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For power industry, year 2000 is now

North American power transmission operators will conduct a drill to simulate a loss of voice and data communications as part of preparations for the coming turn of the millennium.

For the nation's power industry, the year 2000 starts tomorrow.

North American power transmission operators tomorrow will conduct a drill to simulate a loss of voice and data communications as part of preparations for the coming turn of the millennium, the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) said.

Back to Year 2000 Index Page The NERC along with the North East Power Coordinating Council (NPCC) will be participating in the test.

The drill will simulate the loss of normal telecommunications systems used by industry personnel to communicate both within and between electricity delivery systems. NERC officials said the intent is to confirm that existing back-up systems operate as designed, while giving its staff the opportunity to operate those systems.

The test will not interfere with electric system operations and will not affect power service, NERC said.

"The April 9 drill focuses on the ability of the transmission system operators to maintain critical voice and data communications should a partial loss of communications occur," NERC said in a statement.

Government and industry have allocated billions of dollars to make sure computer systems do not crash when systems misread the date 2000.

The so-called millennium bug refers to the fact that many computers are programmed to register only the last two digits of the year, meaning that "2000" may be read as "1900." If left uncorrected, such programs could generate errors and scramble the computers that companies use to keep track of customers, run their payrolls, handle their accounts, run elevators, and monitor air traffic, some experts warn.

The NERC is best known for its series of quarterly assessments of the electric utility industry's Year 2000 readiness. In January, its last report optimistically indicated that the Year 2000 technology problem will have "a minimal impact" on electric power operations in North America.

See special report: Date with disaster The report, conducted by the NERC for the U.S. Energy Department, sparked criticism by some who feel the industry's self assessment practices don't go far enough. Critics argue that the agency doesn't ensure that the majority of electric power facilities that take part in the survey are compliant, that the pace of conversion efforts is moving fast enough, and that the proper contingency planning is in place.

The government has set June 30 as the target date for Y2K compliance for those agencies that missed the initial government-wide deadline of March 31.

In late March, federal regulators said the U.S. telecommunications system was also unlikely to suffer major outages due to Y2K computer problems.

The Federal Communications Commission said the largest local and long distance carriers would have rid their networks of the millennium bug by the second quarter of 1999.

Reuters contributed to this report.