How Y2K Could Hobble Buildings For Facility Managers (San Francisco & Skyscrapers) : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

How Y2K Could Hobble Buildings For Facility Managers (San Francisco & Skyscrapers)

A different kind of chain reaction. (Heres another glitch for you Rob.)


How Y2K Could Hobble Buildings
Benny Evangelista, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, March 22, 1999
)1999 San Francisco Chronicle

These days, any modern office or large apartment building relies heavily on computer systems and microprocessors to run everything from air conditioners to elevators.

That's why it was an eye-opener when half of the people in a roomful of San Francisco building owners and managers last week said they haven't even started looking for potential Year 2000 problems that could affect those computers and chips.

``A lot of them are not prepared at all,'' said James Szel, whose company, Syska Hennessy Inc., is helping hundreds of building managers around the world with Year 2000 problem planning.

And with only nine months left, some of the city's biggest commercial real estate managers ``are just getting started,'' Szel said. ``I think there will be some buildings that will not be fully operational.''

Szel, senior vice president for Syska Hennessy's facilities management division, and Steven England, a national real estate consultant for E&Y Kenneth Leventhal of San Francisco, headed a panel discussion on Y2K challenges and risks sponsored by the Building Owners and Managers Association of San Francisco.

Both have spent the past two years advising commercial property owners, hospitals and defense facility managers around the world how to prepare for Y2K, the programming shortcut that could cause computers to misread the year 2000 as 1900.

Many building managers, like the general public, were skeptical, thinking Y2K was only an affliction of databases and mainframe computers.

Yet as England noted, during the past 30 years, buildings have replaced electrical switches and other machinery with chips and programs that may contain the Y2K shortcut. Operations like lights, elevators, climate controls and security are run by computers that may or may not fail on January 1.

``There are about 6 billion chips in facilities and buildings around the world,'' England said. ``The Year 2000 risk isn't going away.''

Testing has already uncovered Y2K glitches. For example, Szel said one of his clients who owns a major building in Mexico City had staff spend six months working on the problem.

They even had letters from companies that made key microchips and computer systems certifying that everything would be OK.

But when the staff reset the computer clocks over to January 1 as a test, ``every system, air conditioner, fire, security, all froze,'' he said.

Closer to home, tests of a Concord building's individual computer controlled systems like security were successful. But when engineers ran a full test of the building's main computer that controlled those individual components, the whole system locked up and had to be reset.

It's worth noting, though, that dire consequences like elevators plunging to the ground didn't happen. And engineers could step in and manually operate building systems.

Building managers trying to exterminate the Y2K bug may have the most trouble with complex security systems that employ a variety of chips and software from various manufacturers, Szel said. He said elevators, which use fewer components, should be ``in relatively good shape.''

One building owner had a security camera system controlled by a VCR, which had an internal clock that failed the date test.

``We're recommending having extra security people on hand,'' he said.

Szel and England said there's still time for building managers to start Y2K hunting, begining with an inventory to learn which computer systems could go down.

The building owners association has published a book on commercial real estate Y2K testing and contingency planning. Information about the book can be found at

``Y2K is a wake-up call for technology, how we plan for it and how we manage it,'' England said. ``We didn't take it seriously enough in the '60s and now we've got a trillion-dollar problem on our hands.''

Story includes ...

I'VE GOT THE BUG: The Y2K Problem has been dubbed the ``Millennium Bug,'' but nobody has actually seen the notorious bug.

Now, Dennis O'Sullivan, who owns a medical products company in Healdsburg, claims to have captured the Bug as it chomped on computer parts in the middle of the wine country north of San Francisco.

So, like any good entrepreneur, he's selling T-shirts, mousepads and coffee cups to mark the occasion, captured in a fanciful cartoon drawing by Santa Rosa artist Marc Schmid.

``I kept hearing about the Y2K bug, so I said why don't we make a bug and bring some levity to the situation because everybody's running around worried to death,'' O'Sullivan said.

The cartoon shows a mechanical bug munching on a computer, which is displaying the position the planets in our solar system as they will be in on Jan. 1, 2000.

His other company, Synektics Inc. of Healdsburg, has manufactured special orthopedic pillows for the medical industry since 1983.

O'Sullivan last week signed a deal with a national marketing company that plans to sell the Bug as a corporate promotional item. He has sold about dozen so far from his Web site at

And ...

BASIC Y2K HELP:, a new Web site in San Francisco, can help consumers find out if products in their homes are Y2K ready.

The site, at

has a searchable database with information and Web links about hundreds of products and services in 10 categories, including hardware, software, electronics and financial services.

This occasional Monday feature spotlights efforts to address the looming Year 2000 problem. Send Y2K items to

-- Diane J. Squire (, March 25, 1999


Hi Diane,

You have made a very good point.The bug affecting operational buldings systems seems to had a very low profile.For instance,here in the UK we have minimum working temperatures for employees.If these are not met,everyone has to go home.Do you have the same legislation in the States?Last year there was a very cold snap.Factories that had shutdown for maintenance over the Christmas/New Year were not supplied with mains gas for three weeks as the domestic demand was so high.Guess what that did to production output ! If buildings fail the Health & Safety Standards will programmers/mtnce men still be allowed to work ? Somehow I think so!

-- Chris (, March 25, 1999.

Won't matter if the power's not on...

-- Valkyrie (, March 25, 1999.

Good rendition of a bug. A little too transformery techie-looking, but still better than most ;-) Worth clicking a couple times to get the picture, anything for a laugh!

xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxx

-- Leska (, March 25, 1999.

I sort of laughed when I saw the article.

Can just imagine a company focusing all their remediation efforts on the code, announcing Y2K compliance, then experiencing 2000 rollover building shut down instead, even with the "power" on. Or not.

Does that have economic impact? You bet.

Chris, to my limited knowledge, I doubt that CA has a law sending workers home, but I don't really know for sure.


-- Diane J. Squire (, March 25, 1999.

The General Services Administration (GSA) of the U.S. government has a searchable vendor product database for building systems' Y2k compliance at:

-David Binder

-- David Binder (, March 25, 1999.

Thanks, David. Hotlink:


-- Diane J. Squire (, March 25, 1999.

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