FMI ENERGY AND TECHNICAL SERVICES CONFERENCE

WASHINGTON -- Retailers report that most power companies seem to be ready for Y2K, and many utility companies are working to share information, such as which power stations serve which stores, in an effort to ease communication if outages do occur."Relying on the information they are supplying, a lot of electric companies seem well prepared," said Kathy Loftus, manager of energy and regulatory affairs

WASHINGTON -- Retailers report that most power companies seem to be ready for Y2K, and many utility companies are working to share information, such as which power stations serve which stores, in an effort to ease communication if outages do occur.

"Relying on the information they are supplying, a lot of electric companies seem well prepared," said Kathy Loftus, manager of energy and regulatory affairs for Shaw's Supermarkets, East Bridgewater, Mass. Loftus participated in a panel discussion on Y2K at the Energy and Technical Services Conference held here earlier this month sponsored by the Food Marketing Institute, also here. "There may be some smaller companies who might have problems, but the overall outlook seems good," she said.

She noted that many power companies have been working with retailers to share information, such as which power stations serve which stores, which will save time in the event of a failure.

"Our store managers have to be ready to react. If they know that the outage is going to be more than 2 or 3 hours, they have to react to secure systems and minimize damage," said Raymond O. Splinter, senior manager of energy and procurement for Albertson's, Boise, Idaho, another participant in the panel.

Splinter said the concern is not only a complete loss of power, but poor-quality electricity. Power surges and brown-outs can damage computer and other equipment.

"We experienced a lot of bad electricity quality during the summer heat wave," said Splinter.

Both Splinter and Loftus said some embedded chips in refrigeration units and other equipment have had to be replaced.

"We have found that every single chip needs to be tested. Even if you have the same version of the equipment in all of your stores, we're finding that they don't all necessarily use the same version of the chip," Loftus said.

As for enlisting store managers to check equipment, Splinter said that isn't always the best idea. "We have outsourced that function. Store managers are not technical. Having them go back into electrical closets and check on things was not successful," he said.

Splinter said Albertson's has replaced a number of systems in preparation for Y2K, including 1,000 point-of-sale terminals, label printers and meat wrappers.

He noted that the retailer's help desk is prepared to handle problems with major equipment, and Albertson's has also asked suppliers to have additional staff available to handle problems.

While his organization is not having store managers directly involved in checking equipment, Splinter said it is important to include store managers in the Y2K effort. "There is a level of disaster preparedness which had never really been addressed before, which is good," he said.

In the event that the electricity does fail, be sure that all generators are properly fueled far in advance, the panelists noted. Also, make provisions to have dry ice on hand for stores where the power will be out for an extended period of time.

"We've already had to sign contracts for dry ice and to purchasing a certain quantity whether we use it or not so it will be available," Splinter said.