December Comments & Impact Scale Rating: 5.5 to 9.5 : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

The following is an excerpt of comments prepared for Russ Kelly's site ( I post an excerpt of them here for your interest and information. The rest of the comments can be found at the URL noted below the title and will also soon be posted at Russ Kelly's site. Included in the portion not reprinted here is some information about the C-SPAN video of the November 23 panel at George Washington University and the availability of videotapes of the July Y2K Conference at GW.

December 1999 Comments and Y2K Impact Rating

( Click on "Comments, Essays, & Op-Ed Pieces)

My provisional rating as of December 1, 1999 is between a 5.5 and 9.5.

The higher level 9.5 rating could apply if the Federal government continues on its present course:

~ failing to acknowledge that we are in a crisis and

~ failing to take all the proactive measures that need to be taken, both before the rollover and in the months after the rollover, to help minimize the impacts that can be expected.

My lower level rating of a 5.5 on the impact scale has increased owing to the Federal governments apparent decision in November to minimize the seriousness of the crisis even further by changing its message and only calling on the public "to prepare as you would for a long holiday weekend". At the same time, the Emergency Management Agency of the District of Columbia is recommending the more reasonable course of action by urging that the public stock supplies of 7 to 10 days of water and non-perishable food. This is one of a growing number of incongruities in policy that can be expected among different levels of government as well as within the Federal government itself.

The 5.5 rating could apply if the Federal government were to do everything that could be done in the days remaining and in the months immediately following the rollover to minimize the impacts of the Y2K and embedded systems crisis here and abroad. Barring unforeseen developments, it appears quite unlikely that the Federal government will make additional efforts of the sort needed before the rollover. If major problems manifest before the rollover, there is a chance that the Federal government will finally acknowledge that we are in a crisis and begin to act accordingly to avert further problems and minimize the impacts that can be expected.

The Federal government might even be able to help deter runs on banks if the President and others exercised extraordinary leadership. A level of trust and faith on the part of the American people would need to be cultivated in order for this to occur. The Administration would need to demonstrate through its actions that it had had a change of heart and now recognized that we are in a crisis situation. People should be encouraged to take steps that will give them greater security in getting through the next months and years. There is a real question as to whether or not the words of the President or others in roles of leadership would be believed. Indeed, on November 10, when some people who didnt get the seriousness of Y2K and were not intending to prepare for Y2K heard the President minimizing the need for preparing, they made an about face and began to made serious preparations! They assumed that the President must be purposely trying to keep the truth about Y2K from the public and not let the public know what a serious challenge Y2K poses for the nation and the world. They were ready to believe the opposite of what he said and they did.

The Actions That Are Needed

Ideally, government actions need to be along the lines described in Parts 3 and 5 of my White Paper at Actions would involve establishment of a crisis-oriented, proactive Office in the Executive Office of the President that would have several hundred full time employees who have responsibility for taking action and facilitating action PRIOR to the rollover and CONTINUING as long as need be after that, months or possibly even years.

The Information Coordination Center (ICC), which has been established under the President's Council, does not have such a mission. Instead the ICC focuses on gathering information and doing assessments that will help guide actions that will need to be taken AFTER the rollover. These actions would be in response to problems that are identified. The ICC as presently configured does not focus on taking assessments before the rollover that could lead to preventive actions. Conceivably the ICC could be reconfigured to encompass both proactive and reactive concerns before as well as after the rollover. It would also need to be reoriented along crisis-oriented lines.

Other ICC Concerns

There are two other concerns regarding the ICC that need to be mentioned here:

1) There are apparently no contingency plans for the ICC in the event that Y2K proves to be more serious than a 2 or 3 on the Y2K impact scale. The failure to have such contingency plans seems to be a major oversight.

2) Actions of the ICC, indeed, of most all agencies planning on tracking the unfolding events at the time of the rollover, do not appear to be focusing first and foremost on taking actions that directly serve the public good, promote the general welfare, and ensure the security of the nation. They seem primarily concerned with chronicling unfolding events. It is almost as if they are more interested in seeing what the outcome might be rather than in doing anything to prevent or minimize the impacts. Some attention needs surely needs to be given to tracking what has gone wrong after the fact. However, in a crisis situation, preventive measures and early intervention can be critical in minimizing overall impacts and losses. When lives are at stake, when public health and safety is at risk and when environmental sustainability is in jeopardy, It is foolhardy to overlook preventive measures and early intervention.

In a Complex, Cascading Emergency, What Difference Does It Make What Happened First and Why: What Are Our Priorities?

Whether or not a disruption or a disaster or a catastrophe is traceable to squirrels, crows, Y2K, embedded systems, weather, cyberterrorists, or regular terrorists is a bit of a moot point when it comes to doing something to ensure that the public prepares for any of a range of eventualities. It is also a moot point when it comes to making sure that emergency services prepare and respond in a way that designed to save lives and aid in the recovery process. It is also a moot point when it comes to early intervention in keeping an emergency situation from worsening. If efforts were more proactively focused now, they would include attention to prepositioning resources, supplies, and equipment that could be utilized for any of a range of disruptions and disasters. This would seem to be a reasonable course of action. Steps would be taken to ensure that public officials and emergency personnel were fully aware of possible disruptions and disasters and as prepared as possible to address them. The Present Thrust of Information Gathering Efforts

The present thrust of information gathering efforts that are to go into effect during the rollover seem to me to be characterized by several serious oversights.

The first is a failure to separate out the most serious concerns from the relatively trivial. For instance, the breakdown of a certain model ATM system or computer program is trivial when compared with a series of Bhopal or Chernobyl-like catastrophes or refinery and pipeline explosions. Where are our priorities?

A second oversight or flaw in the process has equally significant implications. There seems to be a profound communication gap between those who are involved in the information gathering process and those who are in roles of responsibility who presumably would be taking action on the basis of the information. Splitting the responsibilities is almost a guarantee that the information will be less useful and less helpful than it might have been had information gathering efforts and responsibilities for taking action resided in the same organization.

A third concern is that the process is upside down. The purpose of the government in a crisis should be

~ to prevent it from happening in the first place,

~ to intervene at the earliest possible moment to minimize impacts when prevention has not be possible, and

~ to respond as quickly as possible when neither of these has been accomplished or neither has been possible.

The approach that is being put in place is anything but proactive. It is a fix on failure approach, a reactive approach, one that is geared to acting after the fact, not to making sure that everything is done that can be done to

1) avert problems in the first place OR

2) intervene at that earliest possible manifestation of a problem to make sure that the problem does not become a serious disruption, a disaster, or a catastrophe.

The Uses of Information in a Crisis Situation

A long time acquaintance asked me recently about the tracking that government would be doing at the time of the rollover. As he had shown little interest in Y2K in the past, I asked him why he wanted to know and what did he plan to do with the information. He said that he planned to sell the stocks of the companies he held that feel victim to major problems. I asked him if he realized that the Internet itself might be affected and that instantaneous online trading might not be an option. No, that had not occurred to him. I did not go on to tell him of other parts of the infrastructure that could also be affected making difficult, if not impossible to execute, any plan to modify his portfolio at the last possible minute. It strikes me that his plan of action reflects some of the same problems and shortsightedness as found in the announced plans of action of those who are going to be involved in information gathering. They are failing to appreciate the overall context in which their efforts will be taking place. They are failing to consider how they would need to modify, indeed, would have to modify their plans, if other worst case scenarios emerged.

How Much Can You Do With a Few Hours Warning?

The following article that was reprinted on the Time Bomb 2000 Discussion Forum is illustrative of a major error in judgment evidently being made by at least several people in the highest levels of responsibility for Y2K efforts in the Administration:

[Beginning of Quoted Thread]

"Chinese Nuclear Station To Serve As "Guinea-Pig" For Y2K in France" : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

MARSEILLE, Dec 1, 1999 -- (Agence France Presse) Frances's electricity company EDF will be keeping a close watch December 31 on the Chinese nuclear power station at Daya Bay north of Hong Kong to see whether it experiences any problems linked to the millennium computer bug, officials said Tuesday. - - - He said the Chinese station, built in part by EDF, will in a way serve as a "guinea-pig" allowing officials to see whether its computers mistakenly register 1900 when the year 2000 starts. From Inside China Today

[End of Thread and End of Quoted Material]


When you have a situation in which you don't know exactly what went wrong, such as a situation similar to Three Mile Island or Chernobyl, the length of time needed in order to determine what exactly did go wrong could take far longer than twelve hours.

And what if you were an official at the Chinese nuclear facility and were not in a position (owing to telecommunication problems) to inform those in roles of responsibility at the French nuclear facility of the problems you were having? What if you were not even able to let them know of what you guessed had gone wrong?

Also, figuring out what went wrong would very likely take second place to trying to trying to contain the problem and make sure that it did not get worse. You would be focusing on safeguarding the lives of key personnel and those in the surrounding region likely to be impacted by the problem if it worsened. (The October accident in Japan provides alot of lessons concerning the immediate aftermath of a problem.)

Of course, when it comes to the case of the Chinese nuclear power plant and the French nuclear power plant, one option would be for the French plant to begin shut down operations (assuming word of a problem got to the French plant), but then there would have to be contingency plans that would allow for that to take place safely in a context that might well include other infrastructure disruptions. Often contingency plans do not take such scenarios into consideration. There would also have to be provision for adequate backup generation capacity that would ensure a safe shut down over time. That in turn would depend on keeping an adequate supply of fuel, which also might not have been planned for.

I am afraid that I have seen considerable evidence of an absence of awareness of these kinds of complexities and concerns in the Administration as well as some key Members of Congress.

The Presidents Councils Perspective Changes on Embedded Systems:

In the latter part of October, I talked with two individuals who have been in close touch with the President, the Vice President, and/or the head of the Presidents Council. I am still trying to fully absorb what these two individuals shared with me concerning what is happening and why. What I can say is that it appears that I have given Mr. Clinton too much credit for his level of understanding of the crisis that we are in as a result of Y2K and embedded systems. While it seemed to me that he must have been at least at a personal 3-5 on the impact scale, I now think that it is quite plausible that he is no higher than a 2 or 3. I have the sense that he is, for all intents and purposes, essentially disengaged from the problem known as Y2K! He is truly leaving it in the hands of the person who head the Presidents Council on Year 2000 Conversion. The President is relying on the Chairman of the Council to let him know the status of Federal efforts and whatever else that the Chairman feels that he should know.

[It should be noted that while the President is disengaged from Y2K, he is however apparently deeply concerned about other threats to national security involving cyberterrorism and other forms of terrorism that could also be manifested in the coming few years. Indeed, I believe that it is the case that many of the actions that people are attributing to clandestine preparations by the government for Y2K are actually preparations to defend against various forms of terrorism.]

On November 9, 1999, the Presidents Council and the Office of Management and Budget convened a meeting involving a small group of embedded systems experts. The result of that meeting was reflected in part in a press release that was issued by the Secretary of the Department of Commerce. On the same date, the National Institute of Standards and Technology issued an article that focused on embedded systems issues. The Secretary of Commerce urged that efforts need to be redoubled to test for year 2000 computer problems that are hidden away in a variety of machines other than computers. See and The Chairman of the Presidents Council was questioned about the November 9 meeting at the Press Briefing held on the occasion of the release of the Councils Final Assessment Report at the National Press Club on November 10. A New York Times reporter wrote the following of the exchange that he had with Mr. Koskinen after the formal Press Briefing had concluded.

"Another concern, which Koskinen said he was briefed about on Tuesday at an Office of Management and Budget meeting with computer specialists, is that some computer systems that do not appear to track the date may nonetheless have date-sensitive microchips in them. Those systems also have to be tested and plans must be made to handle breakdowns, Koskinen said." From:

According to an embedded systems expert who is acquainted with Mr. Koskinens change in perspective on this issue combined with my own knowledge of what was determined at the November 9 meeting, the quote should more correctly have read:

"Another concern, which Koskinen said he was briefed about on Tuesday at an Office of Management and Budget meeting with EMBEDDED SYSTEMS specialists, is that some EMBEDDED systems that do not appear to track the date may nonetheless have date-sensitive microchips in them. Those systems also have to be tested and plans must be made to handle breakdowns, Koskinen said."

I would add these major and continuing concerns regarding embedded systems failures. The first is from my Part 2 of my White Paper:

When embedded systems fail, they can fail in a variety of unpredictable ways. Small, seemingly insignificant failures can trigger other system failures." [From Page 40 of Part 2 of my White Paper: "A Call to Action: National and Global Implications of the Year 2000 and Embedded Systems Crisis". See]

I would also add that the timing of the triggering of other system failures cannot be readily predicted since the environment in which the failures are taking place is dynamically changing. Once the failures have occurred and have triggered other failures, the root causes of the initial failure can be hard if not impossible to determine.

Understanding embedded systems is crucial to understanding the crisis nature of the situation that we are in. The absence of understanding of embedded systems has played a major role in the governments approach to addressing Y2K. In my view, the failure of the Administration to recognize from the outset the importance of consequences of the malfunctioning of embedded systems has resulted in an extremely flawed approach to addressing the problem and a failure understand its complexities, along with a failure to recognize the crisis nature of the problem.

The Presidents Council has failed to give adequate attention to the highest risk, highest hazard systems, plants, sites, pipelines, facilities, etc. The Presidents Council has failed to take the action that it should have taken to help ensure that impacts that can be expected as a result of malfunctioning embedded systems in highest hazard, highest risk sites, plants, facilities, systems, pipelines, refineries, etc., etc. would be minimized to the extent humanly possible.

Even with the late recognition concerning the seriousness of embedded systems problems as of the November 9 meeting, no major initiatives involving embedded systems have been apparent on the part of any agencies or departments of the Federal government apart from the statement of the Secretary of the Department of Commerce. The important implications of the November 9 meeting and the subsequent press release and article at the NIST website, seem not to have been recognized or shared with the President, the Secretary of Agriculture or the Secretary of Energy, based on remarks they have made since the November 9 meeting.


I would like to take this opportunity to say (with apologies to Winston Churchill) that I believe this to be the end of the beginning of a very arduous road ahead. I wish us all well and I hope that leadership emerges that will recognizes the challenges and the threats and is up to the tasks.

The Head of the Presidents Council has stated:

"The only thing that could sink the system would be overreaction." []

I would change this statement significantly. I believe that the only thing that will sink the system is the failure of those in roles of public responsibility to comprehend the seriousness of the threats and challenges that face us, understand their complexities, and, most of all, exercise the leadership and take the actions that are needed.

Getting through this crisis will in turn depend on the dedicated and selfless actions of individual citizens who want more than anything to see our extraordinary experiment in freedom survive and flourish.

[For the full set of comments, please see Click on "Comments, Essays, & Op-Ed Pieces]

-- Paula Gordon (, December 03, 1999



I respect you enormously.

On the dawn of December 3, it is now impossible for the government to take short-term steps that would prepare the public or otherwise minimize the problems that we will face. Anything new that they would try would be alarming with no time for the system to recover and adjust.

In my opinion, it's full blast into the wall, and let's see what happens.

Unfortunately, that scenario ups the ante. A 5.5 isn't possible anymore.

-- Dog Gone (, December 03, 1999.

>>>Indeed, I believe that it is the case that many of the actions that people are attributing to clandestine preparations by the government for Y2K are actually preparations to defend against various forms of terrorism.] <<<

Very interesting observation. We shall see. In the meantime, I am staying with my previously mentioned 7....

-- Irving (, December 03, 1999.

I don't see how a 5.5 is possible (given that 5.5 is less than what Yardeni thinks -- which I think is more than a bit optimistic.

Hope these links (mentioned by Paula) work. A bit too much Jose gold this evening I'm afraid. k/keypeople/gordon k/keypeople/gordon ear.html ear.html /y2k/embeddedarticle.htm msg_id=001tno

-- TA (, December 03, 1999.


I too respect your work and efforts tremendously. Well done.

Regarding your statement:

"Getting through this crisis will in turn depend on the dedicated and selfless actions of individual citizens who want more than anything to see our extraordinary experiment in freedom survive and flourish."

My comment as a question:

Have you considered the possibility that these folks, (The powers that be) in reality want to establish a new form of totalitarianism of a global nature, thus requiring the diminishment of the USA? The actions of this administration and others seem to be leading to such future developments. Thus, perhaps, Y2K can be used as a vehicle for achieving such goals. As Gore Vidal said a couple of years ago... "the smell of the Weimar Republic is in the air." Perhaps the Seattle WTO incident is our "kristallnacht" or a foreshadowing of a future "kristallnacht?"


I agree with your assessment completely. It is too late, indeed to fix the problems. All that is left now is contingency planning, and even this is probably too late.

-- R.C. (, December 03, 1999.

Dog Gone,

Oops, I referred to you as Gordon in the above post, but I was referring to you. Sorry about that.

-- R.C. (, December 03, 1999.

Even a 5.5 will suck greatly.

It's too late now.

-- Forrest Covington (, December 03, 1999.

Thanks for the kind words and the many links.

Some comments on the possibility of doing anything now to minimize the impacts and on the amount of emphasis that should be placed on contingency planning:

Y2k and embedded systems-related disruptions and disasters could very well come in waves over the next months and even years. Given the likelihood of such a scenario, why would we want to focus solely on contingency planning? There are opportunities now and will be into the future to apply ourselves to making sure that we are doing everything that can be done to prevent and minimize impacts now and into the future. The "fix on failure" approach is far more costly in all ways by any analysis. Too much is in the balance to gamble on a fix on failure approach. We need to do make sure that everything is done that can be done to prevent and minimize impacts. We need to do this first and foremost in addition to contingency planning. Why should we sit and wait for something to blow up or go awry? There is no sense in that. The smartest strategy would be to make sure that those things that could do the most damage are rendered safe, through remediation, work arounds, or shutdowns.

California is using this kind of triage approach in addressing the chemical sector. California is focusing primary attention on those plants and facilities that could cause the greatest problems. All highest hazard, highest risk sectors need to be addressed in just such a way, now and over the next several years. We need to demand that elected public officials as well as persons in roles of private sector responsibility restructure their efforts and apply the necessary resources to preventing and minimizing impacts, while placing a premium on public health and safety and environmental sustainability.

-- Paula Gordon (, December 03, 1999.

Decision makers can still convince themselves that embedded systems problems are not severe. As long as that is true, they are never going to take the gamble of certain disruptions and costs (by shutting down vital systems) vs. uncertain problems later. To change this balance, you are going to need a smoking gun.

Someone at a chemical plant has to come forward and say "due to unremediated system XYZ, this place will have a catastrophic accident at rollover. We must shut down, and other plants should check for this device to see if they have the same problem as we do." Until that happens, you are just wasting your breath.

-- You Know... (notme@nothere.junk), December 03, 1999.

Paula: I too have great respect for you and your efforts to increase public awareness of the magnitude of the Y2K threat but at this late date (and perhaps for the past couple of years) you've been a voice crying alone in the wilderness.

It is now far too late for anything the government could do (and it's not going to do anything anyway) about Y2K to have any positive effects whatsoever. The train is roaring down the track at full speed; it only remains to see if the bridge is gone or not.

-- cody (, December 03, 1999.

Whether a 5 or a 9.5 there will be ongoing layers of contingency planning, workarounds, remediation and development of new systems, all jumbled together in a confusing heap.

FOF has ALREADY begun.

TEOTWAWKI, if it comes, is not the end of the world but the beginning of another world.

-- BigDog (, December 03, 1999.

Paula : You did all you could. The die is cast. look out for yourself now

-- Noone (, December 03, 1999.

Some additional measures could be taken at rollover than currently seem to be in place. Unfortunately, there is no jurisdiction over the actions of chemical manufacturers or anyone else at rollover. While government could exert more effort to raise awareness, particularly of the smaller companies who won't even respond to surveys, it seems like a pretty futile effort to raise awareness during the holiday season. Heads have been in the sand on this issue for at least three years, and one doesn't become a GI overnight.

But even if some progress can be made there (and every little bit helps), they shouldn't even bother with the public. They've been numbed by the propaganda for so long that their eyes glaze over when Y2K is mentioned. The public will GI if, and only if, they see long lines forming at banks, gas stations, and stores. A new educational effort by the government would only cause those lines to occur.

The government plan is obvious. They looked at the possible outcomes:

1) No severe Y2K problems and no panic

2)No severe Y2K problems, but public panic

3)Severe Y2K problems and no public panic

4)Severe Y2K problems and public panic

Obviously No.1 is best and No.2 should be avoided at all costs. Although it's true that the best way to prevent panic is to encourage preparation, it runs the risk of creating a panic. It certainly might change consumer behavior and upset the marvelous economy.

It appears to me that the government is hoping for a No.1 and preparing for a No.4. That strategy means that they do nothing to raise the awareness of the public before January.

Hit the wall at full speed, and be prepared for what happens. Depending on the outcome, the government will either claim credit or blame others. That's a given.

-- Dog Gone (, December 03, 1999.

Y2K only a 5.5! Yea, and monkeys are going to fly out of my butt, too!

-- Garth (, December 03, 1999.

Thank you again and again Paula.

At this stage in the game, now would be a good time for you to take a well-deserved bow and take care of your family and self.

I sincerely deeply appreciate all the effort you have committed to this problem--and for the people you may never meet. I am personally indebted to you for much of my Y2K education.

If I ever make it to DC, I will shake your hand. Please remember you have many friends praying for you and your family.

Godspeed Paula.

-- (, December 03, 1999.

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