Main Stream Press Says Y2K is BIG PROBLEM : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Officials: Countries Face Y2K Risks

By GEORGE GEDDA Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- About half of 161 countries examined by the State Department are believed to face a medium to high risk of experiencing failures in their telecommunications, energy and or transportation sectors because of Year 2000 computer glitches.

Jacqueline L. Williams-Bridgers, the State Department's inspector general, said in congressional testimony this week that no region in the global community is likely to be spared Y2K-related failures.

``In some countries, these failures could be a mere annoyance, such as a malfunctioning credit card terminal, while in others there is a clear risk that electricity, telecommunications and other key systems will fail, perhaps creating economic havoc and social unrest,'' she said.

``As such, the risk of disruption will likely extend to the international trade arena, where a breakdown in any part of the supply chain would have a serious impact on the U.S. and world economies,'' she said, adding that that the U.S. Foreign affairs agenda also could be affected.

Williams-Bridgers testified before the special Senate committee on the year 2000 technology problem.

On specific countries, she said there is cautious optimism in China about Y2K readiness. Chinese officials are most concerned about the impact on railroad freight, medical devices and embedded chips. ``The Chinese authorities expect some Y2K problems but nothing that would put people's lives in danger or cripple the economy,'' she said.

Williams-Bridgers said Japanese ministries and companies were working toward compliance despite news reports to the contrary. ``The Japanese acknowledge they got off to a late start in addressing Y2K and this may hamper their ability to thoroughly address the problem before the end of the year.''

In Russia, the nuclear sector reported that all safety systems are compliant. Plant operations computers may have undiagnosed problems that could force a shutdown, she said. She also pointed out that excess generating capacity within the electrical grid would allow for continued provision of power to high-priority customers even in the event all nuclear power plants shut down.

Visiting U.S. officials found that the banking, electricity ands transportation sectors in Malasia were generally in the advanced stages of being fixed or replaced, she said. In South Korea, she said officials got off to a late start except for banking and communications. Taiwanese authorities and large business enterprises have made a great deal of progress in addressing Y2K issues.

In India, progress has been reported in the last six months, especially in the critical sectors of banking and finance, civil aviation and telecommunications. ``But nowhere is the Y2K process complete, and contingency planning has barely begun,'' Williams-Bridgers said.

Other points in her testimony:

-- Of the 161 countries assessed, two thirds are believed to have a low probability of experiencing Y2K-related failures in the ``water/waste water'' sectors.

--Industrialized countries were generally found to be at low risk of having Y2K-related infrastructure failures, particularly in the finance sector. Still nearly a third of these (11 of 39) were reported to be at medium risk of failure in the transportation sector, and almost one-fourth (9 of 39) were reported to be at a medium or high risk of failure in the telecommunications, energy or water sectors.

--Anywhere from 52 to 68 developing countries out of 98 were assessed as having a medium or high risk in the telecommunication, transportation and/or energy sectors. Still, the relatively low level of computerization in key sectors of the developing world may reduce the risk of prolonged infrastructure failures. Among the vulnerable countries are former republics of the Soviet Union and former East bloc nations.

AP-NY-07-23-99 1821EDT

-- helium (, July 23, 1999


Another very good article is at:

Heres a long snip:


On one sunny morning in the middle of June, the residents of Van Nuys, California awoke to intimations that the shit was starting to hit the fan  or in this case, the streets. Four million gallons of raw sewage had spewed forth overnight from the Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation plant, spilling onto a local thoroughfare and covering a large, wooded portion of the city's Lake Balboa Park. The problem? A computer undergoing Y2K tests had closed a gate and blocked a major sewage line from the San Fernando Valley, without notifying plant personnel at their control consoles what it had done. A couple of weeks later, on the opposite coast, The Washington Post featured a page one story in which city officials conceded that the District of Columbia was hopelessly behind in its Y2K preparations. The D.C. officials unveiled extraordinary contingency plans for the coming of the millennium: extra shifts for police, who would be stationed at 120 spots around the city and equipped with a back-up communications system; a network of "warming centers"  in effect, mass shelters; school crossing guards at major intersections in case of traffic light failure; and extra staffing at local emergency rooms.

Despite the apparently ominous portents of the Post story and the Van Nuys accident, neither got much attention outside their immediate locales, or even inside, perhaps. The Post story caught the tenor of public dialogue about Y2K computer troubles in paragraph five: "Officials are confident that most of these plans  even those that will be put into effect regardless of any system failure  will not be needed, and that even in the District, Y2K will be one of the century's most hyped nonevents." This disclaimer has become as obligatory a bit of boilerplate in Y2K coverage as the explanation that the problem began with two-digit date fields back in the days when computer memory was scarce. One can't write a "serious" Y2K story these days, it seems, without pausing to point out that it's really not much of a story at all.

For a month or two last winter, it looked like "the millennium bug" might be one of the major news beats of the year. The story first reached public consciousness in the summer of '98, with a handful of tongue-in-cheek, major-media color pieces about veteran and neophyte survivalists  the latter including a striking number of computer programmers  who were busy girding themselves against the coming digital apocalypse. It was all in good fun, the sort of story that serves subtly to reinforce the notion that anyone who doesn't think like you and me (like Time and Newsweek, in other words) is just plain nuts. But from there, public concern about Y2K began mounting gradually (excuse me, but did they say computer programmers?), and crested with the February release of a distressing U.S. Senate report.

In a cover letter distributed with draft copies of the Senate paper, Robert Bennett (R-UT), chair of the Y2K special committee, wrote that public and private efforts to fix the problem "began late and remain insufficient, and consequently some incalculable level of economic disruption is inevitable.... This problem will affect us all individually and collectively in very profound ways.... [Y2K is] one of the most serious and potentially devastating events this nation has ever encountered. It deserves our top priority." If one bothered to read the report itself, the outlook only became more troubling: The state of preparedness across the many sectors of business and government was a mystery, the list of troublesome contingencies positively numbing.

The story then fell off the front pages even more suddenly than it had come, mainly a casualty of NATO's incursion into Kosovo and the blandishments of John Koskinen, the man selected by Bill Clinton to chair the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion. There is nothing to fear but fear itself, the current administration line goes; avoid panic and hoarding, and everything will probably work itself out by year's end. Perhaps I exaggerate the degree of official complacency, but not by much. The Clinton P.R. strategy  for now, anyway  is to warn of the fabled "bump in the road," the "three-day winter storm," and to hope thereby to buy time for... what? Could the prospect of millions of defective microchips and untold billions of lines of corrupted software code be so trivial a problem as it's presently made out to be  something to be finessed away in a matter of months? And if it is not assuredly so, then what exactly has become of the Y2K story?

A couple of yarns may help to suggest where the answers to these two questions lie. (I'll take for granted, by the way, that if you care enough to read this, you already possess a little background about Y2K: the two-digit business, the prospect that afflicted computers may malfunction or shut down altogether, and so on.) Regarding the media, perhaps the most revealing moment came at a March confab of reporters and government officials in New York. "We are drowning in a sea of conflicting information," wailed Jeff Gralnick, the executive V.P. of CNN's Financial News division. In the words of the Reuters wire story on the conference, "[Gralnick] lamented the lack of a unified government stance, saying, 'We need a common reporting language and a common reporting document, a common understandable report card that we can measure you against.'" It hardly needs saying that Y2K is a complicated story, vast in scale and technical in nature, but Gralnick's complaint was of a different character. His was less the voice of a watchdog than of some poor hound put in the embarrassing position of criticizing its master's efforts at training. The government has since gotten its act together (if one ignores the troubling reports that continue to issue from the General Accounting Office), and so has the press. Investigative reporting about Y2K is nowhere to be found. Skeptical analysis of the pandemic official optimism is largely confined to the Internet, where about 90 percent of the Y2K discussion is taking place.

As to the "contained" portrait of Y2K problems that Koskinen et al. have sketched, there are numerous cautionary tales to suggest otherwise, such as the one embedded in an obscure working paper of a 24-country consortium of oil and gas producers called the International Energy Association. It concerns an unnamed oil company that in late 1997 tested the computer relay terminals controlling the flow of oil through their refineries. Engineers discovered thousands of Y2K-defective chips that needed replacing on thousands of valve controllers. But those exact chips weren't being made anymore, and as it turned out, the new ones wouldn't fit on the existing master circuit boards. So the circuit boards had to be replaced as well. It was next discovered that the new circuit boards didn't fit the old valves, so all the old valves had to be chucked, and new ones installed.

Not exactly sexy details, I realize, but what stories like this offer is a glimpse of the enormous practical complications that surface when it comes to the mundane realities of fixing the Y2K bug. One might reasonably ask why you or I should care if said oil company incurs a few million dollars in unanticipated repair expenses, but ponder the question a moment and the answer becomes clear. What's true of computers that open and close valves in refineries is potentially also true of computers that track bank transactions, issue payroll checks, generate electrical power and route it through the nation's massive energy grid, process satellite signals, and coordinate the mechanized procession of automobile and processed food manufacturing lines. One begins to get the picture, and it isn't a pretty one. Nor does it become any more encouraging when one stops to consider what the pros have to say about the typical software re- engineering project. They will tell you that, whatever the prior claims about proceeding on schedule, more than 50 percent of these projects will come in monstrously late; that fixing software bugs inevitably introduces new bugs that in turn need fixing; and that the testing phase, after everything is ostensibly repaired, can take as long as the repairs themselves. One Internet site compared the magnitude of Y2K software troubles to confronting a Grand Canyon full of marbles; the good news is that only a comparative handful need replacing, and the bad news is that you're on your own finding them.

How is it that so much has been left to the last minute? And with so much apparently at stake, how are so many people, from the president on down, maintaining such exquisite public denial?


-- Jon Johnson (, July 23, 1999.

Still, folks don't appreciate the advance of the New World Odor. Put in more conventional terms, most people don't realize the extent to which the "global village is so interdependent".

Their response? "I don't care what happens in OTHER countries! I live HERE!".

-- Anonymous99 (, July 23, 1999.

Quote from yet another article:

"Among the least prepared countries are six of the seven most populous: China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Russia and Pakistan."

"In addition, many unprepared countries are important U.S. trading partners, providing Americans with oil, sugar, fruit, coffee and many pharmaceutical products. U.S. manufacturers often depend on foreign factories for parts, while multinational companies rely heavily on foreign consumers to boost sales."

Link: Y2K computer bug will strike globally, Congress warned

-- Linda (, July 23, 1999.

Nah, it's only local. I live on Mars, so don't have to worry. Only earthlings die easy.

-- little green man (under@smile.face), July 23, 1999.

Only beings in the space-time continuum will be affected by Y2K.


-- Jollyprez (, July 24, 1999.

Jolly, drop me an e-mail. THINK we might have a mutual acquaintance, though HE may have done YOU wrong, in ADA.


-- Chuck, a night driver (, July 24, 1999.

New link for the "Officials: Countries Face Y2K Risks" article: 9990723/pl/state_department_y2k_1.html

-- Linkmeister (, July 24, 1999.

Thank you for posting these!!

-- Deborah (, July 24, 1999.

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