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Looking back at how Buffalo dealt with Y2K, 20 years later

With a new millennium on the horizon, the world came together.

Not for hopes of peace and harmony, but in fear over a potential computer glitch that could have thrown the Western world back into the Stone Age.

Computer programmers called it the Y2K bug. Especially on many older, antiquated operating systems, on Dec. 31, 1999, at 11:59:59pm, computers would flip to Jan. 1, 1900, instead of Jan. 1, 2000, and possibly shut down the world by confusing the automated programs that run things like the power grid, banking and water systems, and air traffic control.

Many of the larger systems were fixed, but in many instances, companies left many smaller networks alone as the new year approached, and would work to fix whatever was broken.

Lewis Mandell, the late dean of the UB School of Management, offered advice through the school’s communications department. He said the U.S. was "deemed insufficient in water and electricity" preparedness heading into Y2K.

"We know for a fact that our utility companies are not digging up every relay point," said Mandell. "They're going to wait to see what fails."

He suggested that families stock up on flashlights, batteries and plenty of bottled water as a precaution, as well as making sure gas tanks were filled “well before New Year's."

ATMs, Mandell pointed out, could also be in jeopardy.

"Everyone is expected to get cash," he said. "ATMs (may not) work or will be out of cash. And stores may not be taking plastic (credit cards) for a while."

And, expect that airlines might be grounded, based on fears that tracking systems and radar might stop working. Leading up to the calendar flip, several airlines canceled flights that would have been airborne at the moment of the change.

One system the federal government seemed confident in was the food and grocery system.

“The Clinton administration Thursday urged consumers not to panic and hoard milk, bread and toilet paper before Dec. 31 out of fear that the so-called Y2K bug will cause grocery shortages,” read a report in The News in November 1999.

Most people made some sort of preparation, but many remained unflappable. Vidler’s joked about it in a sign at the East Aurora store which read, "Our shoelaces are Y2K compatible."

After 2000 came without the end of civilization, the Food Bank of Western New York put out a call for any extra canned goods that people might have purchased to be prepared.

For most of us, Y2K is a memory of a big fizzle rather than a big problem. That might have been Mandell’s best prediction of all.

"Hopefully, we'll all weather this and you can forget what I said in a month and a half.”

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