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Niagara County Emergency Management Coordinator James C. Volkosh said the county will offer a telephone number for residents to call on New Year's Eve and early New Year's Day to obtain information on Y2K problems, if any.

The number is 439-7319.

Volkosh said the number will be activated at about 10 p.m. New Year's Eve and will remain in operation until at least 2 a.m. -- later, if there are problems.

"It'll be a prerecorded message, but it will be updated every 15 or 20 minutes," Volkosh said.

There will be no capability on that line for residents to ask questions or report problems. Those calls are to be made to 911, in case of emergencies, or to the Sheriff's Department or city police departments.

Information will be gathered from police agencies, utilities, the county's Central Data Processing staff and other sources.

An Emergency Management Operations Center at an undisclosed location will be staffed by Volkosh and other key personnel, who will be monitoring information from around the globe.

"I'll be up at 5 a.m. (Dec. 31)," Volkosh said. "We'll be following Y2K as it starts in New Zealand."

He said Delphi Harrison Thermal Systems and FMC Corp., which both have plants worldwide, will be cooperating with the county in relaying information about the types of Y2K problems arising overseas. Niagara County ham radio operators will also be utilized to monitor the overseas situation.

County Central Data Processing Director Larry L. Helwig said the nagging worry is that the county Water District has no backup electric generator at its Wheatfield pumping plant. If electricity fails, the county has made arrangements to tap into the City of Niagara Falls water system.

"The pressure might be lower, but we will have water," Helwig told the County Legislature.

This problem is not unique to the county. City of Lockport Utilities Director Michael W. Diel warned at a Nov. 8 meeting that the city's water plant doesn't have a backup generator, either.

Lockport's fallback source of water is the county water system.

Helwig said he will be on hand in the county's emergency communications bunker to assist in case of computer trouble. But he said he doesn't think there will be much for him to do.

"All our computers have been upgraded," Helwig told the Legislature Tuesday. "Every department's put together a contingency plan. . . . Hopefully, we're going to have a happy New Year."

Helwig said in an interview that the county has spent about $500,000 in 1998 and 1999 on new computer equipment and safe software as part of the county's previously adopted Technology Plan, dating from 1997.

"I don't think Y2K forced us to do it," said Helwig. He said the only major system that had to be replaced because of inability to comply with the new millennium was the payroll software.

In 1999 alone, the county bought about 70 new personal computers at a cost of $96,000. In all, more than 300 computers have been replaced in the past year and a half, Helwig said.

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