At the stroke of midnight on Dec. 31, Earl Todd plans to stop whatever he's doing to gaze out of his office window in Canoga Park.
On that night, the job of the Y2K manager at Boeing Rocketdyne's information technology division will be decidedly low-tech: He just wants to make sure the lights haven't gone out.
If all is well, he and a crew of about four or five colleagues will then pop open a bottle of sparkling cider.
Happy New Year, 2000!
As millions throughout L.A. launch into a chorus of "Auld Lang Syne," some unlucky crews will be stuck at the office to keep watch as 1999 rolls over into 2000.
"God forbid the power shuts down and the respirators shut off," said Ron Yukelson, communications director for Encino Tarzana Regional Medical Center. "It's the elements we can't control that we are taking precautions against."
Yukelson will join a team of about 30 the heads of all the hospital departments, from finance to marketing who will be on the job from 10 p.m. Dec. 31 until 2 a.m. Jan. 1.
Most say they don't mind working on what is arguably the most significant night of, well, the millennium. (Then again, their bosses might be reading this.)
Psychologists aren't so sure.
"When an organization external to the family starts dictating how a family can celebrate a tradition, that's pretty tough," said Craig Finney, a professor of leisure studies and recreation management at Cal State Northridge who works with firms to alleviate stress in the workplace.
Not taking chances
Many local companies have been making Y2K preparations for months, even years, and while the general prognosis is for a trouble-free turnover, it's considered important to have senior-level staff members on hand, just in case.
"We're not going to take any chances," said Dan Beck, a spokesman for Boeing Rocketdyne, just one of many companies that are putting managers on the New Year's shift.
If there is a worry, it's not that internal systems will fail, but that a glitch might occur in external power or other utility systems. If it does, and no one is watching the store, the results could be damaging.
Many companies are doing their best to make the night festive. Most will set up televisions in conference rooms so employees can watch the ball drop in Times Square. And many offices will hold parties. Well, sort of.
"It's more of a euphemism for a gathering," Yukelson said.
The hospital will hold its celebration at 11 p.m. so employees can be at their stations at the stroke of 12. At other companies, employees will have to do their partying on breaks. Alcohol is forbidden, and in some cases in which confidentiality or security issues exist, so are families.
"It should be a boring night for those individuals," said Ric Hill, vice president for corporate relations at 20th Century Insurance Co. in Woodland Hills, which will have anywhere from five to 12 employees on duty. The rest of the information systems department has agreed not to leave town.
So what will workers be doing on New Year's Eve? At Boeing Rocketdyne, a crew of four or five managers will watch the new year start overseas and look for clues about what to expect in L.A. Some companies will be running tests on their computer systems, and some plan to take their systems down and bring them up again after midnight. But mostly, there won't be much of anything to do, except eat.
"We're catering food," said Julia Wilson, a spokeswoman for GTE who will be among those working a 12-hour shift over New Year's Eve. The company plans to set up a buffet table outside the new emergency operations center, where most of those on duty will be stationed.
Food also will be the main event at Wellpoint Health Networks Inc.'s Y2K command post. There will also be a buffet brunch in the morning and more platters throughout New Year's Day.
Families can't join the workers at Wellpoint because of patient-record confidentiality concerns, but some will hole up in a nearby hotel, compliments of the company, so their loved ones can visit on breaks.
Spouses and other family members are invited to GTE beginning at 9 p.m. Their loved ones, separated by the glass walls of the emergency control center, can also join them on breaks and when the big moment occurs.
Top of the ladder
"Employees in the emergency operations center can come out at midnight and hug their spouses," said GTE's Wilson, who opted for the 7 p.m.-to-1:30 a.m. shift because she is spouse-less. Her colleague, Jonathan Davies, will relieve her at 1:30.
While really bad work schedules typically involve those with the least seniority, New Year's Eve duty is more likely to go to those with the greatest responsibility. "It's being in the right place at the wrong time," Hill said with a chuckle.
Their place on the career ladder may help them to get through the night without resentments, even if they can't escape boredom, said Jerald Jellison, professor of psychology at USC. "If it is treated as though it were an elite, special group of people with a special assignment, it almost becomes a badge of honor," he said.
Although each individual reaction is likely to be different, some may actually welcome the chance to work on New Year's Eve, said Roderic Gorney, professor of psychiatry at UCLA. "For people who have a good family relationship, it's very depriving," Gorney said. "But for people who are relieved not to spend the evening with families and in-laws, they might be delighted."
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