Edited Version of December 9, 1998 Transcript

EIIP Virtual Forum Special Event

"Are you Ready for Y2K ?"

Kay C. Goss, CEM
Associate Director
FEMA Preparedness Directorate

The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. Typos were corrected, date/time/names attributed by the software to each were deleted but content of discussion, questions, and responses are as stated by each participant. Answers from the presenter to questions by the audience are grouped beneath the appropriate question to facilitate meaning.


Avagene Moore: Welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum! Today our special guest speaker is Kay C. Goss, CEM, Associate Director, FEMA Preparedness Directorate. Kay is here to discuss FEMA's outreach to States and Locals about Y2K.

For your reference today, background materials are posted at: http://www.emforum.org/vforum/981209.htm

If you are new to the Virtual Forum, please note that URLs given are live links. This feature of the Virtual Forum allows you to click on any URL used in the presentation and you can view the information in your browser window.

The formal part of the session will run approximately 30-35 minutes and then we will have the remainder of the hour for Q&A. After Kay completes her remarks, I will give instructions for maintaining order during the Q&A segment of the session.


And now it is my pleasure to turn the floor to our speaker, Kay Goss. Thank you for being with us today, Kay.

Kay Goss: Thank you Avagene, I am delighted to be here. As a long time supporter of the EIIP, I am glad to take advantage of the capabilities that the partnership has worked so hard to establish. In fact, as I think you will see from my presentation today, FEMA's approach to preparing for Y2K problems within the Emergency Services Sector is the essence of what a partnership is all about.

We are reaching out to our partners in emergency management - our State and local government contacts, NEMA and IAEM, the major associations of emergency management, private industry and the public.

After a few words on the Y2K issue itself, I plan to tell you about FEMA's role in addressing this problem, and then speak more specifically about the activities being conducted in my Directorate. I will tell you something about the preliminary information we obtained from a voluntary self assessment conducted by the States, and finally I will finish up with the upcoming activities of my Directorate.

I won't spend much time here talking about what the Y2K problem is since this forum is focused on technology issues, and most of you are well informed on this topic. Suffice it to say that we are concerned about the problems that might arise as a result of technological systems that were not designed to deal with dates beyond 1999.

This is not a new problem, at least within the technical community, but it is only recently that significant attention has been given to it. In many areas, much progress has been made in discovering and correcting potential problems. But problems and their solutions are complex and varied, and it is difficult to specify what problems will occur and what the scope of them might be. Organizations and individuals have the responsibility to ensure that the systems that are important to them are free from Y2K problems.

In my discussions with individuals and organizations around the country, I can see that despite reports to the contrary, many organizations have been working on this problem for quite sometime. I applaud the foresight and determination of these groups, for it is all too easy to put off unknown future problems in times of resource constraints.

FEMA, like other federal agencies, has been working diligently to ensure that our own systems are compliant, and I'm happy to report that we seem to be pretty much on track. But what additional responsibility do we have to our partners --- to the emergency management community as a whole?

We believe that our responsibility is to reach out to our State and Local emergency management partners to heighten their awareness and sensitivity to Y2K issues and potential consequences arising from Y2K failures and to support them by providing emergency preparedness guidance and other special assistance, as needed. To that end, let me tell you something about what we've been doing.

In October, I met with the Executive Director of NEMA and the NEMA PTE Committee Co-Chairs to discuss coordinating Y2K preparedness activities. NEMA's PTE Committee has been assigned Y2K and Mike Austin, Arizona State Director, has established a Y2K subcommittee to address this issue. We are continuing to coordinate closely with NEMA and I will be meeting with Mike in the next couple of weeks.

Last month I attended the IAEM Conference in Norfolk, Virginia, and discussed Y2K preparedness with IAEM's President, Bill Appleby. IAEM also wants to partner with us in preparing guidance and as part of their activities with Y2K preparedness. They have conducted a survey of over 734 local jurisdictions to try and ascertain their level of Y2K compliance activity. We have just received and are reviewing the results of their survey. It will complement the State assessments that were recently completed.

In October, we developed an assessment outline for use by the States to gauge the status of their own Y2K compliance. The outline combined issues on Y2K compliance that we raised with the Y2K outline developed by the President's Council on Y2K Conversion for use by the 34 sectors in assessing compliance and progress. Avagene, would you please put up SLIDE 1.


Kay Goss: Well, while we are waiting, I will move on. We requested that our Regional Directors personally engage with the State Emergency Management Directors in compiling the information and completing the assessments. As you can see on the slide, the information requested constituted a good overview of the problem and status. We just recently received the State inputs so we haven't had much time to complete a comprehensive analysis, but I want to share with you some of the key information and themes that we've seen emerge so far.

We are compiling the information into a database to make the analysis and future updates easier. 46 States responded along with the District of Columbia and 4 territories. Avagene, if I could have SLIDE 2, please.


Kay Goss: We saw a number of basic problem areas that were identified by most respondents. Not surprisingly, funding and resource (staffing) limitations, especially at the county and local level are a big issue. States have either limited or no funds at all for this project. In addition, they are short staffed, and the technical resources to assess, test, and validate systems and fixes are in very short supply.

First, the States cited a Lack of coordination of all of the different surveys and progress reports that are needed and being requested from a variety of sources. They expressed concerns about the redundant reporting that is adding to their burden and taking time away from addressing the real problem. Many States openly complained about the excessive number and redundancy of reports requested on Y2K plans and progress. Some States either provided a minimal response to our request or refused to respond altogether to our Regional Directors.

Second, it is clear that the diminishing time available to correct Y2K problems is increasing awareness of the need to act. The States are feeling a greater sense of urgency to take necessary actions.

Third, we found that there is concern about the power grid and other external dependencies, but States must rely on their suppliers to correct their own problems and are not planning to conduct independent reviews for verification. This is somewhat a function of funding and resource availability but could lead to unanticipated failures of dependencies and thus disruptions of emergency services. And most States expressed some level of concern over the possibility of power failures, especially where power is provided by smaller utilities.

Fourth, we found that States are generally not aware of the status of emergency preparedness and progress towards compliance at the local level (counties/locals) or indicate that systems are largely untested to date. However, many States are planning rather extensive outreach efforts. Other States are leaving the problems to locals to address. Although Y2K fixes are well underway in the emergency preparedness programs of most State level offices, the emergency service systems of many counties and municipalities are untested.

Many States are planning outreach programs next year, yet many other States have left their counties and especially local governments to fend for themselves. However, on the positive side, for example, the Arizona Division of Emergency Management will conduct an aggressive and extensive outreach program and will visit each and every city and town in Arizona within the next six months. A few other States are doing or planning similar outreach activities.

Fifth, numerous information resource web sites and special committees are working on Y2K issues. States report that this has made it difficult to find the best information or just to easily digest the information that is pertinent. Several states complained that there is no central clearinghouse for Y2K issues focusing on emergency preparedness issues.

There is a vast amount of information provided in more web sites than can easily be used but no one to help glean out the information that is most useful to emergency preparedness systems and planning.

Finally we were told that very little, if any, contingency planning and guidance exists on contingency planning for Y2K. Some States are planning for successful Y2K conversions that will alleviate the need for contingency planning, but States have requested additional support for contingency planning at all levels.

Most of these themes are not unexpected, but they do represent direct input from our States. I reported these themes to the Emergency Services Sector Chair, Clay Hollister, recently.

But at least as important is the status information we got from the assessments, and I'd like to quickly share some of this information with you before my time runs out today.

First, although only one state reported that they are currently in full compliance in mission critical areas most State level agencies reported that they either have already or are planning to resolve the vast amount of Y2K related issues for critical emergency preparedness facilities, systems and services. The reports are clear that the States are putting a significant amount of thought and work into this problem. And significantly, a large number of States indicated that they have no plans to assist or to provide funding for local authorities to use in resolving their own Y2K issues.

We were however, impressed with a number of outreach activities that States had underway or planned to do with local communities. All States have some form of Y2K planning committee and office designated with primary responsibility for coordinating Y2K activities. And all States have special Y2K web sites. Some of these are quite detailed with very useful content. Others are not as well developed.

Now let me tell you a little about our next steps.

My Directorate will be producing some helpful products in the next four to six months. These will include a number of EENET broadcast on the Y2K problem; EENET broadcasts of exercises dealing with Y2K, and a short (6-8 hours) field course on how to respond to Y2K caused disruptions. Funding for these activities was preliminarily approved last week, and we are already gearing up to produce these exercises and training materials as fast as possible.

We will continue to work through our Regional Offices and constituent organizations to raise Y2K awareness and provide technical assistance wherever possible. We want to refine and update the survey results to determine what guidance we need to prepare and what future outreach efforts we need to take.

We are working on a plan for exercises relating to Y2K issues, to be held at all levels of government to identify potential problems, necessary corrective actions and areas that need additional work. The results of these exercises will also help us in developing improved guidance, and targeting additional information that needs to be made available to the public and the emergency management community.

We plan to enhance the information on Y2K that is contained on the Preparedness section of the FEMA.GOV web site, and if possible to expand this into a clearinghouse of information on Y2K of importance to our emergency management community. We are designing these efforts to help ensure a nationwide emergency management community prepared to handle potential Y2K problems.

Thank you for this opportunity to participate in this forum. Avagene, I will be happy to answer any questions that the group has in the time we have left.

Avagene Moore: Thank you, Kay, for an excellent overview of Y2K outreach. I am sure our audience has a few questions or comments for you. But first, a brief bit of instruction about order in the Virtual Forum. If you have a question, please submit a question mark (?) to the chat screen to indicate you wish to speak. You may compose your question while waiting for me to recognize you. First question for Kay, please.


David Crews: Is there any planning for the possible negative secondary effects such as civil disturbances?

Kay Goss: It's early to even be thinking about this. But each community is responsible for their own law enforcement, with assistance from the State if required. We would respond to any type of law enforcement issue through the Federal Response Plan, if required.


KCES: We are particularly concerned about the utility power grid not crashing in January in Wisconsin. Has FEMA or anyone been directed to work with utilities to see that power grids do not fail?

Kay Goss: The utility industry has taken Y2K seriously, and is working hard to respond to it. As part of the President's Council on Y2K, a working group has been delegated the responsibility of working with the Energy industry to ensure that the Y2K problems are being addressed.

Gerri Sollenberger: Robert McKeeman, Y2K Planner for Atlanta Gas Utilities will be speaking at the World Future Society Conference on utilities, infrastructure, and the supply chain. His panel is from 9:40 - noon on Thursday, Dec. 17. There will also be an Emergency Services panel running at the same time.


Kevin Farrell: Let me try this again. Would the exercise material you are putting together be useful to any 911 center, or is it targeted at the state and locals? (State and local emergency managers, that is.)

Kay Goss: The exercise materials we are developing are targeted at the States, who will be working with their local governments. The exercises are focused on the CONSEQUENCES of Y2K problems, not on technological, hardware/software solutions.


Amy Sebring: I am concerned about over-exaggerating the potential problem and causing undue alarm in the public, which may be even MORE of a problem. Is this a legitimate concern? How can we strike a fair balance?

Kay Goss: This is a legitimate concern, and we believe that the key is getting as much information to the public as possible.


Cindy Rice: We use several programs from FEMA (training, reports, etc.) are these Y2K compliant or still in the process of becoming compliant at both region and headquarters? If we're working and using an application at the changeover period and our FEMA applications do not work, it will only add to the problem.

Kay Goss: FEMA has made much progress in this area but I don't have the specifics at hand. If you have a specific concern, please let us know. As of today, all systems are expected to be compliant.


Russell Coile: How might we plan to counter any terrorist activity that might take place at the Y2K time? Hospital administrators have told me that they are usually almost full, but if they could plan on an event?

Kay Goss: Terrorism planning activities would continue as planned. We would respond to the consequences of a terrorist incident through the Federal Response Plan.


Ed Pearce: You mentioned contingency plans. What about Business Continuity plans to protect the business of government from disasters in general? Has there been a survey to identify that status? The consulting firm I represent has a number of government agencies as clients.

Kay Goss: Federal Government agencies do in fact plan for continuity of operations regardless of cause.

Final Question:

David Crews: What are the general nature of the planned exercises? (e.g. response and recovery from outages, restoration of information flow by alternative methods, etc.)

Kay Goss: We are working on developing the scenarios for Y2K exercises even as we speak today.

Avagene Moore: Kay, thank you so much for being with us today in the Virtual Forum. Your presentation was excellent and most appreciated. Thanks to our audience also. Amy, will you tell us about next week please?

Amy Sebring: Thanks Ava. This Thursday evening, 8:00 PM EST, Mutual Aid open chat session. Next Wed., 12:00 Noon EST, we will be taking a look at our EIIP Virtual Christmas Catalogue. This is being compiled from gift suggestions sent in by you, our EIIP participants. If you have not sent a gift idea, please send to me <[email protected]> and include a web address or digital photo.

Also, some other upcoming online events. This afternoon, 2:15 PM EST, the Washington Post is hosting a live chat with Mike Armstrong, FEMA Mitigation Directorate in connection with the Project Impact Summit.

see <http://www.washingtonpost.com>. And this Thursday, Dec. 10th, 12:00 Noon EST, EENET broadcast via Internet on design considerations for earthquake protection. Back to you, Ava.

Avagene Moore: Thanks, Amy. The Christmas catalogue should be a good time for all -- please join us then and for other sessions.

Kevin Farrell: <clap!, clap!, clap!> Great session folks!

Ed Pearce: Kay, your reference to contingency plans was targeting state and local government, that was the scope of my question as well.

Avagene Moore: Kay, if you can hang around a few moments. There will be applause and kudos for you. Thank you.

Jose Musse: <<<<<applause, applause, applause>>>>

Amy Sebring: <applause, applause>

Jim Cook: Very well done - thanks Ms. Goss.

Isabel McCurdy: <<applause, applause>>

David Crews: Thanks for a great presentation!

Amy Sebring: Well done, and thanks for hanging in there!

Avagene Moore: Excellent program today! Kay, any closing remarks?

Kay Goss: Thank you all for being here and supporting the EIIP.