President Clinton has already made plans to declare a national emergency because of expected disruptions caused by the Y2K computer problem, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency documents.
A final training session followed by a mock Y2K disaster exercise will include the actual disruptions and problems that Y2K emergency planners believe will take place during the change to the New Year.
Plans for the emergency declaration were made known to Federal Emergency Management Agency officials and other federal employees in preparation for use of the Information Coordination Center, set up by the President’s Council on the Year 2000 conversion. The plans were also given to the Senate Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem.
The staff on hand at the Information Coordination Center have been told to expect a presidential declaration of a national emergency. FEMA staff who will run the regional emergency operation centers have also been told the same thing.
“Should it become necessary, a presidential ’emergency,’ rather than a ‘major disaster,’ will be declared, and assistance will be focused on addressing threats to life, health, safety, and property,” the Senate committee was told in a report from Lacy E. Suiter from the Response and Recovery Directorate of FEMA.
A national emergency will be declared because FEMA officials have concluded that there will be more than 50 simultaneous Y2K-related disruptions throughout the country, which will stretch the nation’s local, state and national emergency resources to the limit.
The Department of Defense is so concerned that the deputy secretary of defense, John J. Hamre, has issued a memorandum to commanders in the field to be very cautious about using the military to assist civil agencies. Hamre said local requests for help might seem appropriate, but he warned local commanders to be cautious about using the military to help with Y2K disruptions.
“Immediate responses that appear rational from a local perspective, but could collectively undermine the department’s ability to execute operational missions” should be ruled out, said Hamre.
Hamre has ordered commanders to avoid using the military for Y2K problems unless there is a threat to life or damage to property. The warning applies to domestic as well as international requests for help.
The anticipation of a multitude of simultaneous problems that would stretch the ability of the government to respond is the driving force behind the plans for declaration of a national emergency.
Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, told WorldNetDaily there is a very real fear that the enemies of the United States could conduct domestic terrorist attacks because they will expect the country to be weakened due to the military’s having to deal with Y2K disruptions. He said there is also a possibility that cyber-terrorism attacks might even try to sabotage computers to create what appear to be Y2K computer failures, in order to enhance opportunities for terrorists to conduct further attacks on U.S. cities.
Suiter says many small, localized disruptions are expected to occur. Response should come from local and state agencies “to the maximum extent possible,” he said. FEMA has been conducting training for local police and fire officials in an effort to help them be better prepared for Y2K emergencies and reduce the need for federal assistance.
FEMA officials who attended training in each of the 10 FEMA regions were told a major disaster declaration was ruled out because the Y2K problems will not “involve a natural disaster,” according to the presentation materials used and provided to WorldNetDaily.
“A presidential ’emergency’ rather than ‘major disaster’ declaration will be made if Y2K consequences exceed state/local response resources,” FEMA staff and other federal agencies were told at the regional meetings.
Peter Kind of the Information Coordination Center sent a memorandum to staff members to guide them in preparations for final training exercises Dec. 6 to 9. He wants the exercises to be as real as possible, and asked for recommendations on what Y2K problems are actually expected.
Although Suiter claims “no one knows for sure what will happen following rollover to January 1,” those who will staff the Information Coordination Center have been asked by Kind to submit a list of the most likely Y2K disruptions for use in the final Y2K disaster training and exercise.
“We want to exercise the rollover sequence with special emphasis on what could happen when, as midnight and subsequent critical periods such as business hours, opening of financial markets, etc., follow the timeline westward. We invite you to help identify the high probability and high-risk items that might occur, by time zone, both for use in the exercise and to help prepare us all,” requested Kind.
Past exercises conducted by FEMA and other emergency organizations have always stressed that they do not know what problems to expect when the New Year begins.
“In order to make the December exercise as realistic as possible, we ask that you provide your ICC core staff contact with your best estimates of possible incidents, anomalies or other systems operation events most likely to be seen during the Millennium Rollover (sic). Receipt of this type information by November 24 will ensure that it will be incorporated into the exercise scenarios when and where appropriate,” said the instructions to ICC staff.
“We are hoping for the best, but taking necessary and prudent steps to prepare for any contingencies,” said Suiter.
Although emergency planners may be planning for the worst, their Y2K preparation materials provided to the public do not suggest that the general public take the same precautions. The Federal Emergency and Management Agency and Red Cross Y2K disaster planning guides recommend preparations that, in effect, advise the public to have a 72-hour kit similar to what would be needed for a winter storm.
The Information Coordination Center is scheduled to be staffed 24 hours a day beginning Dec. 28 and continuing at least until Jan. 7. Plans include an option to extend the date if the national emergency continues. Virtually all federal employees, including FBI and members of the military, have had vacation time canceled to enable them to be ready for action if needed. Civil agencies all across the country have issued similar restrictions for police, fire and other vital services to be on call or on duty.
“The emergency management community may be facing a potential disruption scenario that it has not dealt with before: simultaneous disruptions in all 50 States and six territories that may require federal emergency declarations. In addition, we may have numerous weather-related major disaster declarations to address during this time frame,” explained Suiter.
John Koskinen, head of the President’s Council on the Year 2000 Conversion, is concerned there may be problems caused inadvertently. He is warning people not to pick up the phone just after the start of the New Year and make a call “just to see if it works.” He said too many attempts to make calls all at the same time would shut down the entire phone system.
He also warned that the public may be fooled by normal failures and think they are caused by the Y2K computer bug. ATM cash machines, phone service and electric services all have localized failures on a regular basis. One of those types of failures may happen right on Jan. 1 and create a mistaken belief that a Y2K failure has occurred when it really has not.
“The presumption is to blame all failures on Y2K that weekend,” Koskinen said, and Bennett agreed. He said the public must help to reduce the demand on the system at a difficult time.
WorldNetDaily has learned that a computer hacker was able to alter the website run by the Commerce Department recently. A message was displayed that said: “Run for your lives! Hit your computer’s power button and never turn it on again.” The hacker was reported to be making a statement about potential Y2K problems and trying to illustrate weaknesses in the government computer system that would permit a computer terrorist access to government systems. The hacker identified himself only as “Comdex0r.”
Koskinen said there are many such attacks on government computers all the time. He said hackers will be easily detected during the Y2K rollover period because there will be tighter security at that time. Koskinen asked “recreational hackers” to stay away during the date change rather than complicate what is anticipated to be a difficult time for government agencies. “This is not the best time to do that,” Koskinen said.