WTO and Y2K: The Story I Was Never Asked to Tell – Background Information on WTO and Y2K

By Jim Mullen
Emergency Management, Once Removed

In early 1999, concerns surfaced across the public and private sector that the turn of the century would require a rewrite of coding for a number of computer operated machines. Among the darkest predictions if this was not adequately addressed were dam failures, streetlights malfunctioning, missiles accidentally launched, missed payrolls, key documents lost or difficult to recover. Throughout the world, information technology experts were tasked with identifying and minimizing these potential disruptions. Seattle was no exception.

Seattle’s approached Y2K transition by designating the City Information Technology Office (later the Department of Information Technology) as the “lead” agency briefing the City’s Disaster Management Committee (DMC) – to guide us in securing critical systems in the EOC and in city departments. Because of City IT’s preeminent role in that review the voices of reason prevailed over the “doomsayers” in the region. Potential problems, once identified, were fixed once the appropriate resources were dedicated, minimizing any potential disruptions. This bolstered our confidence that we could manage any outstanding problems on the “Big Night”, and we did.

We used the Disaster Management Committee (DMC) to monitor the Y2K developments as our Basic plan directed. This also prompted the development (finally) of a role for the CIT team in our EOC (imagine that!)

The DMC also organized around the Seattle Police Department’s machinations for the upcoming World Trade Organization meeting, which was scheduled at the end of November 1999. The planning for that event went forward literally from scratch in preference to making use of the existing, tested emergency management plan and comprehensive structure that was already in place.

The news that The World Trade Organization (WTO) would hold a ministerial conference in Seattle, while known for some time before Emergency Management learned of it in March, 1999, was anticipated to be a “coming-out” party for Seattle as an international city capable of hosting significant events of worldwide interest.

Although the City had a relatively seasoned disaster management team, and had acquitted itself well during the 1993 Asian Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) there was a “can do” philosophy emanating from the Office of the Mayor that nothing could/should/would go wrong.

Accordingly, the event was treated as a “routine” if important event. The FBI and Secret Service advance teams who precede a Presidential and foreign dignitary attended event were also noncommittal about any threats of violence during the conference. Coordinated world trade even then was a serious matter; labor groups were concerned about job retention as the US explored worldwide markets where labor was cheaper and potentially less troublesome. Anarchists were concerned about a “new world order” that might restrict their notion of freedom. Many Americans were dubious about what was perceived to be a headlong rush to submerge national interests in favor of international trade relationships. In addition, none of these forces was shy about opposing WTO. Some, specifically those espousing anarchistic views, were determined to both shut the government down and spark a destructive riot, baiting authorities into an overreaction. At the same time, their strategy seemed to be predicated on the belief that a perceived overreaction would be preceded by a marked under-reaction. It was.

Next Installment: August 29
WTO and Y2K: The Story I Was Never Asked to Tell – Part 1: WTO Planning

Now for Something Completely Different: The Story I was Never Asked to Tell
Blog Series

In 2015, The Center of Excellence – Homeland Security Emergency Management celebrated its ten-year anniversary with an Educators & Practitioners Summit at Pierce College Puyallup. One of our keynote speakers was former WA EMD Director Jim Mullen. Jim is a wonderful speaker who has the ability to connect with the audience through his storytelling. It was not long after the Summit where the Center’s Program Manager, Kellie Hale, asked Jim to provide his insights, knowledge, and experience into a monthly blog titled ‘Emergency Management Once Removed’. For the past four years, Jim has maintained a monthly blog for the Center from topics such as climate change, the aftermath of 9/11, the larger concept of emergency management and much more.

Jim has offered to do something a little different and tell about his experience when he was the Director for Seattle’s Office of Emergency Management during the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) 1999 Ministerial Conference in Seattle and the frenetic preparations for the transition from 1999 to 2000 (aka Y2K). The new blog series is titled ‘Now for Something Completely Different: The Story I was Never Asked to Tell’ and will be a seven-part series. Each part will be posted every Thursday via the Center’s Constant Contact mailing list, its Website at www.coehsemcom, and other social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

As the anniversary of WTO and Y2K get closer, Jim’s blog series will be recorded for a podcast. The podcast will provide a little more detail on Jim’s firsthand knowledge as Director for Seattle’s Office of Emergency Management, best practices learned, and takeaways from the experiences. Recording of podcast will be available in November (date TBA). We will keep everyone posted of when Jim’s podcast will be available to access.

August 15: Now for Something Completely Different: The Story I Was Never Asked to Tell
August 22: Background Information on WTO and Y2K
August 29: Part 1: WTO Planning
September 5: Part 2: Pre WTO/Y2K Environment
September 12: Part 3: WTO “Planning” vs “Seminars in Crisis and Consequence Management”
September 19: Part 4: Havoc in the Streets
September 26: Part 5: A Look Back

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Information on this Blog is provided with the understanding that the authors and publishers are not engaged in rendering professional advice or services. As such, it should not be used as a substitute for consultation with an professional adviser. Opinions expressed here represent the viewpoints of individuals authoring the blog and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the Center of Excellence.