The start of the millennium will be a night at work for hundreds of utility and governmental employees in Erie County.
The people responsible for delivering power, transportation, medical and other services do not anticipate problems beyond their control and say they will be prepared.
At a community forum Monday sponsored by the county and M&T Bank, they said they will have extra workers on hand when the clock strikes 12 on the night of Friday, Dec. 31.
Most are confident that they have overcome their own Y2K computer problems -- and keep generators for backup in case of a power breakdown.
Niagara Mohawk will increase the power supply by 25 percent and will have 750 workers at critical sites, with line crews standing by, said Peter Egloff, senior energy consultant.
"I'm here to give you the highest level of comfort I can that they won't be needed," he said.
Snowstorms and ice storms have schooled Niagara Mohawk crews for the millennium, and, in addition, the utility spent $33 million to eliminate Y2K computer glitches, he said.
Egloff and a dozen others dealing with potential computer problems are working with the County Department of Emergency Services. Utilities will have representatives at the Y2K center that the county will operate beginning the day before New Year's Eve and continuing for as long as needed.
"Y2K is just a technological hazard we prepare for every day," said James Zymanski, Town of Amherst Y2K coordinator. "A power outage is just a power outage."
James Campolong, project director for American Anglian, operator of the Buffalo water system, said the water will flow for as long as the electrical power is available.
"Our plant is very old, operated primarily by plant operators instead of computers," he said. "Most of our staff has worked through many emergencies in the past. If we have power from NiMo, our system will be functional."
If power is iffy, American Anglian might issue a warning to users to boil water, he said.
The delivery of water and continuation of power are joint concerns for Kaleida Health, the merged system that includes six hospitals and 70 other sites.
"Y2K has the potential to create problems and has to be taken seriously," said Robert Shores, Kaleida spokesman.
Shores said hospitals always are prepared for contingencies and possibilities such as power breakdowns. He disclosed that Kaleida had dealt with thousands of pieces of equipment with embedded computer chips that had the potential of not recognizing the year 2000.
The county will monitor and learn from any glitches for 18 hours as other time zones welcome in the year 2000 before New Year's Eve arrives here, said Michael V. Walters, county commissioner for emergency services.
Scott Sterry of Tops/Ahold USA said the supermarket chain will increase inventories of key foods and be prepared for business as usual. He suggested that consumers plan ahead, as they would for a blizzard, and refill prescriptions in advance.
Banks nationwide are Y2K compliant, said Steve P. Wojciechowski, M&T Bank vice president. He offered a short list of financial safeguards: Keep good records, verify transactions, review your credit status with credit-rating companies, never give out account information or Social Security numbers to anyone you do not know or trust, and have enough cash Dec. 31 for a couple of days.
"Large amounts of cash draw attention," Wojciechowski said. "Please be careful."
Robert G. Wilmers, chairman and chief executive officer of M&T Bank, cautioned against Chicken Little overreaction and quoted President Franklin D. Roosevelt's advice: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
County Executive Gorski said county government has fixed its own computer systems, 911 is ready, and Erie County Medical Center will be well prepared.
"At this point in time, every indication is that there will be no disruptions in Erie County's basic infrastructure," he said. "We are pleased with the progress we have seen in the private sector."