California computer snafu previews Y2k meltdown : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Updated MONDAY October 4, 1999

California computer snafu previews Y2K meltdown

By Virginia Ellis Los Angeles Times/Washington Post service

SACRAMENTO, Calif. --In an unwelcome preview of what a Y2K meltdown could be like, massive computer crashes have repeatedly forced agencies throughout California to turn away customers for driver's licenses, food vouchers and other services.

The California Highway Patrol suddenly had difficulty checking criminal records. Child Protective Services could not get quick access to abuse files. For two days Glendale's Department of Motor Vehicles office had to process driver's license renewals manually. And one consulting firm clocked 19,000 minutes of intermittent outages -- an eternity in the fast-paced world of computer technology -- from January to July.

"This has been a lot worse than anything we expect from Y2K," said Elias S. Cortez, the state's chief information officer.

But the problem, which state officials fear may be ongoing, is not another botched computer project. It is the phone company.

Pacific Bell, hired by the state to ferry its data records across the high-speed telephone lines, is governed by a corporate culture so steeped in voice communication, state officials say, that it has had difficulty adjusting to the demands of a sophisticated data network. And they -- and their consultants -- question whether the company will ever be able to reinvent itself enough to adequately manage state data communications over the long term.

Company officials insist PacBell is a leader in data communications and has vastly improved its service in recent weeks -- although they admit that the company has not measured up.

"We didn't provide the quality of service that (the state) expected of us or that we expected of ourselves," said Doug Michelman, a Pacific Bell vice president.

Hardest hit has been the agency motorists love to hate, the DMV, which has been struggling to correct a public image of indifference and inefficiency. The outages have been "devastating to customer service," according to an internal report. And once computer service is restored, "the lines of customers are staggering."

For many customers, the nettlesome task of renewing driver's licenses or transferring auto registration became an ordeal. Some DMV offices called in fire marshals to control the crowds. Others closed early and turned customers away.

A few customers in different parts of the state suffered the indignity of having their cars towed because the computer record of their license purchase got swallowed in cyberspace.

The debacle provided a stark reminder of the extent to which government has become dependent on computers and the havoc that results when they cannot function.

This summer, the Women, Infants and Children program, which provides supplemental nutrition to poor families, reported a severe drop in participation, attributed in part to the computer outages. As a result, the state has had to return $5.7 million in unspent funds to the federal government.

The epidemic of computer crashes began shortly after the New Year, when PacBell took over the task of providing telecommunications for the state's vast data network.

A powerful political player whose parent company is a generous campaign donor to governors, PacBell had been the winning bidder for a seven-year, $1 billion contract to handle state government's entire telecommunications network. It was awarded in the final months of Gov. Pete Wilson's administration.

Since taking over the system, the company has gotten high marks for near-flawless operation of the voice communications side of the contract. But from the beginning, it had problems with the network that links computers.

-- Homer Beanfang (, October 04, 1999


...another version

acBell Blamed for Glitches Report Says Calif. Agencies Hit by Crippling Problems

The Associated Press L O S A N G E L E S, Oct. 4  Pacific Bell is to blame for computer crashes that have hit state agencies since the company was hired by California for $1 billion to transport data across high-speed telephone lines, the Los Angeles Times reported today. The problem has been a lot worse than anything we expect from Y2K, said Elias Cortez, the states chief information officer. The malfunctions began shortly after Jan. 1, when the company began providing telecommunications for the states data network, the report said. The company has a seven-year contract to do the job.

Big Glitches at the DMV The computer glitches have hit the state Department of Motor Vehicles the hardest, leading to poor service and drivers license applicants being turned away, the Times said. A state program that provides supplemental nutrition to poor families said computer outages were one reason for a severe drop in program participation. The crashes are due to equipment failures and software problems, according to International Network Services, a consulting firm hired by the state to investigate the problem. Hundreds of hours have been lost to intermittent outages.

Process Problems The report attributed service disruptions and slow restoration times to inconsistent or inadequate processes and procedures. We didnt provide the quality of service that (the state) expected of us or that we expected of ourselves, said Doug Michelman, a Pacific Bell vice president. Lee Ann Champion, Pacific Bells president of business communications services, said the company has installed backup systems at its own expense and there have been no major outages in recent weeks. html

-- Homer Beanfang (, October 04, 1999.

The world as we now know it will end Jan 1, 2000.

-- Dallas Smith (, October 04, 1999.

"The debacle provided a stark reminder of the extent to which government has become dependent on computers and the havoc that results when they cannot function."


Just wait!

-- Ashton & Leska in Cascadia (, October 04, 1999.

Things are picking up here. I just had shivers run up and down my spine listening to local news radio.

The story was regarding the PacBell situation and the report was not at all rosey in tone or content. Just last week this radio was reporting the spin that all is well. Today, it was, "maybe this Y2k situation deserves a closure look." But the real kicker was that they reported that this is the tip of the iceberg and there have been many more failures they haven't reported. Whoa...outta left field...they just got it, on the radio.

And as demonstrated by the stories above, the situations are real ones too, not hype. The shift is here.

Mike who isn't too happy today : (


-- Michael Taylor (, October 04, 1999.

Michael, better now than December 28!
Aren't you glad you've gotten a long head start? :-) It must have been weird to hear the Forum reality come alive on the radio. So far the Asylum has been a hidden wedge of Reality ...

-- Ashton & Leska in Cascadia (, October 04, 1999.

Mike -

Which LA station was it? I listen to a couple of different news stations down here in sunny Sandy Eggo, and they didn't have anything on this during this morning's drive-time. Will keep my ears open on this.

One of the local radio talk shows is hosted by former S.D. mayor Roger Hedgecock. He's been a Y2K GI for quite a while, so I suspect he may make a run at this during his show tonight.

The adventure begins in earnest...

-- Mac (sneak@lurk.hid), October 04, 1999.

I heard the mayor of Los Angeles, Richard Riorden, say something to the effect that the City is as prepared as any city in the world and no need to worry.

This was in the L.A. Times a few weeks ago:

Wednesday, September 15, 1999

The Local Review / DEVELOPMENTS IN LOS ANGELES COUNTY Council to Hire Expert to Study Payroll System


OS ANGELES--The Los Angeles City Council agreed Tuesday to hire an outside management consultant to determine whether a new, costly city payroll system should be scrapped or whether it can be salvaged. The city has spent $17 million so far on the new system, designed to replace the antiquated payroll that churns out checks for 32,000 city workers. City Controller Rick Tuttle said the system is millions of dollars over budget, a year behind schedule and probably won't meet the city's needs. But Councilwoman Laura Chick, who heads the council's Governmental Efficiency Committee, said the city needs to have the system evaluated to find out whether taxpayer dollars are being wasted or if the system needs major changes.

Copyright 1999 Los Angeles Times. All Rights Reser

-- Homer Beanfang (, October 04, 1999.

Homer, I've heard that from the Mayor and others too. I agree. The city is as prepared as any city...can be. I'm sure that "contingency plans" make this statement truthful. Also, since LA gone through it's share of disasters the city does have a pretty good working knowledge of how to make things work...and work around. The human factor is the biggest unknown. We've seen the best and the worst of humanity around here.

Mac, it was on KFWB AM98. I've heard some pretty interesting things come out on KOGO but never KFWB until today.

A&L, I'm not nearly as far along as I would like but I'm going to be stepping things up quickly : ) I've been working hard and have some cash to spend now... out to buy some 55 gallon water containers. I'm amazed at how much we've speculated about in the past is coming to pass. I'm amazed and scared. I'm still really in quite a bit of denial, really.



-- Michael Taylor (, October 04, 1999.

Re: "This has been a lot worse than anything we expect from Y2K," said Elias S. Cortez, the state's chief information officer.

I heard this guy talk at a televised Y2K Community meeting Saturday October 2. His message was only "don't worry be happy" and "we are 95 percent compliant on mission critical systems". He never defined mission critical, and he never mentioned the fact that a few months ago the state auditor ripped the governor a new one over happy-face comments about Y2K readiness. Auditor essentially said "not true" and the governor's office replied, "oopsie, you're right".

But we are assured that everything is all right now, and there will be no packs of wild dogs running in the streets next January 1. This good news will be aired December 5 on local TV (Sacramento). Oh, and it states you might want to get a week's food and water together, just in case.

The best news I heard was from the banking representative, who said her bank was increasing liquidity and reducing its loan/deposit ratio before yearend.

-- Margaret J (, October 04, 1999.

Mike -

If you're heading out to D&M Drum, I may see you there. I still have to clear some more space before trucking in any more drums. Don't want to draw any attention to our preps, so room in the garage is very much at a premium.

-- Mac (sneak@lurk.hid), October 04, 1999.

It really is a shame that this is comming to pass. I don't want or need any life is too complicated as is. No way the Politicos can blame "cyberterrorism" unless they themselves are the cyberterrorists for not fixing the @$*(#&%ed Computers!

-- K. Stevens (kstevens@ It's ALL going away in, October 04, 1999.

Richard Riordan, the mayor or Los Angeles, says that LA is as prepared for Y2K as any city in the world. That is the problem!

-- Mr. Adequate (, October 04, 1999.

And Pac Bell was always one of the better phone companies...

-- Mad Monk (, October 05, 1999.

If you have food, water, self-protection, source of heat and light, there's nothing to worry or panic about. Stay inside if trouble starts to brew, lay low, and keep that hand-cranked radio available for news. If you panic, your chances of surviving are slim.

-- bardou (, October 05, 1999.

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