proofing the town's computers, wastewater and sewer systems and other parts of the municipal infrastructure.

'Even I feel pretty comfortable that we are in good shape. But I'm not so sure I have the same comfort about other rural areas in Nebraska and in the United States,' said Nolan. Norfolk is one of the larger population centers in a mostly rural area of northeast Nebraska.

Nolan, a self-described 'agitator' about Y2K who participates in national and regional gatherings on the issue, now focuses on proselytizing about the computer bug to Norfolk residents and others in Nebraska. His concern is that not many people think that Y2K computer breakdowns could really affect their lives.

'There is a lack of real clarity in terms of whether the federal government thinks Y2K could be a serious problem,' said Nolan. 'This has dissuaded people from continuing to be serious.'

But the current apathy about Y2K was not always the case. Last September, for example, Nolan organized a regional conference attended by 250 people. Afterward, participants formed community awareness groups to focus on such critical areas as care of the elderly, the food supply and water distribution.

This May, Nolan reported to a special U.S. Senate Y2K committee that only three of the original 12 subcommittees are still meeting. Nolan blames sliding interest on a number of factors, including inadequate media coverage, federal government assurances that Y2K will not be a serious problem and advice from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that citizens prepare for possible New Year problems as they would a three-day storm.

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