Many Employees to Watch Year Turn at Work


While many businesses predict an anticlimactic dawn of the new century, the Y2K rollover has forced hundreds of Orange County workers to rearrange their schedules to help monitor the transition to 2000.

From retail chains to engineering firms, companies will be reeling in workers Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 to test computer systems and other operations. Most say they expect no trouble, but if glitches do occur, they aim to catch them quickly.

Some businesses are taking no chances, adjusting their hours to avoid any glitches. Knott’s Berry Farm, for example, is stopping its rides for the evening at 11:45 p.m. but will stay open until 1 a.m. and offer a fireworks show.


Several restaurant chains, including Burger King, Carl’s Jr., Taco Bell and El Pollo Loco, also will close earlier.

John Wayne Airport, which closes its terminal overnight, expects to operate normally for the most part. The airport allows commercial departures until 9:45 p.m. and arrivals until 11 p.m.

Only one flight has been canceled, a Continental Airlines redeye that would have left at 9:30 p.m. for Newark, N.J., spokeswoman Nghia Nguyen said.

The terminal is scheduled to reopen at 5:30 a.m. Saturday as usual. Seven commercial flights, the normal number, are scheduled to depart at 7 a.m.

Some companies expect to begin monitoring early on New Year’s Eve to see how businesses in other countries are responding to the transition and whether computer systems are being disrupted by misreading 2000 as 1900.

Millions Spent on System Upgrades

Many companies have spent millions to upgrade their computer systems and firmly believe they are fully Y2K compliant.


Still, Orange County’s business community is cautious as the new century approaches.

Engineering and construction giant Fluor Corp., which reported it would spend between $25 million and $30 million addressing Y2K issues, has established a “command center” at its Aliso Viejo headquarters.

From 5 a.m. Dec. 31 (midnight in Australia) until noon on Jan. 3, about 50 local employees, working in shifts, will be in contact with 50 offices worldwide. The employees will monitor branch offices, field projects and local government computers. About 250 people worldwide are part of the Y2K “early warning system,” spokesman Keith Karpe said.

“We’re not expecting any disruption of service of any kind, but have prepared various contingency plans if any interruptions occur,” he said.

Television manufacturer Mitsubishi Digital Electronics America Inc. plans to have workers in its Cypress and Irvine facilities by about 10 p.m. New Year’s Eve to test the telephones, electricity, security systems and other infrastructure. Reports are to be issued to Japanese parent Mitsubishi Electric Corp. by noon the next day.

Even laid-back surf-wear designer Quiksilver Inc. has a “swat team” in place, and has established a “call tree” and an “executive emergency response team” that can be activated, should the need arise, said Ted Malley, vice president of information technology for the Huntington Beach company.

“We’ve really taken this Y2K and disaster 1/8preparedness 3/8 very seriously,” Malley said.


Quiksilver workers will begin monitoring power grids across the globe at 3 a.m. New Year’s Eve, when 2000 dawns in New Zealand, Malley said. The next day, a core group of employees, representing each department, will work for at least an hour to make sure all aspects of the business are functioning properly, Malley said.

Large mall-based retailers such as Foothill Ranch-based Wet Seal Inc. and Pacific Sunwear of California in Anaheim say their stores will function as usual, so long as the malls they operate in don’t encounter glitches. Both will have employees at headquarters to test computer functions and monitor stores. Malls generally are planning to be open New Year’s Day.

At John Wayne Airport, about 25 Y2K workers will get busy after midnight.

“We’ll have staff on hand to test everything from the pay phones to the paging system to the light on the airfield,” which accommodates about 280 flights a day, spokeswoman Nguyen said. The airport will switch on emergency generators before midnight to make sure tests can continue even if the electricity goes out.

Private planes can continue to fly in and out of the airport, except for brief interludes at 12:30 a.m. and 3 a.m. when airfield lighting systems will be tested, she said.

Even in arenas where having fun is the overriding goal, the arrival of a new century is causing subtle shifts in activity.

Knott’s Berry Farm, mindful of parkgoers’ concerns that computer glitches could cause problems, will stop its rides for the night at 11:45 p.m. That also will give guests time to position themselves to view the fireworks starting at midnight, spokesman Bob Ochsner said.


Disneyland, which expects as many as 80,000 visitors, is taking a different approach.

Earlier this year, the theme park had planned to stop its rides as the new year arrived and start them again after midnight if no problems arose, Disney employees said. But, at last word, the park was expecting to keep the rides operating, allowing enthusiasts to greet the new year on the attraction of their choice, employees said. A likely exception: the Haunted Mansion, which features an elevator.

“If you get stuck in there, you’re really stuck,” said a ride expert at the park.

Some companies are scaling back their operations as the year’s end approaches.

Typically, Irvine-based Western Digital Corp. has engineers on site at all times to monitor production in Asia. But the disc drive maker said it plans to take its Asian plants off-line Thursday to avoid potential Y2K problems. So only the normal security shift will be on hand New Year’s Eve, said Todd Herzer, who is coordinating the Y2K strategy.

“We’ll perform some tests and button down the facility and the team will be able to spend the rest of the evening with their families, on pager alert,” Herzer said. “The only reason we would come to work is if our worst fears were confirmed and we were watching CNN and saw significant disruptions in Asia.”

The Y2K team will return at 8:30 a.m. Saturday to test all major business applications and networks, he said.

A number of computer-related companies are shutting down between Christmas and New Year’s, including Conexant Systems Inc. in Newport Beach, PairGain Technologies Inc. in Tustin, Kingston Technology Corp. in Fountain Valley and Interplay Entertainment Corp in Irvine. Most say they’ve already tested their systems and expect them to function properly.

Some high-tech companies fret quietly about whether overseas suppliers are Y2K prepared. But they won’t comment for the record, fearing a Wall Street backlash.


AirTouch Communications will have people stationed in offices throughout the region to test systems and handle customer complaints, spokesman Andrew Colley said.

“We continue to believe that any disruptions we might experience crossing into the year 2000 will be both temporary and limited and that there will not be any adverse effect on overall operations,” Colley said.

If local computers do go awry, some stores and restaurants will revert back to manual methods to accommodate customers.

For example, should a Pacific Sunwear store’s computer go on the blink, employees will switch to processing sales manually while computer programmers work to solve the problem, said Frank Schools, the executive in charge of Y2K matters.

The Norms Family Restaurant chain, which has five 24-hour eateries in Orange County, will have adding machines ready, just in case, Vice President Phil Singerman said. McDonald’s Corp. has suggested that its restaurants have flashlights, paper menu tickets, calculators and manual cash sheets on hand.

Burger King, Taco Bell and El Pollo Loco will be closing at 10 p.m. while most Carl’s Jr. restaurants will be shuttered by 8 p.m. On a typical Friday, most Burger King and Carl’s Jr. restaurants close at midnight, for example. The four chains said they have attempted to test all of their systems for potential Y2K problems.


“We have a Y2K team that has been busy for more than a year surveying restaurants and suppliers to ensure that we are Y2K ready,” said Burger King spokeswoman Kim Miller. “But we have a team on beeper duty to respond to any issues that arise.”

Times staff writers Marc Ballon, Jonathan Gaw, Greg Hernandez, P.J. Huffstutter and E. Scott Reckard also contributed to this story.