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Special Series: Y2K -- Part 2

So, Why Prepare?


"The greatest antidote to worry, whether you're getting ready for spaceflight or facing a problem of daily life, is preparation ...the more you try to envision what might happen and what your best response and options are, the more you are able to allay your fears about the future." --John Glenn

The most significant factor promoting a successful response to an emergency, particularly one that is catastrophic, is individual and community preparedness. This point cannot be overemphasized! Some of us live in areas of the country that experience weather or geologic phenomena, which periodically remind us how much we take for granted regarding our dependence on power and communication grids, not to mention running water and basic food supplies. But the notion of preparedness faces stiff opposition in the absence of such experience.

Discussing Y2K and other emerging threats to daily routine tends to cause discomfort because it reminds us that we are vulnerable to forces beyond our control. The greater the potential crisis, the greater the resistance to acknowledging and preparing for such a crisis.

When assessing vulnerability, one must consider the issues of "probability" and "scope," and on that consideration, take informed steps toward preparedness. While the probability of serious Y2K-related problems might be considered low, the scope of their effect, both direct and collateral, on continuity of commerce and government can be very widespread. Translation: Service and material delivery in local communities may be interrupted for extended periods of time.

In Part 1 of this series, we noted, "It would be a disservice to our members if we did not advise you to take Y2K preparedness seriously, and provide a preparedness rationale beyond Y2K." If we can't interest you in preparedness related to Y2K, let us entertain you with a rationale that presents a greater risk: The emerging threat of domestic terrorism -- particularly biological and technological terrorism.

Again, while the probability of such attacks may be relatively low, the scope of their effect, both direct and collateral, on continuity of commerce and government can be very widespread. The extent of that effect depends on proximity and severity.

In the last twenty years, the media have entertained far too many "Chicken Little experts" proclaiming that terrorism is at our doorstep. For that reason, we have become somewhat desensitized to the issue and view it as a distant problem (unless, of course, you are from New York, where Islamic terrorists came very close to collapsing one of the World Trade Center towers with a bomb).

In the last decade, however, with the proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, and the rise of international terrorist groups such as that of Osama bin Laden (which are actively targeting the U.S.), the federal government and military have directed enormous emphasis and resources toward preparedness and response planning for such an attack.

Now, bin Laden's rogues may not be targeting your hometown. But as we stated above, an attack on any major U.S. city could disrupt the delivery of basic services and necessities in an entire region. Because our power, communication and supply grids are so interdependent, what first appears to be a contained crisis can quickly become unconfined.

Indeed, a report issued in September by a federal advisory commission responsible for assessing terrorist threats against U.S. citizens concludes, "States, terrorists, and other disaffected groups will acquire weapons of mass destruction and mass disruption, and some will use them. Americans will likely die on American soil, possibly in large numbers." Mr. Clinton even declared, "I would say [the threat of a chemical or biological attack] is highly likely to happen sometime in the next few years."

The threat of terrorism is now estimated to be so high that in October, the Department of Defense announced it would replace the U.S. Atlantic Command with the U.S. Joint Forces Command, which will have the new mandate for responding to domestic incidents of terrorism. The most recent report on national security threats identifies biological terrorism -- "unannounced attacks on U.S. cities" as "the most serious threat to our security." Responding to the fact that our active duty military has not had a domestic response mandate since the Civil War, Secretary of Defense William Cohen noted, "[The military must] deal with the threats we are most likely to face."

Several members of The Federalist Editorial Board have been involved, at the highest levels of government, in national security planning related to terrorism. We can assure you that one uniform response we hear from our colleagues when discussing the merits of Y2K preparedness is that such efforts have revived a much-needed citizen awareness of our vulnerability to threats from all vectors.

The false public assumption that help will be just a phone call away notwithstanding, the reality is that emergency response capabilities at the county, state (including National Guard) and federal levels are severely limited. Further, in a crisis that is regional rather than local, the military does not have sufficient resources to sustain large numbers of citizens for more than just days.

We again petition our members who have not already done so, to initiate a prudent consideration of the risks to your family posed by Y2K -- and the emerging generation of new threats. We encourage you to initiate at least a basic program of preparedness, which will be the topic of Y2K -- Part 3, "Who Ya Gonna Call...?" which will appear in Friday's Volume 99-44 Digest.



The Senate's Y2K assessment committee conclusions about potential Y2K effects on various sectors of our economy:

UTILITIES. Only about 50 percent of electric utilities had repaired Y2K systems as of December. "Of greatest concern are about 1,000 small, rural electric utilities." Local and regional blackouts are "likely," but a "prolonged, nationwide blackout" is not.

HEALTH CARE. Some 64 percent of hospitals have no plans to test their Y2K fixes before the crunch date. Some 90 percent of doctors' offices are unaware of how exposed they are to Y2K problems. Federal payment systems for Medicare and other health-insurance programs are behind schedule for repair. "The health care industry is one of the worst-prepared for Y2K and carries a significant potential for harm."

TELECOMMUNICATIONS. Some 95 percent of telephone systems are expected to be ready. No reliable data exist on readiness to test data networks, cellular or satellite communications systems, or 1,400 regional carriers.

TRANSPORTATION. "On average, the nation's 670 domestic airports started Y2K compliance too late," the report states. The Federal Aviation Administration has "made great strides" but "it still has a way to go. ... Planes will not fall out of the sky, but flight rationing to some areas and countries is possible." Aviation problems will be "much worse" abroad.

FINANCE. Banks and automated tellers are expected to function and to have enough cash. The Federal Reserve intends to expand available currency by one-third, to about $200 billion, to cover withdrawals "and has other contingency arrangements available if needed," Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan told the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday.

GOVERNMENT. Federal agencies vary widely in preparedness; among the least prepared is the Department of Defense. (A House panel monitoring federal Y2K efforts issued an overall grade of C+ on Tuesday. Defense reported that only 72 percent of its "mission-critical systems" are ready; Transportation, only 53 percent. However, state and local governments vary widely in preparations, the Senate panel said, noting its "greatest concern is the ability of local communities to provide 911 emergency services."

BUSINESS. Heavily regulated fields such as banking, insurance and finance "are furthest ahead," but "health care, oil, education, agriculture, farming, food processing and the construction industry are lagging behind," the report said. Any failure of a critical system is likely to cost up to $3.5 million to repair and to take three to 15 days.

INTERNATIONAL. Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, which together supply 30 percent of U.S. oil imports, are both 12 to 18 months behind U.S. Y2K repair efforts, exemplifying how problems abroad might have an impact here. Infection of repaired U.S. computer systems from links to unfixed foreign ones is also worrisome.

Perhaps equally worrisome is how impossible it is to measure the problem in advance. "It is unfortunate how little we still know about the scope and the severity of the Y2K problem for the U.S. and for the world," the Senate report observes.

On reason it is difficult to determine the probability and scope of Y2K is the issue of embedded processors. If the embedded processor has a routine for scheduled maintenance, the routine may be triggered in the year 2000. Consider where we have embedded processors and other computers:

BUILDINGS: Elevators, heating systems (January 1, 2000 is in the middle of the winter), cooling systems, lighting, burglar alarms, fire detection and suppression systems, access control systems.

HOSPITALS: Patient care systems, diagnostic machines, life support machines.

TRANSPORTATION: Traffic signals, ships, trucks, airplanes, cars, trains, air traffic control.

COMMUNICATIONS: Telephones, two-way radios, televisions, radio and TV transmitters, phone systems, cell phone systems, beeper transmitters, satellites.

ENERGY: Oil wells (including oil rigs in the ocean), oil and gas pipelines, electricity generators, electricity distribution and control systems.

LIFE SUPPORT: Water wells, water distribution systems, sewage systems.

MILITARY: Nuclear and conventional missiles, weapons systems, command and control systems, vehicles, communications gear.

The embedded processor is the greatest single unknown in the Y2K equation. With tens of billions of them, it is impossible even to check all of them, much less get them fixed. Some estimates claim that a two percent embedded processor failure rate would bring the U.S. economy to a standstill.

-- Brooklyn (MSIS@cyberdude.com), November 02, 1999


Here is the address: http://www/federalist.com/current/fedbrief-99-44.html

-- Brooklyn (MSIS@cyberdude.com), November 02, 1999.

"Further, in a crisis that is regional rather than local, the military does not have sufficient resources to sustain large numbers of citizens for more than just days."

-- Dave (aaa@aaa.com), November 03, 1999.

I consistantly cannot access the site http://www/federalist.com/current/fedbrief-99-44.html

Is anyone else having trouble?

-- Linda (lwmb@psln.com), November 04, 1999.

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