BBC ready for millennial celebration - and disaster

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The Independent Online
THE BBC is rehearsing emergency information bulletins to deal with "hypothetical scenarios" that may be caused by the millennium bug.

It has been asked by the Government to be its emergency communication channel to the public on New Year's Eve and in the first hours of the new year.

The BBC will be broadcasting a live programme non-stop for 27 hours from 10am on 31 December and has been working with the Cabinet Office emergency planning committee and the Home Office's disaster planning officials to organise a system of broadcasting information in the event of a millennium crisis.

The newsreaders Peter Sissons and Michael Buerk will front any emergency announcements. They are the only presenters the BBC has named from the team orchestrating its marathon New Year's Eve programme, 2000 Today. Insiders say they have been chosen for the gravitas they would give any emergency announcements.

Avril MacRory, the head of the millennial event team, said the BBC would have 1,500 outside broadcast staff on duty on millennium night who would be in contact with the emergency services and regional disaster planning committees. "We wouldn't be professional if we weren't rehearsing a number of hypothetical scenarios."

The BBC announced its pounds 100m programming plans to mark the new millennium. Over pounds 25m has been earmarked for special programmes to run over the first weekend of the new year and for a month of live music in May, Millennium Music Live.

The key programme, 2000 Today, is to be the biggest live outside broadcast in television history and will involve a link-up, crossing 24 time zones, with 58 broadcasters around the world.

From this autumn until the end of 2000 the BBC will spend another pounds 75m on a number of documentary and entertainment shows, including the first televised history of the British Isles, to be presented in 16 parts by the historian Simon Schama. There will also be a series on the state of the environment presented by Sir David Attenborough.

BBC local radio has recorded thousands of hours of people's life stories in Britain's biggest-ever oral history project, The Century Speaks. The BBC's Internet service will be involved in an interactive multi-media project being produced with museums.

BBC Radio 1 will be hosting a dance party to welcome in the new millennium. Radio 2 will broadcast live from Bethlehem. Radio 3 celebrates the millennium with 11 concerts from cathedrals across the country and, on Radio 4, The Archers will feature preparations for the arrival of the Pargetters' millennium twins. BBC Scotland has selected volunteers to live on a remote island as part of Castaway 2000.

The BBC also said that it did know the location of the Year 2000 Box buried by presenters of Blue Peter in 1971.