University Officials Counting Down to Y2K
December 13, 1999
hen clocks chime midnight on December 31, the University will be ready - ready not just for the new year but for Y2K.
Extensive preparations by many units of the University, including the regional campuses - that in some cases started several years ago - have focused on eliminating the risk that somewhere a computer system will malfunction as a result of misinterpreting the new year's date as 1900 instead of 2000. Old computers have been upgraded or replaced, electrical and telecommunications networks have been checked, elevators inspected.
"We are prepared for whatever comes up," says Paul Kobulnicky, vice chancellor for information services who, with Robert Hudd, the University's director of public safety and chief of police, is coordinating the University's Y2K preparations. "We don't expect more than minor frustrations."
Kobulnicky says the timing of Y2K is fortuitous. The year 2000 begins not only on a weekend, when the majority of faculty and staff will not be on campus, but also falls during the semester break. The University is officially closed December 31 for the New Year's holiday.
"The University will not return to full operation until January 3, and the students will not be back for several weeks," Kobulnicky says, "so we will have time to identify and fix any problems as they arise."
In addition, the lack of new construction on campus during the 1970s and '80s - a bane prior to UConn 2000 - is beneficial when it comes to the impact of Y2K on the University's facilities. "A lot of our University is either very old and doesn't have computerized systems or it's new buildings that were built to be Y2K compliant," says Gene Roberts, director of facilities operations.
Seeing in the New Year
On the night of December 31-January 1, as soon as the clock rolls over, crews from facilities operations and the fire department on the main campus will embark on a building-by-building check of more than 300 critical sites, to assure that electricity, light, heat, elevators and cooling systems are all functioning.
Roberts, the facilities operations director, says the University has many back-up generators that kick in automatically, to help maintain the power supply to key academic and residential buildings.
The top priority will be areas where students or staff are living or working, labs with ongoing experiments, and farm buildings or labs that house live animals.
Special arrangements are being made for each of these groups. In addition to the facilities review, staff of the Department of Residential Life will check on students and staff living on campus.
Faculty and staff required to work that night have been asked to register with the police, indicating where and for what hours they expect to work. "That way, we'll know where people are and, if any alarms go off, we can easily check on them," says Hudd. The parking garage will be open free of charge from 3 p.m. December 31 until 3 p.m. January 1, with Husky Watch vans available to escort people to their office or lab.
The Public Safety Division also is encouraging faculty and staff involved in research to notify the fire department about any ongoing experiments that might be affected if power went off or if a computer system failed.
Hudd says his division is ready to help with any problem that does not require detailed scientific knowledge. "We hope to help so people don't have to be here," he says. "We're going to be here anyway."
For the animals on campus, the main risk is possible loss of heat in the event of a power outage. "We think the risk is minimal," says Kobulnicky, "but people are asked to check on their animals as soon as possible."
Operations on campus on New Year's Eve will be overseen by Chief Hudd, based at the University's Emergency Operations Center in the public safety building. Public safety will report twice a day to the state's Emergency Center in the State Armory in Hartford.
Hudd is not concerned about a possible breakdown in communications. "We have wireless fax and communication equipment that do not rely on phone lines, and other monitoring equipment, so we can send and receive information whatever happens," he says.
Through the state center, the University will have access to a 14-hour worldwide watch, monitoring the effects of Y2K as the millennium begins in different time zones, starting with Australia.
"Our collective goal is to make sure everything will run smoothly by the time people come back to their offices and by the time students come back later in the month," Hudd says. "We're confident we'll meet that goal."
The computer center also is planning an orderly return to business as usual. During the afternoon of December 31, the University's computer systems will be completely shut down, after a back-up copy of all records has been made. They will be brought back on line in stages, beginning after midnight January 1 with systems that are critical to lives and to research experiments.
Kobulnicky says most faculty and staff returning to campus after the holiday probably will not notice any difference when they switch on their computers.
"We've spent a lot of money replacing old equipment and most of our computing equipment is relatively new," he says.
Possible problems include incorrect dates on some computer applications - something many people can correct themselves - or difficulties connecting to a network or server.
Those involved with the Y2K preparations say it's important to remember that not every problem that arises in the new year will be Y2K-related. "We could be dealing with a normal problem associated with the complexity of computers and the network or a Y2K problem," says Kobulnicky.
The same is true of facilities issues, says Roberts. "In your own house your furnace may just decide not to work that night," he says. "It may have nothing to do with Y2K."
In the event of a campus-related emergency, the following numbers will be staffed during the New Year's weekend:
For facilities issues - heat, light, cooling, elevators - call 486-3113.
For police, fire or a medical emergency, call 911.