Team of state sentries will follow the sun to monitor Y2k blips : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread


Sunday, November 7, 1999 | Print this story

Team of State Sentries Will Follow the Sun to Monitor Y2K Blips California: The public and private sectors are cooperating to track developments in distant lands, hoping to get the jump on any glitches. The West Coast is fortunate in being among last areas to witness the new dawn.

By JENIFER WARREN, Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO--It's 12:01 a.m., the first minute of the new millennium. Will the gas pump refuse to deliver fuel for your Ford? Will the supermarket scanner balk at that final bottle of Mumm's? Will your TV screen go dark on Dick Clark? Californians, take heart: You may know the answers to such nagging mysteries nearly a day in advance. Eager to get a jump on any Y2K glitches, the state on New Year's Eve will have a team of sentries in far-flung time zones up to 20 hours ahead of the Golden State's. Like Paul Reveres of the Information Age, these spotters will fire off bulletins about everything from power blackouts to air traffic snafus and even public behavior in places like Auckland, New Zealand, Shanghai and Frankfurt, Germany. Their reports--made via the Internet or, if systems fail, by satellite telephone--will serve as an early warning system designed to help California greet the year 2000 with little more than the usual hangovers. "The good part about California being one of the last [places to experience the dawn of 2000] is that if we see a pattern of problems in New Zealand, Australia and Asia, we'll have 10 or 12 or even 16 hours to react," said David Lema, Y2K advisor to Gov. Gray Davis. "The bad part, of course, is you could be looking at 10 or 12 or 16 hours of anxiety."

Data to Come From Multitude of Sources Dubbed Follow the Sun, the program grew out of the governor's Y2K Business Council, a group of 20 companies that have been helping the state gear up for Y2K. When Lema learned that corporations with overseas offices planned to use them to anticipate New Year's Day troubles in California, he figured the state could piggyback on the effort. The result is a partnership that will use spotters from the private and public sectors, deployed in 20 locations worldwide. Nine will be stationed at California's foreign trade offices. The rest will work from offices of six global high-tech firms. Observers will rely on a multitude of sources, ranging from government officials to local news broadcasts. Spotters may even pull up the window shades to take a peek outside. "If they look out and there's mayhem in the streets, we want to know about that," said Egan Christensen, the global Y2K guru for Santa Clara-based Hitachi Data Systems Corp., a Follow the Sun partner. The reports will mostly highlight the extraordinary but, initially, the ordinary will be recorded as well. Thus some good news--that traffic lights are functioning flawlessly in Melbourne, for example--will be sent westward along with the bad, such as a crippled sewer system in Taipei. Among the questions likely to appear on a short form the spotters will fill out are: * Is the power grid intact without widespread outages? If there are outages, what's the estimated time to repair? * Are there interruptions in truck or rail deliveries? * Are 911 systems fully functioning? * Are airports experiencing system failures with baggage handling, people movers or Jetways? * Are there civil disturbances? What proclamations have been issued to deal with them? * Are people swamping hospitals? Sent hourly, the bulletins will flow to a command center in Sacramento, where 60 state volunteers will synthesize them and log useful information into a giant database available to local agencies, the business community and even the public. Starting about 5 a.m. PST on Dec. 31, Y2K-obsessed Californians will be able to track the international feeds on a special Follow the Sun Web page. If reports of calamities surface, experts will attempt to gauge their potential impact on California--and make preemptive strikes on computer systems here before the ticking clock strikes midnight. Because it may be tough to quickly assess the West Coast relevance of, say, a failure of bomb-detection equipment at New Delhi's airport, state officials are working now to identify similarities between California's telecommunications and power systems and those throughout the world. "The idea is, if it turns out we are a clone of New Zealand, and there are no power disruptions in New Zealand, then the probability goes up that we won't have a disruption here," Lema explained. The Y2K threat stems from a simple technical reality--a long tradition in computer programming of abbreviating years to two digits. When 2000 dawns, computers could become confused, reading 00 as 1900 and sending systems haywire. After an initial phase of panic and doom-and-gloom predictions, most experts now believe that the domestic Y2K bugs have been worked out--and that the click-over to 2000 could be a colossal nonevent. Their confidence was bolstered by the lack of fireworks on Sept. 9--or 9/9/99, in numeric terms. That date was "considered to be very significant in the usage of technology around the world, yet when it came . . . nothing happened," said Tim Merrifield, manager of information systems for San Jose-based Cisco Systems, a Follow the Sun participant. Although Merrifield and other Y2K specialists can't promise the same smooth sailing on Jan. 1, most agree that the nation--and California in particular--is in decent shape. About 97% of all critical systems run by the state, from prisons to the Department of Motor Vehicles, are considered Y2K-ready, according to the latest reports. That said, a U.S. Senate panel has warned that the failure of other countries to remedy their Y2K problems could cause global disruptions to which the United States is not immune. Specifically, the committee warned about disruptions in the oil supply--possibly leading to higher gasoline prices--and problems in China that could temporarily harm trade relations with that country.

Keeping the Stream of Commerce Flowing Such global concerns are among the reasons spurring the state forward with Follow the Sun, said California's trade and commerce secretary, Lon Hatamiya. Foreign trade accounts for nearly a quarter of California's $1.1-trillion economy, so any blips--from a slowdown in shipping to a pesky telephone glitch--could create ripple effects here. "It's extremely important that we get accurate information so we can anticipate problems that might disrupt the transport of goods," Hatamiya said in an interview. "We need to keep the stream of commerce flowing." State officials said they hope to have the Follow the Sun desk--housed in a warehouse-like building once used as a Smog Check station--up and running by Nov. 15. It will be a bare-bones operation, Lema said, consisting of a few tables, some computers and a bunch of telephones. "It won't be sexy," he said. "You could probably mistake us for a bank of telemarketers." Between now and Dec. 31, Follow the Sun participants will stage several rehearsals, with each getting more intensive as D-day draws near. Although anything can happen, the mood is upbeat: "Best-case scenario?" said Christensen, Hitachi's worldwide Y2K guy. "We sit around twiddling our thumbs all night, eating pizza." *

-- Homer Beanfang (, November 09, 1999


And we can monitor Califonia...that'll give us an hour for remediation and an entire hour for testing! If they aren't ready yet, another couple of hours aren't going to help much!

-- Mad Monk (, November 09, 1999.

Oh. So we get 16 or so hours to contemplate the fact that what we couldn't do in 12 or 6 or 5 or 4 or 2 *YEARS*, must now be fixed in 16 hours. That oughta be helpful.

-- just another (, November 09, 1999.

Maybe not....think globally, think thousands of mainframes, think GMT, think y2k will be coming to your area sooner than you may expect...GMT rollover is 00:00:01, it could get very interesting at 6:00:01 pm CST 12/31/1999......ymmv

jmho fwiw, Ray in OKC, OK

-- Ray (, November 10, 1999.

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