Millenium Crunch: More Y2k risks to ponder : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

August 30, 1999

Millennium Crunch: More Y2K Risks To Ponder

There are gaps in our knowledge of the real Y2K risks regarding electricity, transportation, chemicals, and water

By Leon A. Kappelman

he year 2000 computer date-field problem has always been about risk management. And just when you think you've got all the risks figured out, you find a few that may have been overlooked.

Given the extraordinary efforts by some to put a happy spin on the situation, it's easy to miss things. Your systems may be ready to handle the date switch smoothly, but what happens, for example, if the local electric utility can't supply the power to keep those compliant systems running?

Here are some things for companies to consider as they wrap up their Y2K projects, complete their compliance tests, test and validate contingency plans, inspect supply chains, and set up event-management and business-continuity command centers:

Y2K ready doesn't always mean Y2K ready. For example, the executive summary of the North American Electric Reliability Council's Aug. 3 report declares that more than 96% of electric utilities are "Y2K ready." But you'll find in the full report that being ready can simply mean having contingency plans in place in case a system fails. See for yourself at

Of the 251 organizations recognized by the council as being Y2K ready, the report says 63 claim "nonnuclear exception items," meaning they're waiting on parts, testing, a merger, etc. Yet the report says the risk of electrical outages caused by Y2K "appears to be no higher than the risks we already experience."

Does your company depend on one of the not-really-compliant 63 utilities? That's difficult to say, because the report doesn't identify them. Also not identified are the 13.4% of 2,012 government-owned electric utilities that did not respond to the survey. "With the Y2K problem," says John Koskinen, chairman of the President's Council on Y2K, "you fear the worst in those areas where there is no information." (Read Koskinen's full statement at

What you don't know can hurt you. With all the questions raised by the state of Y2K compliance among electric utilities, companies that handle chemicals, transportation, and water seem even more mysterious, according to Koskinen's Aug. 5 report. Private enterprise, government, and citizen groups can lower the risks in their communities much more efficiently and effectively when they have enough facts to work with.

As of June 30, 10 of the top 20 U.S. airports were "compliant," with eight more expected to be compliant by Sept. 30, according to Koskinen's report. The Federal Aviation Administration is still gathering data on the other 546 U.S. airports.

Meanwhile, the report carries no compliance data about the rail industry, and says just 48 of 145 shipping ports in the Western Hemisphere say they'll be compliant by Dec. 31.

In chemical processing, we're largely clueless about a great short-term Y2K risk. Only 100 companies responded to the Chemical Manufacturers Association's June Y2K survey of 190 members; the remaining 69,000 or so U.S. producers of hazardous chemicals are represented in the Koskinen report by a survey of 300. Only California and Virginia have a program to deal proactively with a Y2K chemical-related disaster.

As for water, the Koskinen report cites data on just 600 of the 190,000 U.S. water facilities. Will your company have safe water available on Jan. 1? Local health inspectors can halt your company's headquarters or manufacturing plant just as quickly as a system crash can.

Given what appear to be genuine risks to electric power supplies, and the dearth of information on transportation, chemical processing, and water, it seems there's still much Y2K risk that needs to be managed.

The questions you must answer relate to the degree of risk your business faces.

Leon A. Kappelman is associate director of the Center for Quality and Productivity at the University of North Texas and co-chairman of the Society for Information Management's Year 2000 Working Group. Reach him at

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-- Homer Beanfang (, September 02, 1999


Sounds like Leon watered it down for the mainstream IT press. What he really meant was probably "I was wrong. It will be worse."

-- Way to go Leon (@ .), September 02, 1999.

Yo, be nice to Leon. He's the one going after Stephen Phoole.

-- knowledge (ain't@always.pooled), September 02, 1999.

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