Y2k: The Reality

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Published Tuesday, November 23, 1999 Email this story to a friend

Y2K: The Reality

NBC's movie was an extreme scenario, but the president's reassurances are equally unreal. Serious problems remain.

By NORMAN L. DEAN Knight Ridder/Tribune

Who is painting the more extreme view of Y2K: the producers of NBC's "Y2K: The Movie" or the White House?

NBC's "doomsday" movie, which aired Sunday, painted one extreme view of Y2K: an airplane falling from the sky, massive power failures, prison gates springing open.

At the other extreme, the White House message on Y2K is largely reassuring. For example, after a year of telling the country to prepare as we would for a winter storm, hurricane or other similar emergency, the White House message has now been abruptly changed to "prepare as you would for a long holiday weekend." This conjures up images of stockpiling extra dip, chips and champagne. It's hardly a message that would encourage anyone to take Y2K seriously.

The president even went so far as to tell the public that they need not store any food -- advice contrary to that offered by virtually every emergency manager in the country, including his own Y2K experts.

The reality of Y2K falls somewhere between the scenarios being portrayed by NBC and the White House. With only about 5 weeks before Jan. 1, there remain very serious problems.

When one overlooks the soundbites and reads the substance of government reports, it appears clear that nearly every community will be affected by Y2K failures in some way. To offer a few examples:

It appears increasingly likely that key government benefit programs will fail in certain states harming those least able to protect themselves: the poor, the sick, the elderly and young children. According to the federal government's own auditors, 27 states still have not completed Y2K fixes and tests for one or more of the following programs: Medicaid, unemployment, food stamps, and child support.

The status of the nation's drinking water remains a huge question mark. Despite repeated calls for more investigation by experts such as the General Accounting Office, too little has been done to verify the Y2K readiness of the highly computerized drinking water purification plants. The most extensive industry survey of the water industry, conducted last summer, found less than one-half of the nation's drinking water plants had completed their Y2K work.

There is an increased risk of fires, leaks and explosions at the nation's small and medium-sized chemical plants. According to a recent Texas A&M study, 86 percent of these plants have done little or nothing to prepare. The chairman and vice-chairman of the bipartisan Senate Committee on Y2K were sufficiently alarmed by this report to call on the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to mobilize local officials.

The nation's health care system is, by most accounts, still lagging behind. Many nursing homes and small rural and inner city clinics are completely unready for Y2K. In addition, sophisticated medical equipment including computer chips which may be affected by the date change may or may not have been tested in larger hospitals.

A national survey found that one-half of our 911 systems were not fully Y2K ready as of Oct. 1. Defenders of the defective systems say that callers still will be able to reach a 911 operator but the automated dispatch computers that speed emergency vehicles on their way may not work. However, it is those very automatic dispatch systems that have trimmed precious seconds off emergency response times -- seconds that can make the difference between life and death in the case of a heart attack or a fire.

Everyone hopes that Y2K causes little harm. But neither NBC nor the president is doing the country a favor by painting unrealistic views at this critical juncture. Such views encourage either panic or complacency and hinder the serious efforts needed to tackle the real remaining risks.

-- Homer Beanfang (Bats@inbellfry.com), November 23, 1999


Coming from a Knight Ridder publication?


Great line...

"Who is painting the more extreme view of Y2K: the producers of NBC's "Y2K: The Movie" or the White House?"

Oh Koskinen, et. al.,... how much you have to answer for!


-- Diane J. Squire (sacredspaces@yahoo.com), November 23, 1999.

Great find, Homer.

-- Dog Gone (layinglow@rollover.now), November 23, 1999.

"Who is painting the more extreme view of Y2K: the producers of NBC's "Y2K: The Movie" or the White House?"

Clinton's comment about not needing to do any preps reminded me of President Bush's comments about not knowing what the scanner was in the super market (first time he had ever seen one!).

Clinton can act unaware if he wants, but he knows what y2k is all about. No way could he be that detached from so many large expenditures by the Federal Government... He is after all the Chief Executive of US Gov, Inc.

-- snooze button (alarmclock_2000@yahoo.com), November 23, 1999.

I'll say one thing about all this: *IF* very bad things happen, and tens of thousands/millions die, Klinton, Kosky et al need to be dragged into the street and shot for crimes against humanity.

-- Dennis (djolson@pressenter.com), November 23, 1999.

Ah, the media is starting to pick up on the Disconnect! Do they smell blood yet?

-- Ashton & Leska in Cascadia (allaha@earthlink.net), November 23, 1999.

Here is an article I found yesterday that contributes to the government/NBC contrast:

Link: http://www.mercedsun-star.com/y2kwire/y2kwire5.html


The Great Panic of December 99

By David Wickenhauser

Can there be any better example of Truth is stranger than fiction than the NBC movie, Y2k, scheduled to air tomorrow night?

In an extremely convoluted twisting of real-life plots, this much- heralded and much-feared (by some) made-for-TV production might indeed bring Americans to the brink of panic.

And all the blame for this can be laid right squarely where it belongs ... in the lap of the government spin-meisters who for the past 18 months have been trying to persuade the people that Y2k will be merely a three-day-inconvenience, or a minor bump in the road.

This is one of the most irresponsible things to ever come out of Hollywood, said one lawmaker on the Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem, who fails to see the irony of his tirade. Why is NBC doing this? They are going to end up scaring people into a complete panic. Shame, shame, shame on them!

Well, lets just see who should be shame-faced.

According to one reviewer, the movie may be tense and dramatic, but it wont inspire panic in the streets. By the time Y2k (the movie) hits, the public  which up until now has appeared to be largely unconcerned with the millennium bug threat  will have been thoroughly briefed by the media.

Oops! Wrong movie review. The paragraph above was written in May 1998 for a Warner Bros. production of Y2k the movie that was supposed to appear in theaters in the fall of 1999. You never saw the movie because Warner Bros. bowed to pressure and canceled the project.

Can you guess, however, why the review is loaded with tons of telling points about where we are right now with the state of Y2k in this country and with the new NBC Y2k movie?

It makes one very important assumption, and rightly so, that if people had had a year-and-a-half to learn about and prepare for Y2k then there would be no need to panic  no matter how alarmist and sensationalistic the movie portrays the Y2k rollover.

But, lo, check out the qualifier to the assumption  will have been thoroughly briefed by the media.

Oops again! Even as evidence pours in daily about widespread noncompliance within industry and government, the American public is STILL being fed a continuous diet of, Dont worry, be happy.

Right up to the bitter end, the people are being spoonfed pablum, when, instead, they have needed buckets full of good, solid, helpful information and encouragement to be ready for Y2k.

Along comes the NBC movie, then, to fill in the gap in a mass-media sort of way. And all at once weve got millions becoming Y2k aware.

Sure, NBCs giving a skewed look at Y2k. Television, after all, has to take what will be a years worth of Y2k aftereffect and compress it into a two-hour drama. You know it will be extreme, emotional, and not necessarily accurate.

But you also know that the American public likes to take its news with a large dose of entertainment, so much so that for many the line between them is virtually invisible.

The irony here is that the government is aghast at NBC for producing a movie that will create panic, when the government itself sowed the seeds of the panic more than one year ago.

There is still no certainty there will be a panic. It all depends on the American publics ability to separate fiction from reality. Uh, ohh!

If the public does panic, youll know whos to blame, and it wont be NBC.

The question is, why has the government done such a good job with the Big Lie? To what purpose have the American people been led into this dangerous situation?

I honestly dont know. I have my own theories, but you dont want to go there with me. About all we can do is wait and see what happens after the new year, wait and see what the governments reaction is to the various things that do happen.

One thing to keep in mind. If government squads show up during an emergency, fully deployed, ready to take charge, and in control of the situation, then you know they have been preparing and practicing for it for a long time. Makes you think.

Check out the web links I mentioned in previous columns if you want to learn more about this subject.

Y2k the movie stars Ken Olin as a systems-failure expert working for the federal government. As New Years Eve turns into catastrophe, he urges that all planes be grounded, then gets caught up in trying to prevent a nuclear plant outside Seattle from melting down.

One reviewer said the drama has a happy ending  which is a problem in itself because of the danger of trivializing something that likely will not be solved in two hours with time out for commercials.

I recommend you nix the movie. Instead, take the kids for a walk, read a good book out loud together, or visit other like-minded folks whose lives arent wrapped around the television set.

Next week: Computers. Compshmooters. Its the economy, stupid!

Questions? Comments? Email Dave at djwick@mercedsun-star.com


-- No Polly (nopolly@hotmail.com), November 23, 1999.

Thank you, Homer. You are a great benifit to all!

-- Hatti (klavine@yco.com), November 23, 1999.

The day I can sit down and read anything like *this* in my hometown paper -- !

-- blah blah (blah@blah.blah), November 23, 1999.

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