Snowbelt Town Takes Y2K Seriously

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

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

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

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.

Contacts: Michael Nolan, city administrator, Norfolk,
Neb., 402-644-8720; web site:; or

Background: Coalition 2000; web site: .
Community News Service on Local Y2K Preparedness Issues. Small
Business Administration Y2K Gateway; website:

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