Is There Really a Year 2000 Computer Problem?"It is entirely possible that every organization in America could get its own computers fixed ... and still have major problems. When people say to me, is the world going to come to an end, I say I don't know. I don't know whether this will be a bump in the road ... or whether this will in fact trigger a major worldwide recession with absolute devastating economic consequences in some parts of the world." . . .
SENATOR ROBERT BENNETT, (R-UT), Chairman, Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem, June 1998. Introduction
With less than 6 months to go, it's interesting how many different opinions there are on the Year 2000 computer problem (Y2K). If you were to ask someone what they thought about the Year 2000 Computer problem, you would generally receive one of five different reactions. One reaction is "I don't understand it all". Many folks don't really know anything about this issue, particularly since it is technical in nature. Others are in a second category which is best described as very skeptical. They believe this issue has been exaggerated or over-hyped and that there really won't be any major problems. Others are optimistic and feel that there might be minor problems but in the end they will be solved (perhaps by Bill Gates and others in the computer industry). A fourth group believes that there will be significant problems and that the Year 2000 repairs won't be completed in time. And lastly, a fifth group might be called the "doom and gloom" crowd. They feel that the Year 2000 computer crisis could result in "TEOTWAWKI" (an acronym for 'The End of the World as We Know It').
I'm not a doom and gloom sort of person and I prefer to look at a cup of water as half full rather than half empty, but I can't be optimistic about the Year 2000 computer issue. I work in the computer technology field, but I originally avoided thinking about this topic at a personal level because I knew the potential was there for real trouble. I hoped that if I ignored it, then perhaps the problem would get taken care of. Can you relate to that? None of us want to think about grim things that might happen but this problem does warrant our personal attention.There is very little realization that there will be a disruption. As you start getting out into the population, I think most people are again assuming that things are going to operate the way they always have. That is not going to be the case."
SHERRY BURNS, director of Year 2000 Office Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
From working in the computer profession, you get an above-average understanding of our society's dependence on computer technology. If you think about it, it's not hard to visualize how dependant our civilization is on computer technology. For example, computers control and/or monitor critical infrastructure like electric power plants, water treatment and sewage treatment centers, gas/fuel production and delivery, manufacturing, banking, transportation, just-in-time inventory systems, medical care, government agencies (local, state and federal) -- the list goes on and on. Our lives are dependant on the technology that we have created. I'm not saying that technology is evil or that all of the computers will stop working on January 1, 2000, but I truly believe that there will be some significant disruptions in the goods and services we depend on.
A Definition of Y2K
The problem is simple to describe. Software programs that aren't fixed in time will think it's the year 1900 instead of 2000 because the vast majority of systems that are still in use today only record the date with a two digit number for the year. For example, 1998 is recorded as simply "98" and the "19" is always assumed. The typical computer system stores the date as a 6 digit number (e.g., May 1, 1999 would be "990501"). It should be stored as an 8 digit number ("19990501"). This seemingly simple problem can be complicated to repair. Here's why.
There are around 400 programming languages for computers, but the largest percentage of software that controls the majority of large systems is written in one of a dozen or so of the popular languages (i.e., COBOL, RPG, DB2, Fortran, BASIC, Pascal, C, C++, Java, Delphi, etc.). When an unfixed computer thinks it's 1900, their date calculations will frequently end up with a negative number. For example, if the current year is 1998 and you were born in 1960, the computer takes "98" and subtracts "60" and gets "38". But when the year 2000 arrives, the computers will think it's "00" and that same calculation will now result in a negative number (i.e., "00" minus "60" is "-60" but the true answer should be "40"). Some programs will encounter that negative number and just simply stop running. They'll give an error message and quit. Other programs will miscalculate their math equations and come up with some crazy result. Or, because of the way that numbers are stored in memory, the program will take the negative number and make it positive (i.e., "60" instead of the correct answer of "40"). The end result varies by computer language!
The Magnitude of Y2K"I cannot be optimistic and I'm genuinely concerned about the consequences of the millennial date change."
While the problem sounds simple enough to describe, the magnitude of the task is quite overwhelming. Based on figures from the summer of 1998, there is a global inventory of about 700 billion lines of computer code to examine and repair. That figure increased in early 1999 to over 1.2 trillion lines of code due to organizations who had only recently completed their inventory and assessment in the fall and winter of 1998. Here in the U.S. there are roughly 100,000 mainframe systems and 300 million personal computers, and there's only about 2 million computer programmers. That's not enough! The shortage of American programmers is so bad that companies are contracting with programmers from India to pitch in and do repair work. There's also an estimated 35 billion embedded computer chips in devices and machinery in our country, and at least 1% (some say up to 5%) will fail due to the Year 2000 issue.
Sen. ROBERT BENNETT, Year 2000 Tech Chairman Senate Hearings into Y2K, June 12, 1998
A report in 1998 from the Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology had these sobering things to say about the government's status:
For Federal computers, this could affect everything from Social Security and Veterans' benefit payments to missile maintenance systems, from the Federal Aviation Administration to the Internal Revenue Service. There are at least 7,000 mission critical computer systems (those systems essential to the performance of important governmental functions) in the Executive branch of the Federal Government.
It is now clear that a large number of Federal computer systems simply will not be prepared for January 1, 2000. At the same time, the utilities industry, the financial services industry, the telecommunications industry, vital modes of transportation, and other indispensable industrial sectors are all at risk.
The problem lies not just with software in mainframe computer systems, but with embedded microchips as well. These chips serve as the brains of devices from elevators to security systems to automated manufacturing equipment. There may be as many as 25 billion microchips in use around the world. Seven billion microchips were shipped across the globe in 1997. It is estimated that between two and five percent of all microchips have the date problem. This sounds like a tiny fraction, but it is a tiny fraction of a huge number. Furthermore, embedded chips by definition are hard to find and hard to test for Year 2000 compliance.
The Year 2000 problem could result in a stunning array of technological failures. Air traffic could be delayed or even grounded; telephone service could be interrupted; breakdowns in the production and distribution of electricity could bring widespread power failures; automatic teller machines might malfunction; traffic lights could stop working; timeclocks at factories might malfunction. Government payments, including checks from the Internal Revenue Service, the Treasury, and the Veterans Benefits Administration, could be interrupted; military technology, including the Global Positioning Satellite System, could malfunction. Closer to home, devices with a timing function, including microwave ovens, personal computers, video cassette recorders, and climate control systems could all falter or even shut down entirely.
Some early failures have already occurred. According to one survey, more than 40 percent of companies in the United States already have encountered Year 2000-related system failures. In 1995, for example, computers at the Unum Life Insurance Company automatically deleted 700 records from a database that tracks the licensing status of brokers when a computer program interpreted some of the "00" expiration dates as 1900. More dramatically, when Phillips Petroleum ran a Year 2000 test on an oil rig in the North Sea, a safety system that detects emissions of deadly hydrogen sulfide gas stopped working. When the Chrysler Corporation turned clocks forward at one of its assembly plants in 1997 to simulate the date change, the security system failed, preventing people from leaving the building. In a similar exercise by NORAD personnel in 1993, the result was total system blackout.
Failures such as these may be the tip of the iceberg. Solving the problem, however, is an expensive process. In 1996, the Gartner Group estimated that the worldwide cost of Year 2000 repairs would reach $600 billion, with half of that going to repairs in the United States, and $30 billion to the Federal Government. The Office of Management and Budget has insisted the Federal cost would be much lower, but has repeatedly raised its own estimate. Beginning with $2.3 billion in 1997, OMB's estimate swelled to $5.4 billion as of August 15, 1998 (although the 24 largest departments and agencies were asking for $6.3 billion at that time). Subcommittee Chairman Stephen Horn has long argued that the Executive branch should be prepared for costs to exceed $10 billion. In the private sector, General Motors expects to spend $565 million, Citicorp estimates its costs at $600 million, and MCI at $400 million.
The Federal Government must be sure that the most important systems at the key Federal agencies are revamped before January 1, 2000. Similar action needs to be taken by nations around the globe. By failing to address the Year 2000 problem, the United States could suffer severe disruptions in the delivery of essential governmental and private industry services. It has been suggested that this could even precipitate an economic recession.
[You can read the full report from here:http://www.house.gov/reform/gmit/y2k/]
So what else might go wrong? A memorandum from the Library of Congress Research Service (CRS) agrees that "it may be too late to correct all of the nation's systems." Here are some example problems that could result, according to CRS:
Miscalculation by the Social Security Administration of the ages of citizens, causing payments to be sent to people who are not eligible for benefits while ending or not beginning payments to those who are eligible;
Miscalculation by the Internal Revenue Service of the standard deduction on income tax returns for persons over age 65, causing incorrect records of revenues and payments due;
Malfunctioning of certain Defense Department weapon systems;
Erroneous flight schedules generated by the Federal Aviation Administration's air traffic controllers;
State and local computer systems becoming corrupted with false records, causing errors in income and property tax records, payroll, retirement systems, motor vehicle registrations, utilities regulations, and a breakdown of some public transportation systems.
Personal Problem Example"What we do know is that every company, every government agency, and every organization that has looked into the (Y2K) problem has found that it is more complicated, more serious, and more costly than originally estimated."
I was personally involved in a interesting problem in January of 1996. I had established a communications circuit between two computer networks at my office in 1995. That circuit allowed e-mail messages and data exchange between two distant offices. Because we were charged by the minute for its use, the equipment was programmed to only bring the circuit "up" when there was a need for data exchange. When January 1, 1996 came, the communications equipment refused to work! I examined the equipment and the phone lines but couldn't find the source of the problem, so on a whim I decided to set the date back to December 1995 on one of the computer networks. To my surprise, the circuit started working again. I flipped the date back and forth between 1995 and 1996 and the communication equipment consistently refused to work with the date set for 1996. I was shocked! I called the vendor who made the equipment but their phone line was busy. Eventually I got through to them and they acknowledged that there was a problem in their programming. Their programmers forgot about 1996 being a leap year! That one omission caused my communications equipment to fail. And it took over 2 weeks to get the fix!
WILLIAM E. KENNARD, Chairman, Federal Communications Commission, June 1998
A Status Report
A quick status report for our country reveals that as of early 1999, over 30% of the banking institutions failed to meet their own mandate for completing repairs by December 1998. The idea was for all of the banks to have a full year for testing. In general, however, banks and financial institutions have made better progress than most other industries. As of March 1999, only 3% of the electric utilities had finished repairs and none of the major telecommunication companies (i.e., AT&T, MCI, Sprint, Bell Atlantic) have completed repairs. Hopefully they finish.
Medicare isn't ready. The IRS isn't ready. Social Security got a jump start on this problem and began in 1989 to fix a system with 35 million lines of code, initially employing 400 programmers, and had completed work on only 6 million lines of code by June, 1996 (CIO MAGAZINE, Sept. 15, 1996). In December of 1998, they announced the completion of their Year 2000 repair effort. Toward the end of their repair work, some 700 programmers were working on the task! If everyone else got started as early as the Social Security Administration did, I don't think this Year 2000 problem would be an issue today. But most organizations didn't get started until sometime in 1996 or later.
A growing number of companies are now acknowledging that they won't complete their Year 2000 repair work. Among those companies are Chevron and General Motors."The Year 2000 (Y2K) computer crisis is now upon us and the federal government is even more woefully unprepared than the rest of society. The implications are ominous. Medicare, the IRS, the Federal Aviation Administration and other basic agencies are operating on utterly out-of-date technology. It doesn't take much imagination to see how dreadfully wrong things could go." . . .
STEVE FORBES, May 15,1998.
So why did everyone get started late? They had years of forewarning about this issue. They knew that their software needed to be fixed before 1/1/2000. The bottom line for this problem is that we are suffering from a crisis of leadership. Most everyone procrastinated. The programmers said to themselves, "Well, we probably won't still be using this system in 1999. It will get replaced or somebody else will take care of it." The managers and CEO's procrastinated too. They didn't want to spend millions of dollars for system repairs that didn't offer any immediate benefit or enhancement to productivity. And they figured (and hoped) that the repairs would be simple and could be put off till 1998 or 1999. They also knew that the cost involved would be large and would have a very negative impact on their stocks.
While the Y2K problem is easy to define, the repairs are difficult and very time consuming for anyone with custom programming. And you can't replace a mainframe system with 20 years of custom development work with a new system in just a year or two. Such a task is extremely complicated and rarely goes smoothly.
Before I say anymore, I'd like you to read a very worthwhile report from Senator Robert Bennett, which will help you to further understand this whole issue.
Y2K is challenge to USA and world
(R-Utah) is chairman of the U.S. Senate's Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem. He addressed his colleagues May 11, 1998 regarding the technological and economic challenges confronting the nation and the world because of that problem.
What follows is a condensed version of his remarks. Full version is here.
"This is an anniversary date, not an anniversary of something that happened in the past but an anniversary of something that is going to happen in the future....This is...day number 600...prior to January 1, 2000....[It is] a day that we need to look forward to with some concern because of what has come to be known as the millennium bug, the year 2000 problem, or, as the computer people abbreviate it, Y2K....
As the chairman of the newly created committee dealing with this challenge here in the Senate, I want to take this anniversary date to bring the Senate and [the nation] as a whole up to date on where we are with the Y2K problem.
First, let me outline the dimensions of the problem. A lot of people say, "Oh, yes; we understand it. It is simply that computers are geared to handle the date with two digits instead of four."
So 1998 would be in the computer as "98" instead of "1998." And that means when you get to the year 2000, the "00" to the computer means "1900" because the "19" is assumed in advance."The millennium bug is one of the most serious problems facing not only British business but the global economy today. The impact cannot be underestimated."
British Prime Minister TONY BLAIR, USA TODAY, April 13, 1998Actually, it is more serious than that. There are three areas of concern about Y2K. The first one, of course, is the software concern that I have [just] mentioned. The software is programmed with two digits for the date instead of four. If you do not change the software program, the computer runs into problems and starts to do very strange things when it hits the year 2000.
That is the first area, the area we have been focused on....In addition to software, you have a hardware problem symbolized in the phrase "embedded chips." These little tiny chips that drive the computers, the miracles of the modern technological age, very often have a date function built into them. And, again, in order to save space on the chip, the date function is built in with two digits.
Where are the embedded chips? They are embedded everywhere. Andy Grove, the CEO of Intel, the largest producer of chips in the United States, was here in Washington a week or so ago. He was asked, "How serious is the Y2K problem?" He said, "It is very serious. And the reason is"----he is focusing on the chip side----"you don't know where the embedded chips are embedded."
"For example," he said, "the thermostat in your home may not work after New Year's Eve, 1999. Now, it will not do you any good to call the manufacturer of the thermostat and ask him, because the manufacturer himself does not know.
The chips were purchased, put into the thermostat, without concern as to whether or not they had a date function. And if the manufacturer got some chips that had date functions in them and put those chips into your thermostat, you are going to be very chilly on New Year's Day in the year 2000. And there is no way of knowing in advance whether that is going to happen."
That can be a nuisance for you, it can be a life-or-death situation for some people, and it can be an enormous manufacturing challenge where we are storing and refrigerating meat and other perishables that are dependent on those embedded chips.
[Personal comment: It won't be your thermostat at home that you have to worry about - it's the buildings with automated ventilation systems that have a potential problem. (Clay)]
It can be a life-or-death situation for an automobile manufacturer whose entire plant is now automated with robotics, all of which have embedded chips....I said there were three areas of concern. I talked about the software and the embedded chips. What is the third? This is the area of connections.
Everything in the computer world is connected to everything else in one way or another. I was at the Defense Department talking to those officials about their Y2K problem and made the comment about how difficult it will be in our defense establishment if, on January 1, the screen goes blank, the various screens that handle the computerized information, in our defense establishment. Deputy [Defense] Secretary [John] Hamre said, "No, Senator, if the screen goes blank, while that is a problem, it is not a catastrophe; because if the screen goes blank that tells you you have a problem in that particular piece of equipment. The thing we are worried about is if the screen does not go blank, the computer continues to operate, but another computer system to which it is connected starts feeding it inaccurate data."
"If the computer continues to function [and] makes its calculations [based on interpreting]... 'zero zero' as 1900 and begins to give you bad information, that could contaminate your entire database." "That", he says, "is a bigger concern than if the screen goes blank."
Frankly, that had not occurred to me. I was able to add, unhappily, a third category of concern----software, hardware in embedded chips, and now connections.
What are we looking at in our special committee with respect to the year 2000 problem? I have divided it up into seven areas and prioritized these areas....These are the areas of concern.
Number one: utilities. If the power grid goes down because of connections in the computers or because of embedded chips in certain power plants that shut those power plants down because of bad software somewhere, then it is all over. It doesn't matter if every computer in the country is Y2K compliant if you can't plug it into something."Quite honestly, I think we're no longer at the point of asking whether or not there will be any power disruptions, but we are now forced to ask how severe the disruptions are going to be."
SENATOR CHRISTOPHER DODD (D-Conn.), June 12,1998. So we are focusing first and foremost on utilities and not just power. The water treatment system in every municipality in this country is computer driven and has the potential of being upset because of embedded chips and bad software.
Utilities, therefore, are at the top of the list of the things we are addressing in our committee and are doing what we can to try to expose information about and get people worried and working on it."Year 2000 poses the threat that common mode failures ... or the coincident loss of multiple facilities could result in stressing the electric system to the point of a cascading outage over a large area..."
MICHEHL GENT, President, North American Electric Reliability Council, June 12, 1998.Second is telecommunications. What happens if you pick up the phone on January 1, 2000, and you cannot get a dial tone? I don't think that is going to happen in the United States. But the evidence is fairly clear that it is going to happen in some countries.
If you are running a multinational organization, be it the Defense Department or a corporation, and you pick up the phone and you cannot get a dial tone in various parts of the world, you are in serious trouble....
Third: transportation. Instantly people think of the FAA and the inability of the air traffic control system to control airplanes, and that is a concern, but what about shipping on the high seas----global positioning systems that all have chips in them that control the navigation of the oil tankers and the other freighters that are moving commerce all over the world?
Here in the United States the railroads are heavily dependent on computer systems to route the traffic that produce the shipment of the heavy materials that keep our nation going...."I talked to some of the major rail companies a few days back and said, 'Go to manual.' And they said, 'All our manual points are in the warehouse up in New York State waiting to be disposed of. We cannot switch manually anymore. We have taken out manual reversion systems on most of our key communication, power, and switching systems.'"
ALAN SIMPSON, President, Communications Links, June 2, 1998
Number four is the area that got me interested in this problem in the first place: the financial services. What happens if the banks cannot clear checks? What happens if there can be no electronic transfers of funds?
I am happy to report that I believe we are fairly well along the road toward getting this problem solved. We have had seven hearings in my subcommittee on the Banking Committee on this issue, but we cannot relax here, either....
Then, number five, general government services, not only federal but state and local, as well. What happens if in our large cities the county government cannot distribute welfare checks, the county government cannot handle food stamp distribution because of computerization of the way that situation is handled? What happens if HCFA, the Health Care Financing Administration, cannot handle reimbursement of Medicare or Medicaid funds?
I have talked to hospitals and other health care providers that are dependent on HCFA reimbursements for their cash flow projections and they use the HCFA cash flow to do such things as purchase ordinary supplies for running the hospital.
The whole health care system could grind to a halt if the government services in this area are not made Y2K compliant. The doctors who I have talked to tell me we have long since quit dealing with HCFA with paper. All of our interconnections with HCFA are electronic, and if that system goes down, the ripple effect will be tremendous."What nobody, not even Koskinen, knows is how bad the crash will be. So why doesn't he press the panic button during speeches and interviews? 'Would we do better if I stood up tomorrow and said this is a national crisis?' he asks in reply. Probably not. But it might get the bureaucrats' attention."
Time Magazine, (TIME.com), June 15, 1998.Next, general manufacturing. Fortune magazine [recently carried] an article...pointing out how much trouble General Motors is in. I don't mean to single out General Motors because I think every manufacturer has the same kind of problem.
In today's world, where computers are available, we operate a just-in-time inventory system where you do not have huge stockpiles of spare parts out on the back lot anymore. With the computer, you have it worked out with your supplier that your spare parts arrive just in time for you to put them in your final manufacturing product. The just-in-time manufacturing system shuts down altogether and the manufacturing shuts down.
General Motors has done a survey of every one of their manufacturing plants and they have found embedded chips in every one of their robotic systems. If they do not get this problem solved, they will not be able to produce an automobile after January 1, 2000.[in regard to Y2K] "...there are 'catastrophic problems' in every GM plant."
RALPH J. SZGENDA, Chief Information Officer General Motors, Fortune, April 27, 1998And then, finally, number seven----listed last because it will come last chronologically, but [it] probably should be listed first in terms of its financial impact if we do not get the other six solved----is litigation.
The lawsuits that will be filed will be enormous. Estimates before my subcommittee of the Banking Committee indicate the total litigation bill could run as high as $1 trillion----one-seventh the size of the total economy----that will change hands as people sue each other over the problems created by Y2K. We have to make sure we solve the other six so that number seven doesn't hit us and destroy us...."In my own view, it is a particularly large global disaster in the making ... I am convinced the problem is vastly underappreciated."
JERRY JASINOWSKY, President, National Association of Manufacturers, June 30, 1998
I close with this observation about the importance of this entire issue. One of the experts with whom I have been in contact since I assumed this new chairmanship said to me, "The one thing we know for sure about this is that nobody has ever done it before. We have no historical precedent to guide us, to tell us how to handle this and what we can expect." And, of course, he was accurate....That is a true summation of where we are.
Yet when I made that comment to another friend of mine, he said something that I think summarizes exactly the challenge we are facing. He said, "No, Bob, that is not true. We have a historic example." I said, "What is it?" He said, "The Tower of Babel."
He said, "The people got together and decided they were going to build a tower to heaven, and God didn't like it, so he fixed it so they could not talk to each other and that ended it." He said, "That is the paradigm of what we are dealing with here, Y2K."
We are facing the possibility that after January 1, 2000 we cannot talk to each other because the world is all wired by computers, and if, indeed, that turns out to be the case, as was the case in Genesis, that will end it.
I am hoping that...we use the opportunity to take the remaining 599 days to see to it that when we get to New Year's Eve 1999, we can look back and say that we were facing something as serious as the Tower of Babel, but we have, as a nation, and as a world, faced up to that, and now Y2K is going to be a bump in the road instead of a drive off the cliff.
[End of transcript]&I would like to tell you that our hard work and the efforts of hundreds of Y2K-focused consulting firms around the world has pretty much worked, and that long before we hit the Y2K wall less than two years from now, the problems will be pretty much solved. I would like to tell you that, but it would be a lie."
JIM SEYMOUR, PC Magazine, February 10, 1998"Let's stop pretending that the Y2K isn't a major threat to our way of life. There is too much at stake for such uninformed wishful thinking. Perhaps, the time has come as though we are preparing for a war. This may seem extreme and unnecessary. However, if we prepare for plausible worst-case Y2K scenarios, then perhaps we can avoid at least some of them."
EDWARD YARDENI'S keynote address to Bank for International Settlements, April 1998. Mr. Yardeni is chief economist of Wall Street broker Deutsche Morgan Grenfell."The bottom line is we have to inoculate the public against the perception that all systems will work. They won't. We just hope the right ones will."
Usual Reactions to Y2K
Folks generally have one of three reactions to the facts about Y2K. One reaction is: "it doesn't matter". Folks will tell me, "I can't help fix this stuff and I don't have any control over it, so why should I read about it and worry?" The American Red Cross and FEMA are now encouraging people to take Y2K seriously as are a growing number of public officials. Businesses, industries and government agencies are making contingency plans due to expected systems failures. If they are anticipating problems, shouldn't you consider some common sense preparations while there's still time to do so?
JOHN KOSKINEN, Chairman, President Clinton's Council on the Year 2000 Conversion, May 18, 1998
A second reaction to this subject is unfounded optimism. Folks believe that someone (perhaps Bill Gates) will come up with the fix to this whole mess, and that will be the end of it. But there is no "silver bullet" to this issue and it's not Bill Gate's problem to solve. He can't solve it and he has even acknowledged the same. In the same way that there's no one cure to the thousands of diseases in the world, there's no quick fix for the Year 2000 problems. The magnitude of the problem is too great and the complexity of all of the interdependencies is enormous.
Another reaction is, "the government won't let this happen", or, "industry has too much money invested to let it go down the drain because of Y2K." Unfortunately, no one can change the magnitude of the problem nor can they roll the clock back to give us more time to fix it. Our enemy is time, not technically inaptitude.
It's also easy to get distracted by the thought that maybe this whole Year 2000 thing is a fraud or that it's just being blown out of proportion. When you see individuals who are making money through lectures, seminars, and/or by selling "dooms day" books and cassettes, it's easy to question their motives. No doubt there are some individuals getting rich on this issue, but don't let it distract you from the truth. Others believe it will all be fixed before January 1, 2000. They say: "perhaps there will be minor problems, but nothing really bad will happen." I felt that way at one point but I realized I had no basis in fact for that opinion. And while there are many public officials and corporate spokespersons saying that everything is under control, look at their actions rather than their happy-face press releases. Actions speak louder than words. Their actions include significant budget increases for Y2K repairs, project deadlines that continue to be pushed out, the creation of contingency plans and "crisis management centers", huge support for legislation to limit Y2K litigation, and the preparation for possible martial law.
"...the largest public companies in the U.S. have made remarkably little progress on Year 2000. This conclusion applies across all industries represented in the top 250."
While it's difficult for folks to accept, there is truly not enough time left to fix everything. There's a shortage of mainframe programmers who can examine and repair the billions of lines of code. There's not enough time left because the majority procrastinated and waited too long to get started, and now the large companies realize that the task is bigger and more complicated than they first believed. Many of the fortune 1000 only began in 1998 to start the inventory and assessment phase of the project (which represents only about 5% of the work). They needed to have started at least a year or two sooner to have a fighting chance. To do adequate testing, you have to run on parallel (dual) systems to know for sure that your fixes are working. You have to have duplicate mainframe systems because you can't set the date on your "production" mainframe system to some future year-2000 date while your users are trying to get work done. This increases costs and complicates the task. And statistically speaking, only 16% of all computer projects are completed on time (and only 9% have all of the originally intended features)!
STEVEN HOCK, President, Triaxsys Research, June 10, 1998
The budgets that have been established by large companies to fix their Y2K problems are staggering. The initial estimates to fix all of the software and hardware in our country is listed in billions of dollars ($300 to $600 billion according to the Gartner Group, $600 billion to $1 trillion according to Merrill Lynch). As of November of 1998, those estimates have increased an average of 20% - 30%!
A look at small businesses indicates we should be very concerned. "A survey released last week on year 2000 preparedness trends among U.S. small businesses indicates that on January 1, 2000, more than one million employers will be unprepared for Y2K-related failures - a revelation that U.S. Senator Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah), Chairman of the Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem, called "a potential personal disaster for small business employees and a serious threat to the strength of the U.S. economy."" (Source)
Many big businesses are quite dependant on the small companies to provide various components and critical supplies, but the small businesses won't be able to continue if they don't address their own Year 2000 issues.
Here in my report I have focused primarily on the computer software side of this issue. I think about that aspect a little more because I work with computer software every day. However, a greater concern is the embedded chip problem. Analysts have estimated that there are somewhere between 25 and 50 billion computer chips which are embedded in all kinds of devices. The optimistic view is that somewhere around 1% will fail or perform erratically. And remember, 1% of even 25 billion is still a lot! (25 million). And many of these computer chips are buried in the ground or they are under water where they are monitoring and/or controlling the delivery of some substance (i.e., gas, oil, water, sewage, etc.)
So we will think to ourselves: "but this stuff has to be fixed in time!" I hope it will be, but I'm preparing myself and my family that it probably won't be. And as each day goes by, I remain convinced that significant problems lie ahead.
So what should you do? I'm not saying that folks should run for the hills. But I think it makes sense to prepare yourself for some possible scenarios. There's nothing wrong with making some personal contingency plans. The optimists on this issue are advising businesses, utility companies and government agencies to come up with contingency plans. Shouldn't you? If you have car insurance or home owners insurance to protect against what you hope will never happen (an accident), doesn't it make sense to prepare for something that is definitely going to happen? The only question about Y2K is how bad it will be. And no one can answer that question with any certainty.
Whatever you do, don't depend on the government. They are further behind on their system repairs than the business sectors. The other thing you should do is learn more about this situation and how to prepare. Start by keeping good paper records of your transactions and dealings with both businesses and the government. Preparing for this crisis will be difficult because there's no way to know how long any of the problems will last. There will be failures that will last a few days, and some problems that will last a month, and other problems that could certainly last a year or more. You will have to decide how optimistic you are about computer programmers fixing billions of lines of code. Personally, I believe it makes sense to have drinkable water on hand, stored food, and a way to keep warm. How much water and food is up to your level of optimism but I'd suggest having at least a two week's supply. If you live in the city, you might have to consider your own personal protection too.
Several of the following sites on the Internet have additional information on all of this. Act on it while you still have time. You don't have till January 1, 2000. Panic could still hit before December which will cause a huge constraint on supplies and services when everyone else finally figures out that they need to prepare. So confirm what I'm telling you, and if you have Internet access, I would recommend checking out the following sites and links. If you don't have access, go to the public library or find someone who does have Internet access. There are also several good books on this issue.
Great Books on the subject with links to Amazon.com:
Making the Best of Basics: A Family Preparedness Handbook
The Millennium Bug: How to Survive the Coming Chaos
Time Bomb 2000: What the Year 2000 Computer Crisis Means to You
Best Introduction to the Year 2000 problem:
Oddly one of the best introductions to the problem comes from the Social Security Administration. They began their work in 1989. This white paper is a mid 95 report on their progress. This report will help you to understand why it's not a simple thing to fix software for Y2K.
Michael Hyatt's Web Site:
A comprehensive site dedicated to building Y2K awareness and providing the information and supplies families need to be prepared. Excellent site.
The Senate's Year 2000 site:
Ed Yourdon's Web Site:
Ed is a well respected senior mainframe programmer and author of some two dozen books and numerous programming articles. He and his daughter are the authors of the recent New York Times' Bestseller, "Year 2000 Timebomb". The book is very readable without being highly technical in nature. Ed is currently one of the most sought after speaker on Y2K.
IT Industry testimony
Harris Miller is the President of the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), sort of the AMA of computer engineers. His testimony before Congress is worth reading at:
Y2K Chaos Web Site:
A site with a lot of information and good links is the y2kchaos.com site. There's also a pastor's perspective on this whole issue that's worth reading. There's good preparation material on this site too if you want suggestions on how to prepare.
Gary North's web site:
Gary is an economist with a Ph.D. in history. Some folks love him and some hate him. He has over 3000 documents with categories on everything from: banking, the military, power grid, government, insurance, programmer's views, etc. Be forewarned, though. He is the most pessimistic and has the most dire predictions of anyone that I've seen of what lies ahead.
The best part of Gary's site is his latest articles page which features links and comments to recent news: www.garynorth.com/y2k/latest_.cfm
Year 2000 web site:
A popular site which is devoted primarily to business and system issues.