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December 1999: Last Minute Y2K Precautions

Everywhere you look these days, the "Y2K bug" is being written about or some "expert" is making predictions about the end of the world. Mass hysteria? Probably, but if we've learned anything over the last 1,000 years, it's to expect the unexpected. The big day is nearly upon us and whether or not you believe there will be a crisis or just a flicker of the lights, there are some precautions every plant should be taking.

By now, we hope that your facility has converted all non-compliant computer-controlled and chip embedded equipment and created a contingency plan for critical services, processes and equipment. Tests of the upgraded equipment and contingency plan should have been completed and any noted deficiencies corrected. Some plants may have obtained back-up supplies for building heat and electric power. The following is a short list of last minute details and precautions that can be taken:

1. Evaluate the possibility of shutting down processes or cutting back production

- If practical, consider shutting down processes or minimizing production levels. If it is not necessary to operate a piece of equipment, shut it down. Use appropriate lock out and tag out programs and follow manufacturer's guidelines on the proper shutdown procedures.

2. Verify that all fire protection systems are in good working order.

- Verify that all fire protection systems are in working order, especially the sprinkler systems. Be sure all fire service control valves are open and locked, fire pump fuel tanks are full and suction tanks are full. Test the equipment and systems to ensure they are working properly. Develop an action plan on what to do if electricity or building heat is lost for a significant period. If portable heaters can't be used, sprinkler systems may need to be shut down to prevent freeze-ups. This includes dry-pipe systems (air compressors require electricity). Make sure personnel are positioned at the sprinkler risers and are trained to open the control valves immediately in the event of a fire.

3. Try to eliminate ignition sources.

- This is essential if automatic fire protection systems are shut down. Consider shutting down hazardous processes and prohibiting hot work. No smoking should be permitted in areas containing combustible storage or construction. If building heat is lost and portable heaters will be used, maintain them a minimum of 35 ft. away from combustible storage or construction.

4. Be careful not to increase any fire or other hazards.

- If excess inventory is built up as a precaution, be careful not to increase the fire hazard associated with this storage. Storage above the heights that can be protected by the sprinkler systems and/or cluttered aisles will reduce or negate the effectiveness of the facility's fire protection systems. Also, sometimes shutting down a particular process or piece of equipment may introduce new hazards at a facility.

5. Prepare for post-2000 recovery and start-up.

- If you've taken the precaution of shutting down hazardous processes and other systems prior to the Y2K date change, you will also need to carefully prepare for post-2000 start-up of this equipment. Start-up of process equipment, heating systems, etc. should be completed with care and personnel should be instructed to anticipate that start-up may not proceed in its normal manner since some systems may experience a Y2K-related problem.