November 1, 1999
Y2K checkup: Make sure campus has power before returning for winter quarter
By Jim Burns
A recent TV advertisement pokes fun at a prediction that has made it to the top of most Y2K doomsday lists. The Toyota automobile spot opens with the traditional Times Square countdown--followed by a rapid succession of neighborhood blackouts as power grids throughout New York City fall victim to the so-called millennium bug.
No one at UCSC is predicting that a similar power failure will sweep across the campus when the clock strikes midnight and the New Year begins. But that doesn't mean that staff haven't fully considered how the campus would--or would not--operate should such an outage occur.
Pat LeCuyer, chair of UCSC's Y2K Task Force, says the major concern on campus has to do with timing: Since the winter quarter starts on Monday, January 3, a lengthy power failure in the region has the very real potential of delaying UCSC's post-holiday reopening.
In fact, a prolonged interruption of PG&E's delivery of electricity or natural gas to the campus--however unlikely--is considered the only Y2K-related problem that would delay the start of the winter quarter.
"We feel like we're going to be in good shape in terms of the hardware and software that processes central computer systems like the Student Information System (SIS) and Financial Information System (FIS)," says LeCuyer, acting assistant vice chancellor for Communications & Technology Services. To be on the safe side, units like the Registrar's Office and Financial Affairs, which oversee SIS and FIS, respectively, have developed contingency plans that could be implemented should those mission-critical systems fail.
In the Registrar's Office, for example, staff members have developed an old-fashioned back-up system that would enable the campus to handle the volume of enrollment-related tasks that are completed at the beginning of each quarter. In the event of a system failure, they will record information on paper.
However, if UCSC experiences a power outage of significant duration during the first weekend of 2000, no amount of contingency planning will enable the campus to open for winter quarter on time.
Here's one scenario: PG&E's delivery of electricity to the campus is interrupted, but its delivery of natural gas is not. If that were to happen, UCSC's main cogeneration plant could produce enough electricity to accommodate most of the academic buildings in the campus core. (Without natural gas, diesel could power the cogeneration plant for only 72 hours.)
Since the vast majority of the campus's power-sensitive research activities are located in academic buildings, the diversion of the plant's electricity to those areas is a top safety priority.
But the "cogen" system alone cannot generate enough electricity to power up the campus's academic buildings and the administrative buildings, the eight colleges, and the pumps that distribute water.
"While our utility companies tell us that they are ready, and we don't anticipate a Y2K power outage, we still have to plan for that eventuality," LeCuyer says.
The Task Force, therefore, is recommending that students who live on campus "check in" on UCSC's Y2K condition before returning to campus after their several-week holiday break. Employees who don't live in Santa Cruz (and therefore will not know of the status of local power) are asked to do likewise.
The Public Information Office has established a special Y2K Web site (y2k.ucsc.edu) that will provide information on the status of power at UCSC in the hours and days that follow the countdown to Year 2000. If members of the UCSC community don't have Web access, they should phone the campus's 459-INFO emergency line for an update before returning to campus that Monday morning.