Norman Dean Y2K Speech from GW Univ/Paula Gordon Moderated Program/Cspan : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Here's a transcript of one of the speeches by one of the panelists at that excellent Y2K conference put on by George Washington University that Paula Gordon moderated! =========================================================================

Remarks of Norman L. Dean, Executive Director Center for Y2K and Society Before Y2K Conferences Series George Washington University November 23, 1999

"Im so sick of Y2K."

Thats the line that sticks in my mind from the NBC production "Y2K: the Movie". It was spoken by the 16 year old daughter of the movies hero scientist.

But the line could have been spoken by the majority of the American public. Most people have become sick of Y2K because they no longer believe it to be a serious problem.

Thats hardly surprising; for the past several months, there has been a flood of press releases from government agencies, banks, utilities, and manufacturers reassuring the public that they are Y2K ready. . . that the only thing we have to fear is panic.

The ultimate reassurance came two weeks ago, when President Clinton told us that we do not have to store any food. . . the nations infrastructure will hold. At about the same time, the Presidents Council on Y2K Conversion released its guidelines on personal Y2K preparation and advised us all to prepare  and I quote  "prepare as you would for a long holiday weekend."

"Prepare as you would for a long holiday weekend" is hardly a message to encourage people to take Y2K seriously. It conjures up images of stockpiling chips, dip and champagne rather than food, water and batteries.

Until two weeks ago the governments message was "prepare as you would for a three day winter storm." Which was itself already a weak message.

There are two problems with the governments preparation messages. First, Y2K will be less like a winter storm and more like an El Nino. Y2K will not be a one or a three day event but will stretch through all of 2000 and into 2001. In the most likely scenarios, Y2K will come in waves at unpredictable times with unpredictable consequences.

Second, the current official messages are encouraging a dangerous level of complacency. By trying to reassure the public and avoid panic, the current messages discourage active preparation and aggressive contingency planning.

Despite all of the reassuring messages, the nation is not yet fully prepared for Y2K and additional urgent steps need to be taken. For the next several minutes I will outline the key remaining domestic Y2K issues and recommend actions that should be taken. I will leave it to my colleagues on the panel to discuss the international situation.

So what are the key Y2K problems continuing to face the nation?

Government Benefit Programs. First, it appears increasingly likely that some 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 governments own auditors, 27 states still have not completed Y2K fixes and tests for one or more of the following programs: Medicaid, unemployment, food stamps, child support, and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).

To respond to vulnerabilities in government benefit programs:

Local and state government need to develop and publicize strategies for paying benefits if primary benefit systems fail. For example, state Medicaid programs  the benefit programs most at risk  should pay benefits during the first half of 2000 even if hospitals or doctors cannot submit fully completed claim forms. States should approve presumptive eligibility for these benefit programs, retroactive to December 1999 until systems are proven operational.

Drinking Water. The second problem facing the country is drinking water. The status of the nations 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 nations drinking water plants had completed their Y2K work. The situation is even worse for waste treatment plants.

The City of Detroit yesterday explained what is at stake here while announcing the installation of 44 diesel backup generators:

The loss of our ability to treat and distribute [potable] water because of a power outage could have grave effects on the system. As for water, an interruption in pumping would create air pockets in the pipes that could permit pipeline contamination from groundwater. And, sewage could back up into basements and surface waters. The consequences to the environment, our health, and the machinery in our plants could be devastating.

I recommend:

Every community should be asking whether its drinking water supplier has taken this issue as seriously as the City of Detroit. The federal government should be recommending that individuals store water. Local governments should be educating the public about how to deal with interruptions and store water safely. EPA should request that every state update its emergency drinking water contingency plans to include possible Y2K failures.

Chemical Accidents. There is an increased risk of fires, leaks and explosions at the nations 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 bi-partisan 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. There are at least 66,000 of these facilities nationwide.

To minimize the risk of chemical accidents, we recommend that plants handling highly hazardous chemicals take a "safety holiday" (or shut down) over the New Year. While some chemical plant managers have decided to close their operations over the New Year for safety reasons, the majority has not.

Healthcare. The nations healthcare 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.

On the healthcare front, we recommend that:

Special government programs should be established to monitor and assist the most vulnerable healthcare providers: especially nursing homes and small rural and inner city clinics. Emergency managers should make sure they know where home care patients with electricity-dependent life-critical equipment are and have contingency plans with them in case of electricity problems.

Elective surgery should not be scheduled from December 20th through mid January. Financial support should be given to recovery programs such as that recently announced by Rx2000 to provide timely repair information to medical facilities.

911 Systems. A national survey found that one-half of surveyed 911 systems were not fully Y2K ready as of October 1. Defenders of the defective systems say that callers to many of the systems 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.

We recommend that:

Efforts should be redoubled to fix and test 911 systems.

Communities should be testing manual approaches for how they will handle either partial or complete 911 system failures.

Citizens should be told how to direct dial emergency services or find emergency boxes if 911 systems fail.

Embedded Systems. One of the largest remaining Y2K wildcards is the issue of embedded computer systems. Embedded systems are small computers hidden in everything from manufacturing plants, undersea oil rigs to commercial air conditioners. We know shockingly little about which and how many embedded systems might fail because of Y2K. Just yesterday, Secretary of Commerce Daley urged American businesses to "redouble their efforts" to test for Y2k problems in embedded systems. He did so because his National Institute of Standards and Technology concluded that "it is possible that many important systems have not been tested adequately."

We share the Commerce Departments conclusion that every business should:

Test all critical embedded systems literally from end to end.

Nonprofit Organizations. Small nonprofits provide a wide range of essential community services such as health care, foster care and child care. They run crisis hot lines and food banks. There is mounting evidence that small nonprofits  like small businesses  have not prepared for Y2K. An August survey of Nashville nonprofits found that only 29% had started testing or contingency planning.

We recommend that:

Nonprofits focus greater attention on Y2K and test and repair their critical systems as soon as possible.

Foundations, corporations, and IT professionals should prepare to assist nonprofits whose systems fail early next year.

Recovery. Last but not least, there is the issue of recovery. Very little thought or planning has gone into how we will track Y2K failures and recover from serious Y2K system failures. We need to begin thinking about how to fix broken systems as rapidly and as efficiently as possible. To that end, we recommend:

The life of the federal governments Information Coordination Center, or ICC, should be extended now from the immediate rollover period to all of 2000. Since Y2K failures appear likely to be more chronic than acute, a long-term monitoring effort is needed.

To assist in mobilizing recovery efforts, essential Y2K planning and tracking information should be made publicly available. Already governments are restricting information. Here in the District of Columbia, for example, Y2K contingency plans are a tightly held secret.

All of us hope that Y2K causes little harm. But the best way to assure that happens is to prepare not for a long holiday weekend or three day winter storm but for a long-term chronic problem. Thank you.

1800 K Street, NW, Suite 710 * Washington, DC 20006 * tel: 202 775-3157 * fax: 202 775-3199 *

-- Sheri (, December 05, 1999


Dear Sheri,

Thank you for the kind words and for posting a copy of Norman Dean's excellent panel presentation on November 23.

I thought that people who may not have seen previous announcements might like to know that a video of the panel can be viewed online at the C-SPAN archives. It can also be purchased from C-SPAN. I am attaching some information about the video along with some general information concerning the November Conference Series and the previous Conference in July.

A Y2K Conference Series focusing on high hazard, high risk sectors was held November 10, 12, 19, and 23 at George Washington University in Washington, DC. In addition, also as a part of the series, an evening forum on Y2K was held at the Washington Post. That forum was sponsored by GW University, but hosted by The Washington Post Company.

The November Conference Series aimed at bringing to the attention of public officials, the media, and the general public a wide range of concerns that have been addressed inadequately nationally, as well as globally. The concerns included the highest hazard, highest risk sectors: nuclear power plants, chemical facilities, refineries, oil and gas pipelines, hazardous materials sites and facilities, and water purification and sewerage disposal plants. There were also panels on Food Concerns and on Family and Community Y2K Emergency Preparedness Concerns.

A highlight of the November Conference Series was a panel that took place on November 23. The panel was entitled: Still Needed: National and Global Initiatives Aimed at Minimizing the Impacts of Y2K. This panel was broadcast live by C-SPAN and can now be viewed at Click on WATCH for November 23. Copies of the video are also available from C-SPAN by calling 1-800 277 2698.

A list of participants in the panel included:

Moderator: Paula Gordon, Director of Special Projects, Research Program for Social and Organizational Learning (RPSOL), George Washington University

Panelists: Norman Dean, Director, Center for Y2K and Society

Stuart Umpleby, Professor of Management Science and Director, RPSOL, GWU

The Honorable James Moody, CEO and President, InterAction (former Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Wisconsin)

John Streufert, Information Resources Director, U.S. Agency for International Development

The video of this panel should serve as a helpful introduction to Y2K. For people who have been focusing on Y2K for along time, the video should serve as an excellent update.

Please let public officials, people in the media, friends, family, and associates know that this video can be viewed online or obtained through C-SPAN. From early reports, it has already prove helpful as am educational tool.

A highlight of the panel was Norman Deans sharing of his perspective concerning the nature of the impacts that Y2K can be expected to have: He sait that "Y2K will come in waves at unpredictable times with unpredictable consequences". This strikes me as being one of the most apt descriptions that I have heard concerning what we might anticipate.

Other Y2K Videos

Other informative videotapes of panels and presentations from the July 1999 GW Y2K Conference are also available. Videotapes of all 32 hours of the panels and presentations at the GW Y2K Conference are available from Public Production Group.

To order tapes of any part or all of the July GW U2K Conference, please call 202-898-1808 for further details and ask for Mary Anne or Jereme.

To help identify the tapes that you would like to order, please refer to a copy of the conference agenda that can be found at

Particularly noteworthy sessions included:

~ an embedded systems panel featuring Dr. Gary Fisher of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (co-author of the paper posted by NIST on November 22, 1999) and Dr. Mark Frautschi;

~ a Global Impacts panel featuring the Honorable Jacquelyn Williams-Bridgers, Inspector General of the State Department with an outstanding commentary by Harlan Cleveland, formerly the U.S. Ambassador to NATO;

~ a presentation and exchange featuring Roger Ferguson Jr., Member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System;

~ a presentation and exchange featuring Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio); and

~ an outstanding panel on the topic of Y2K-related nuclear power plant safety concerns. Participants in that panel included representatives from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Nuclear Energy Institute, the Nuclear Information Resource Service, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Selected videos from the July Conference will also soon be available for viewing online at For comments on the conference and copies of prepared statements and related material can be found at

Thanks again,

-- Paula Gordon (, December 05, 1999.

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