The power outage that blackened Saint Mary's early Friday morning may have served as a blessing in disguise for the campus Y2K team.
By NOREEN GILLEPSIE
Saint Mary's Editor
As the community struggled with the inconvenience of a lack of telephone services, internet access and electricity, the information technology team had the perfect dry run to prepare for the possible implications of Y2K.
"This was like our Y2K fire drill," said Joel Cooper, director of Saint Mary's Information Technology. "We know that we are prepared for anything that could happen."
Campus computing networks were up and running within an hour of power restoration, and e-mail services were running shortly thereafter.
It gave the Y2K team a much needed senese of security.
"We feel like we are in good shape," Cooper said. "This made us to go through all the `what ifs' that could happen."
Initially, computer experts worldwide feared that systems would be unable to handle the change over to the year 2000, and that embedded systems would fail, causing power outages, database collapses and other technological failures. That fear eased over the past year, as electrical companies and other technology-related industries upgraded their systems.
"We've contacted the utilities companies and they've assured us that everything is fine," Cooper said. "Of course, we'll be watching as the year moves across the international dateline, but if other technological countries go smoothly, we'll be fine."
While Friday's blackout inconvenienced nearly all of the campus community, Y2K is not expected to have a drastic impact on normal operations. Any repercussions should be minor, due to updated technology services, communication with outside vendors, and a contingency plan that outlines emergency actions that will be taken in the event of unforseen repercussions.
"You can never know everything that is going to happen," Cooper said. "But we've done as much as anyone else and have adequately prepared the campus."
For students who fear flicking the switch on their desktop computers when they return from winter break, the risk of system failure is low. Since the network is only three years old, nearly all the network software and hardware came to campus Y2K compliant.
"Being behind in technology actually worked to our advantage," Cooper said. "When we networked the campus, we backed into a Y2K solution."
The Y2K team, who surveyed the campus hardware and software for Y2K compatibility, found that most computer systems brought to campus by students were Y2K compliant.
All Macintosh computers are Y2K compliant, and computers equipped to support Microsoft Windows 95 and 98 should suffer only minimal effects.
"Students may need to upgrade BIOS (Basic Input/Ouput Systems), but since they are bringing in relatively new systems, it shouldn't be a problem," Cooper said.
Students who do experience Y2K difficulty or who are attempting to prepare their personal computers in advance can download patches for Windows 95 and 98 at www.microsoft.com, or contact Information Technology to obtain them.
Additionally, resident computer consultants are compiling a list of instructions for students that will be available on the Web upon returning from break.
"The only thing that we're really telling students to do is unplug their machines," Cooper said. "We do not anticipate a great deal of difficulty."
In the event that Y2K does halt normal operations, the Y2K team — comprised of Information Technology, Human Resources, Security, Dining Services, and Facilities representatives — drafted a contingency plan that outlines steps to follow in case operations are interrupted.
The contingency plan includes an Emergency Response Team that will be on call Dec. 31, 1999, to monitor Saint Mary's for any potential problems.
"We purposely set up a process that will let as many people as possible be home with their families that night," Cooper said. "We'll be here to monitor any problems that will occur, but we don't expect anything to happen."
Should operations be interrupted, there is a possibility that the academic calendar could be delayed. For information regarding the status of campus following Jan. 1, 2000, students may call (219) 284-5245 after Jan. 10, 2000. They may also check Saint Mary's Y2K Web site at www.saintmarys.edu/~y2k.
But the best advice? Sit back and relax on New Year's Eve.
"We've done our homework," Cooper said. "Business is expected to run smoothly."
All News Stories for Tuesday, December 7, 1999