U.S. sees biggest Year 2000 problems abroad

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04/21 14:21 U.S. sees biggest Year 2000 problems abroad

By Tim Dobbyn

WASHINGTON, April 21 (Reuters) - The greatest potential for Year 2000 computer problems lies outside the United States with domestic problems mostly confined to a handful of states and business sectors, the government said on Wednesday.

"It now appears that a number of countries will experience Year 2000 failures in key infrastructures such as electric power, telecommunications, and transportation," White House Year 2000 coordinator John Koskinen said.

These failures would not hurt the U.S. economy overall but could hurt individual businesses and would certainly affect travelers and those working abroad, he said.

Koskinen told a news conference the government would start to identify problem states and countries by name as the year progressed.

"We are not in the business of trying to embarrass people but on the other hand we certainly have an obligation to let everyone know what the status is," said the chairman of President Bill Clinton's Council on Year 2000 Conversion.

The Year 2000 computer problem, known as Y2K for short, arises because many older computers and software allocated only two digits for the year in the date.

Unless computers are repaired or replaced, the year 2000 may be read as 1900, causing computers to crash or make mistakes.

Koskinen said unfortunately some people had adopted a "wait and see" approach where they planned to fix problems as they showed up and when computer experts could be extremely busy. "We think it's a high risk roll of the dice," he said.

Domestically, the health care sector was mentioned for particularly poor progress on Y2K problems.

Koskinen's second quarterly Y2K report said record-keeping systems in many hospitals and doctors' offices were not ready and the interruption to cash flow could force some to close.

Fear of chaos in an increasingly computer-dependent society has caused some people to stock up on canned food, cash and purchase their own generators.

But Koskinen repeated that the domestic power, telephone and banking industries were making good progress.

Any power interruptions were likely to be measured in minutes or hours rather than days or weeks, he said. Large grocery chains already held several weeks of inventory of basic nonperishable foods.

Koskinen said the U.S. government had 93 percent of its critical computer systems Y2K compliant but was working closely with the states to make sure they could continue to deliver federal benefits such as food stamps and Medicaid to the poor.

There were concerns about slow progress in about 6-8 states. "Having 90 percent of the states meet the year end deadline isn't good enough," he said.

Because the local impact of the Y2K problem was hard to gauge, the federal government was encouraging communities to hold meetings with their utilities and emergency services to share information and plan for potential problems.

Koskinen said he had expected a more organized effort internationally on the Y2K problem. Many developing countries, despite having few computers in homes and businesses, still had computer-run telephone, power and water facilities.

"It's our biggest challenge at this juncture," said Koskinen who added he had recently received a message from an African country that it was now ready to start assessing the problem.

"Your first instinct is to say 'wow, it's a little late to start assessing the problem'," he said. "On the other hand your second instinct is it's never too late to start and its critical they do that."


The story of y2k, always in someone elses back yard.


-- Ray (ray@totacc.com), April 21, 1999


When you look at the 'official' media and press releases over time, you can see the planned approach so clearly.

It won't affect our economy "overall" that our most major trading partners are toast. Right.

He repeats the utilities are making good progress. Some perhaps. No presented evidence I've seen backs the idea that "they're going to be fine" -- which he doesn't say but clearly infers, more "spin" here.

93% eh. I've seen the creative way those numbers have grown as the number of 'systems' becomes simply 'mission critical' systems and the number of 'mission critical' systems falls for no good explanation.

I'm glad medicare/medicaid might be able to pay their bills and issue checks, and welfare might be able to, and so on. And they will deliver these how.... pony express?

Boyoboy. I'm getting more cynical all the time, aren't I? (But note: I am still very OPTIMISTIC about my cynicism. ;-))

PJ in TX

-- PJ Gaenir (fire@firedocs.com), April 21, 1999.

These failures would not hurt the U.S. economy overall but could hurt individual businesses

Is this kinda like it won't be nationwide, but a lot of locals will be affected???? How many individual businesses make up the US Economy?? How many local areas of darkness make up a national blackout??? The guy is real a piece of work, isn't he??


-- Taz (Tassie @aol.com), April 21, 1999.

It's a very. very common response, and a common fear too.

Many company and government announcements say the same thing in many of the same ways - the FAA will be "Ready" but individual airports could have problems with baggage handling and terminals and security. The big utilities will be "ready" but the smaller ones and rural areas may have problems. The Western countries (US, Canada, Western Europe) will be okay, but the "third world" countries may have problems.

I think a lot of this is human nature - both sides (Polly's and Preppies) fear what they don't know and can't verify.

Preppies tend to see potential problems coming from the "fog" of uncertainity, and see many more potential problems "between the cracks" of the single smaller pictures held up as examples by the Poly's. make sense?

Poly's absolutely don't WANT to find any significant problems, and so don't look between the cracks (locally), or if they do, don't interpret what they find the same way. Their decision - not my mine. certainly not my conclusion.

For example:

Koskinen gets glowing reports from the few (but admittedly important) VERY BIG banks and VERY BIG utilities - he doesn't have time to check the rural ones individually, and also mentally expects (desperately wants to see) the BIG ones succeed, and so he fears the "minor" problems of the little ones as a threat. mentally, he doesn't WNAT to see problems in the infrastructure (of Philly, NYC, LA, SFO, DC, Detroit, Cleveland) failing, and so can't imagine those "webs" failing at all. But he has never been to "the deserts" in Nevada or to rural farms that regularly get power and support systems failures, and who have the people and methods and culture to "wade through" such outages, and so he readily can imagine those places as very vunerable.

In truth, the rural places are resilient - and the cities that he is so close to that he cannot see the immense support strucutre needed to prop them up are trajectally (-1 sp) vunerable. But in his speeches, he can (to his audience of administrators and "big city" bureacrats) show the vunerablity of "rural" areas because those are the very prejudices of the people he is talking to!

If he ever went to Nevada, to Kansas, to upstate Maine or suburban Atlanta - he'd get a new opinion. But again, HE DOESN"T WANT TO CHANGE HIS MIND. HE DOESN"T WANT TO SEE OTHER INFORMATION that threatens his preconcieved notions.

This is not to say he is ill-informed - he has been briefed in many details (we hope) - by other people who have the same prejudices! There is a universal requirement in intelligence estimating that the evaluators make three studies, by three independent people, on all critical decisions: the expected case, the best case, and the worst case.

He is undermanned, late in starting, has a political agenda from the administration, and has only now realized that he (his staff) have been getting unreliable information form some of their sources. (See earlier threads.) Given this, and given that he has been getting information from a staff geared to as single "best case" information, prejudged to a "best case" - do his statements make more sense?

-- Robert A. Cook, PE (Kennesaw, GA) (cook.r@csaatl.com), April 21, 1999.

[ For Educational Purposes Only ]

White House worried about Y2K effects on Russia's nuclear plants

4/21/99 -- 5:54 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) - The White House on Wednesday expressed its most serious concerns to date over anticipated Year 2000 computer failures overseas, particularly among Russian-designed nuclear plants in nine countries.

In its latest report on the technology glitch, President Clinton's top Y2K expert, John Koskinen, said one of his greatest international concerns was ensuring safe operation of 65 such nuclear plants, including one in eastern Russia, not far from Alaska.

Koskinen, who heads Clinton's Year 2000 Conversion Council, said those nuclear plants are in countries ``obviously with major economic problems,'' and U.S. experts know few details about how the Russian equipment will react to the date rollover.

``To the extent you don't have information, you get more nervous about it,'' Koskinen said Wednesday. ``We are focused on it. It is an important problem.''

An expert on those nuclear plants, Richard Wilson of Harvard University, said control systems to prevent serious accidents are mostly not computerized, although some electronic monitors could be affected by the technology glitch.

``It's certainly something that we should try to get straight,'' Wilson said. ``It doesn't cost much to have a half-dozen experts looking carefully at the problem. The probability is that they'll come up with nothing important, nothing crucial. There's a small probability they'll come up with something.''

Just last week, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Bulgak announced that the Y2K problem will not threaten his country's nuclear missiles or its nuclear power stations. But he also said Russia will need Western help to pay for computer repairs.

The latest report from the White House reflects unprecedented pessimism about overseas efforts by the administration, warning that failures in some foreign countries are now all but certain in electric power, telecommunications and transportation networks.

It said those problems will affect Americans living abroad and also will affect the global economy - due to international travel and trade - and are sure to be felt in the United States, too.

``Any failure anywhere will have a ripple effect on us,'' Koskinen said. The government will issue specific warnings to travelers late this summer or early fall.

Many computers originally programmed to recognize only the last two digits of a year will not work properly beginning Jan. 1, 2000, when some machines will assume it is 1900.

Koskinen on Wednesday estimated U.S. companies will spend a total of $70 billion to $80 billion to repair their computers but cautioned, ``That's just a ballpark.''

The report Wednesday from the administration included generally positive news about U.S. efforts in some of the most important areas, such as electricity, telephones, banking and transportation.

It predicted that national failures in those areas are unlikely, although it cautioned about ``minor disruptions, which may impact consumers minimally'' from oil and natural gas companies.

``In no place at this juncture do we think you'll be without power for a week,'' Koskinen said. ``Outages, if there are any, will be in the nature of minutes and hours, not days and weeks.''

But the report was harshly critical of hospitals and doctors' offices for failing to verify that their computer billing systems will tolerate the date change, saying small health providers may be forced to shut down.

The administration said it anticipates no widespread or severe disruptions in the nation's food supply, in part because large grocery chains already carry several weeks' inventory in case of delivery problems or bad weather.

Broadcasters probably won't experience problems, either.
``The public should continue to have access to television and radio broadcast services through the date rollover,'' the report said, warning only of ``isolated channel outages and limited problems.''

Nearly half the federal agencies failed to meet last month's deadline for having their most important computers fixed, although the administration said 93 percent of those systems are now ready for 2000.

uh-oh, the happy-face has downward gravity on the grin corners

more cosmetic surgery coming to tighten that up, prop up in gruesome grimace

xxxxxxxxxx xxxxxx

-- Leska (allaha@earthlink.net), April 21, 1999.

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