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Even County's Y2K Expert May Enjoy New Year's

Leo Crawford has invested 24 months in the millennial moment. He's certain of one thing; Something minor will go wrong.

November 29, 1999|DAVID REYES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

On New Year's Eve, Leo Crawford will have his beeper on, cell phone and car keys at the ready, and a bottle of aspirin at bedside.

As Orange County's Y2K computer guru, Crawford has spent the last 24 months ensuring that he will grab the keys and not the aspirin.

Maybe.

"I'm optimistic," he said, "but I guarantee we will have missed something, some little thing that won't be life-threatening. But there's just too much to make an assumption that nothing's going to go wrong."

With more than 200 computer systems in dozens of county departments and agencies, Crawford has had to devise a method for fixing an entire network, including mini-networks--sometimes as a boss, sometimes as an equal cajoling other department heads--to make sure nothing goes haywire when 2000 arrives.

As a precaution, Crawford has restricted vacation time for workers assigned to the county's data center and plans to have a small army of techies at the center at midnight and through the New Year weekend running tests.

In September, 80% of the vast county system was Y2K compliant. Since then, compliance has risen to 97%, Crawford said.

Most of the bigger agencies that rely heavily on information stored on computers--the Health Care Agency, Superior Court, assessor's office and Sheriff's Department--have installed new systems and upgraded and tested older ones.

John Wayne Airport officials have worked closely with the Federal Aviation Administration and say that airport operations are expected to run smoothly during the busy New Year holiday.

In his role as chief of information, Crawford has been the Y2K point man, who with only a secretary and another executive devised a Y2K plan and then, like a Hollywood agent, marched around county offices selling it to department heads.

"It wasn't easy," he said. "Here I am at the same level as they are and I'm telling them, well, not really telling them, but suggesting to them what steps they should take."

Described by co-workers as savvy and gregarious, Crawford met with department-level executives only after persuading Jan Mittermeier, the county executive officer, to give Y2K a high priority.

"We've been working on this issue for about two years now and feel very comfortable that our systems are ready," Mittermeier said.

For the most part, reaction to Crawford's style has been positive. Garbed in business suit, tie and his favorite suspenders, the 56-year-old guru was a welcomed sight as he made his rounds.

"With Leo, it's not a dictatorial thing," said Robert Griffith, chief deputy director at the county Social Services Agency. "He doesn't come into meetings and say, 'I'm the chief information person here.' Instead, Leo makes us feel like we're a customer of his. Not all technical people do that."

In addition to county departments, Crawford served as an advisor to the county's independent agencies, such as the Sheriff's Department and Superior Court.

"We have every system tested past Jan. 1, but we have minor fixes still to go," Crawford said. "For example, we had a problem with leap year not recording and a hard-coded printout that, instead of saying '2000,' read '19xx,' but those are small and cosmetic. On the mainframe, we're pretty much doing additional testing and we're ready, other than checking on interfaces with the state."

The interfaces, or "electronic handshakes" in techie jargon, have been undergoing tests since the summer and have had few glitches, said Elias S. Cortez, state information officer.

"Orange County has been one of the leaders, as well as L.A. County, with respect to compliance," Cortez said. The state has suffered delays, but is now 97% compliant, he added.

*

In Orange County, the cost of complying is $26.6 million, a sum that includes $7 million for the Sheriff's Department and $1.6 million for the courts, though both are outside Crawford's jurisdiction.

Sheriff's officials are "extremely confident" that no major system incident linked to Y2K will occur to lessen the safety of residents living in the unincorporated areas and 10 contract cities, Sheriff's Capt. Ron Wilkerson said.

A new, $3-million computer emergency 911-dispatching system was tested and went online last month, replacing an older system that received a $250,000 upgrade and will serve as a backup.

Preparations have impressed state law enforcement officials, who selected Orange County as the backup site for the state Department of Justice's telecommunications system, which allows police to find out if a suspect has arrest warrants.

Sheriff's officials also are confident that the department's jail facilities, which house 5,400 inmates, are in compliance and safe, Wilkerson said.

Other precautions include having sheriff's technical staff working at midnight on Dec. 31, and opening the county's emergency operations center to monitor any incidents locally and on the East Coast, which reaches the New Year three hours earlier.

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