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.
The Norfolk administration, however, pushed forward with its preparations, checking off a comprehensive list of infrastructure changes that needed to be completed. The town has worked to ensure the emergency systems will function, wastewater will be treated and electricity and heat will available during the cold, dark winter.
If there is a regional power failure, the town plans to have several shelters ready, heated by emergency generators. The town staff are also preparing to have emergency power generators run the sewer and wastewater systems.
Nolan says he feels the state government has not helped Nebraska's small towns adequately prepare emergency plans for possible Y2K problems. The message, he said, is that these towns are 'on their own' if something goes haywire next year.
While the Nebraska emergency management agency did not return phone calls, there are links on the department's web page to help communities plan for Y2K. That web site is www.nebema.org.
For people who want to personally prepare for Y2K, Nolan recommends they do more than the three-day storm planning recommended by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Nolan would not disclose his personal contingency preparations but said he advises people to prepare for three weeks of possible problems.
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