Share this article

print logo


Year 2000, the most anticipated, the most celebrated, the most costly, the most feared new year ever, arrived without a glitch as revelry, not revolution, struck at midnight.

Fireworks, not flashlights and food rations, welcomed the new century as Western New Yorkers prepared for the worst but instead rejoiced in a bash that began early, ended late and quickly erased the fears about Y2K.

The doom and gloom, the crisis, the meltdown. None of it happened.

Hospitals stayed open. ATMs spewed cash. The lights, electricity and telephone lines never went out.

Y2K, in terms of mischief, mistakes and mayhem, was a big bust.

"We're thankful nothing happened," said Erie County Sheriff Patrick Gallivan. "Nonetheless, we had to be prepared."

Midnight passed with no disruption in the region's bread and butter services -- food and water, heat and electricity, hospitals and police.

From every corner of Western New York, officials reported an incident-free entry into the year 2000.

Nowhere was the post-midnight celebration more sincere than at Erie County's top-secret command post, a central gathering spot for every agency and company with a role in providing life-and-death services.

If something went wrong, these were the people who would hear it first.

The bad news never came. And just after midnight, the 60 people inside raised a glass of non-alcoholic champagne and toasted their success in avoiding a calamity.

"So far, so good," said Michael Walters, Erie County's commissioner of emergency services, as midnight arrived and the cheers erupted. "It's exciting, and I'm pleased with the outcome."

A former Cold War bomb shelter in the basement of the Niagara County Civil Defense Building served as Niagara County's command center.

A crew of about 15 people watched TV news reports, checked county computer systems for viruses and waited for the antipasto.

"We've talked to a number of stations around the northeastern U.S.," said Steve Spicer of Niagara Falls, a ham radio operator affiliated with the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service. "Everything is normal."

As the clock ticked toward midnight, thousands of employees -- from utility workers to air traffic comptrollers to emergency room nurses -- stood ready for any crisis imaginable.

It never came.

"When it comes to Y2K, we like boring," said Rosemary Kuca, assistant vice president for clinical solutions at Kaleida Health, the local hospital system.

Kaleida, as part of an early-warning system, had arranged to communicate with hospitals in New Zealand and Australia that use similar computer systems. Those hospitals entered the new year hours before Kaleida and reported no problems.

The Y2K crew at the Catholic Health System put on a pot of coffee and turned on CNN while waiting for midnight at its main command center in Kenmore Mercy Hospital.

The crew stationed itself in an ordinary room packed with an extraordinary array of communication devices: cellular telephones, land-line telephones, fax machines, two-way radios, a TV set and computers with e-mail and Internet.

A shelf contained rows of three-ring binders, each a detailed contingency plan for every department, from cardiac care to the kitchen.

"It was an exhaustive effort," said Matthew Hamp, a senior vice president at the Catholic Health System.

Computer technicians at Western New York's largest banks sipped non-alcoholic champagne at midnight, one eye on monitors.

The major banks -- HSBC Corp., M&T Bank, Key Bank and Fleet Bank -- spent millions to protect against miscalculated loan payments and disabled ATMs.

By early morning, it looked like money well spent. But the final test comes Monday when the world's financial markets open for the first time in 2000.

"Some things you just can't do until Monday," said Jeff Shaw, manager of contingency planning at M&T Bank.

For all the banks, it was withdrawals, not deposits, that concerned them as 1999 wound down. But the rush of anxious customers never came.

"It looks like people just took out an extra $20," said Fleet spokesman Karl Felsen.

Cash withdrawals at Fleet ran only 6 percent higher than normal Friday. Other banks reported light withdrawals as well.

Like the banks, local utilities pronounced themselves ready as midnight came and went.

Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. had fewer than 100 upstate customers without service Friday night, none because of Y2K. It's not unusual for the utility to have 20 to 30 minor outages each winter night.

NiMo also reported normal operations at its two nuclear plants -- Nine Mile Point I and II on Lake Ontario.

National Fuel, New York State Electric & Gas and Bell Atlantic also reported an easy entry into 2000.

As the ball dropped, Bell Atlantic's biggest worry was how customers would react to Y2K. If people picked up their phones in unison to check for a dial tone at midnight, circuits could have been tied up.

"The volume between midnight and 1 a.m. is higher than a peak hour on a business day," said Eric Rabe, a Bell Atlantic vice president. "But then people get tired and go to bed."

Life at the airport was even more uneventful.

By the time midnight arrived, the east and west concourses at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport were nearly deserted. Most of the restaurants were closed.

"We promised a boring night, and it's turning out that way," said William R. Vanecek, director of aviation for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.

"Boring is good on a day like this."

News Staff Reporters Lou Michel, Henry L. Davis, Fred Williams, Patrick Lakamp and Thomas Prohaska contributed to this story.

There are no comments - be the first to comment