Nando Times
352 US employees leave European countries as Y2K precaution

By BRIGITTE GREENBERG


WASHINGTON (December 30, 1999) - A total of 352 U.S. employees and dependents have left Russia and three other countries in a Y2K precautionary move, the State Department said Thursday.

Of these, 95 are nonessential U.S. employees and 257 are dependents. In all, 2,254 could have chosen to leave. All were free to go home with U.S.-paid transportation.

In the United States, hundreds of federal emergency officials have fanned out across the country and will await the stroke of midnight in each U.S. time zone Friday with an eye toward Y2K disaster.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has established 10 regional centers to monitor potential catastrophes in the United States and its territories.

Beginning Thursday, FEMA is putting its emergency support team in full gear around the clock through Sunday. More than 800 personnel will be working through the weekend.

In Moscow, 1,155 embassy employees and dependents were eligible to take the offer to leave, and 254 did, 74 of them employees at the U.S. Embassy and 180 dependents, said State Department spokesman Philip T. Reeker.

The offer was made by the State Department on Oct. 29 and has no connection to concern about terrorism, Reeker said. It is a precaution in the highly unlikely event heat and other services fail in the onset of the new millennium, he said.

Besides Russia, and the U.S. Embassy and consulates, nonessential employees and dependents were eligible to leave at government expense in Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova.

In Washington, the Federal Emergency Management Agency can draw on resources from as many as 26 federal agencies and the Red Cross if Y2K emergencies arise.

"FEMA is confident that nothing serious will happen, but we are prepared to respond just like we would for any other natural disaster or any other emergency situation," said Robert Adamcik, associate director for FEMA response and recovery.

Preparing for 18 months, the agency's officials have rehearsed a multitude of scenarios, including explosions, power outages and nuclear disaster.

FEMA officials said they will constantly gather information from state and local governments throughout the weekend, monitoring them with an automated system that assigns a green light to communities that are OK, a yellow light to those where an emergency is suspected but information is incomplete, and a red light for a confirmed disaster.

FEMA would be called in only after a state's governor asked President Clinton to declare a federal disaster area.

"Some of the things that we can provide under the plan range from mass care that Red Cross can provide, food through the Department of Agriculture, transportation, communications, search and rescue or emergency medical and pharmaceuticals, should those be needed by state and local government," said Bruce Baughman, chief of operations for FEMA response and recovery.

The Health and Human Services Department, Centers for Disease Control and Defense Department have gas masks and antidotes in the event of chemical or biological terrorism, FEMA spokesman Marc Wolfson said.

Officials emphasized that they had not received any specific threats, but extra security measures were introduced at federal buildings across the country this week, said Bob Dunfey, the regional administrator of the General Services Administration in New England.

At the federal courthouse in Boston, visitors and courthouse employees were asked to produce photo identification to enter the building.

In Scranton, Pa., officials told visitors to the federal courthouse to park in nearby lots rather than on the street right outside, allowing the building to have a buffer, said Dave Branham, a spokesman for the U.S. Marshals.

Even if a significant disaster arises that is not related to Y2K, such as an unexpected weather phenomenon, FEMA would respond, Adamcik said. However, certain emergencies - cyber terrorism, local civil disturbances, a national security emergency or long-term economic recovery - would fall under the purview of other agencies.

President Clinton's top Y2K expert, John Koskinen, said stores appear to be fully supplied if people wish to stock up on water or other provisions for parties or a long midwinter weekend.




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