Y2K Fixes Cost Billions, With Real Test To Come (San Jose Mercury News)

greenspun.com : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Some interesting tidbits.


Published Sunday, December 5, 1999, in the San Jose Mercury News

Fixes cost billions, with real test to come



[Fair Use: For Educational/Research Purposes Only]

WILL THE airplanes plummet? Will the automatic toilets flush? Will the heart machines stop beating?

The troops battling the Y2K bug are on the verge of finding out whether the countless hours of hard work and billions of dollars spent attacking the notorious computer glitch have been enough. Even the most confident are still holding their breath, wondering whether -- and where -- the Y2K bug may strike.

With the exception of some hardy survivalists, nobody seems to be predicting utter chaos, at least in the United States. Come Jan. 1, the smart money is betting that the lights will work, automatic teller machines will spit out cash, telephones will ring and airplanes will stay in the sky.

In the Bay Area, local governments have greatly improved their odds by spending millions of dollars to upgrade computer systems that run everything from the 911 system to traffic lights. They say emergency services, police, jails, social services, airports and schools will be operational. State officials say they've finished fixing all of their critical systems.

Still, Y2K experts say some areas are more likely than others to suffer glitches. The health care field has been slow to react and may face everything from equipment failures to billing problems. Also at risk are smaller regional airports, small and medium-size businesses, cargo ships, municipal and cooperative power systems and some federal government programs like food stamps and Medicare.

The problem is that no one knows for sure what will happen because no one knows how the computer chips that run everything from your refrigerator to the office elevator will react to the date change -- especially when many chips must work together in complex systems like airplanes and power plants.

The stakes are high. An estimated $311 billion will have been spent by the end of the year trying to prevent Y2K problems.

``We see no potential for widespread disruption in this country,'' said Dale Vecchio, the Gartner Group's research director for Y2K. ``But we shouldn't get too complacent yet. It ain't over 'till it's over. And it ain't over.''

Risks not clear

Views differ on what still needs to be fixed

The problem with assessing the risk from Y2K is that there aren't uniform definitions for terms like ``mission critical'' or ``compliant.'' Many of the best minds can look at the same data and disagree about whether something is ready for Y2K or not.

Take the Federal Aviation Administration. The folks in charge of the friendly skies say everything is OK. Many high-profile Y2K officials in government and private business have scheduled midnight flights as a vote of confidence in the systems.

Enter U.S. Rep. Stephen Horn, R-Lakewood, who has become the Y2K grinch in the eyes of many federal officials. Last month, the House Committee on Government Reform, chaired by Horn, issued a report saying the FAA isn't ready. The problem: It hasn't finished testing all its integrated systems and communications networks.

FAA officials say he's wrong. ``The FAA is ready to go,'' said spokesman Paul Takemoto.

The federal government in general should be fine, though Horn has singled out some other areas for criticism. His committee said 18 ``high-impact'' federal programs are in danger of failure, including food stamps, child nutrition programs, student loan programs, Medicare and Medicaid, and public housing programs.

The Office of Management and Budget says Horn's information is out of date and that 99 percent of the federal government's ``critical'' systems are fixed.

This kind of Y2K food fight can be found in many areas.

In the shipping industry, companies insist that systems that run everything from navigation to billing are ship-shape. The U.S. Coast Guard is more skeptical and has ordered operators to file reports about any vessel planning to enter a U.S. port on Dec. 31 or Jan. 1.

The Coast Guard aims to weed out the riskiest ships and order them to stay anchored offshore from a port or let tugboats guide them safely to a berth, says Capt. Richard Tinsman, the Coast Guard's Y2K program director.

Big businesses also have spent billions getting their systems ready, including the financial services industry, which alone has spent about $6 billion on fixes, according to the Gartner Group, a leading consultant on Y2K issues. Banks are considered to be one of the sectors best prepared, thanks to early prodding from the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Reserve.

A bigger problem could be smaller businesses that don't have the resources or the savvy to deal with the problem. But even here, Vecchio said, any problems are likely to be sporadic and not have wide impact on the economy.

Closer to home, upgrades appear to running smoothly. State officials have pronounced state systems 97 percent ready, with Gov. Gray Davis predicting they will be 100 percent ready by the end of the year. This includes a survey of 160 state entities.

``We dug out all the issues and have put the fixes in place,'' said Elias Cortez, chief of the state's Department of Information Technology.

The main worries are about systems that connect with local and county agencies. But Cortez said there are contingency plans in place. The state has also created a ``Follow the Sun'' program with California-based multinational corporations, which will provide worldwide updates about Y2K problems that state officials may not have anticipated.

But the state is also interested in the effects on other countries because foreign trade is so critical to the California economy. Analysts are especially concerned about whether China, India and Russia have done enough to mitigate any problems.

``We're more dependent on foreign trade than any other region in the world,'' said Lon Hatamiya, secretary of the state's Trade and Commerce Agency.

Local concerns

Critical systems OK but isolated bugs remain

In the Bay Area, agencies that provide critical services such as water delivery, emergency dispatching, traffic signals, and police and fire dispatching say they have fixed their systems or found ways to work around problems.

Los Altos discovered too late that it would need a new police and fire dispatching system. Instead of rushing to replace it and retrain its dispatchers before the date change, the city decided to stick with its old system and begin using a new Y2K-compliant system in January.

In the meantime, workers can manually change dates from 19 to 20 so that case numbers, which are based on the year in which an incident occurred, come out right. The system wasn't worth fixing because the company that makes it has been out of business for three years. But the glitches will not keep the system from operating.

More than a year after it began using what it thought was a Y2K-compliant payroll system, Santa Clara County was told by the supplier, PeopleSoft Inc. of Pleasanton, that the system needed an upgrade to make it through the rollover. County workers scrambled to complete the work, and the new system is now in use.

This month, the county is finishing the last of its Y2K work: testing the computerized interfaces between agencies to make sure they can still communicate after the date change. The county has 141 interfaces, 24 of which were deemed critical and in need of checking. Just seven remain to be tested.

Local government preparations for the year 2000 have cost millions of tax dollars and consumed thousands of hours of staff time. It's been a boon for information technology departments looking to upgrade aging systems. Some cities, such as Milpitas and Santa Clara, have replaced most of their major systems in preparation for Y2K. Each city spent more than $20 million on the replacements.

The possibility, however remote, of widespread failures also forced local agencies to revisit their disaster plans, conduct emergency drills and store away extra supplies in the unlikely event of shortages.

``The preparation for that event is really beyond anything I've ever seen from a long-range planning perspective,'' said Scott Vermeer, police chief of Menlo Park, which held several meetings with the public to allay fears about possible Y2K problems.

Health care industry

South Bay hospitals updated equipment

Health care and hospitals nationally have generally lagged behind in preparations, in part because no leaders in the industry tried to galvanize efforts, according to Gartner's Vecchio. Indeed, Rep. Horn's report said only 40 percent of health care systems are compliant.

However, South Bay hospitals have conducted massive inventories, research and testing of their medical equipment to find out what could have problems. Good Samaritan Hospital alone had 11,000 different items to check. ``It's been an amazing process,'' said Darrel Neuenschwander, the hospital's chief financial officer.

South Bay hospitals operated by Stanford University, Kaiser Permanente, Santa Clara County and the Veterans Administration all said they have fixed or replaced the equipment that needed updating. Perhaps a greater concern at this point is how many people will be injured on New Year's Eve.

``Last year, the emergency rooms were hopping,'' said Per Schenck, the health and safety coordinator for Stanford Hospital. ``Every New Year's Eve, the emergency rooms are very, very busy. The question is how busy are they going to be this year?''

Hospitals say they will have extra staff on hand. The county also has made arrangements to have extra ambulances and paramedics for three days before and after Jan. 1.

Local airports also say they've completed their Y2K fixes and have conducted extensive tests. Oakland International Airport tested its emergency generator power in October while an America West plane landed. Everything worked, even the ticket dispensers in the parking lots.

The biggest unknown for every big system is how it will respond to a few chips or software programs malfunctioning because of Y2K.

Commerce Secretary William M. Daley last month urged corporate America to refocus their Y2K efforts on these embedded systems, many of which have not been tested adequately.

``Ferreting out all the Y2K connections in the systems that run manufacturing plants, provide services to consumers and control a host of operations that we all rely on is a tough job. We urge businesses to be especially vigilant in testing embedded systems,'' he said.

Checking it out Air base field test finds low failure rate

One big test of how a community might be affected by Y2K was an experiment last spring by the Air Force at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss.

Col. Michael C. Marro, deputy director of the Year 2000 Office for the Air Force, said that as a test, his troops reset the date on every embedded processor they could find to make the chips think that it was near the end of December 1999. More than 7,500 devices were tinkered with all over the base, from telephone switches, VCRs and traffic lights all the way down to the pin-setting machines at the bowling alley.

When all those chips thought it was Jan. 1, technicians were braced for the worst, thinking that they might see a 15 percent failure rate, said Marro, known as ``Millennium Mike'' to colleagues. ``The actual number was 2 to 4 percent. There were no power problems. The elevators weren't affected. Traffic lights worked, 911 worked, telephones worked,'' he said.

Just a handful of minor problems occurred, including a glitch in a security system that was supposed to display a map showing where an alarm had been triggered. The Y2K bug meant that when the alarm went off, a text description of the location was displayed on the monitor instead of the map. The system vendor quickly provided a patch that solved the problem, he said.

``We know that there are a lot of embedded systems out there,'' he said, ``but now we also know that very few of them are going to fail in a significant way. And when they do fail, there's almost always a simple workaround.''


Contact Chris O'Brien at cobrien@sjmercury.com or at (408) 920-5464. Contact Laura Kurtzman at lkurtzman@sjmercury.com or at (408) 343-4524.

Mercury News Staff Writer David L. Wilson and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

-- Diane J. Squire (sacredspaces@yahoo.com), December 05, 1999


All the main SJ Merc stories and sidebars:

Special Report: Y2K Survival Guide: San Jose Mercury News: Sunday, December 5, 1999

http:// www.sjmercury.com/special/mill/y2kprep/

See also... an interesting graphic, from the front page of the Business section:

http://www.sjmercury.com/special/mill/y2kprep/ 120599impact.htm

And other TBY2K forum threads posted (so far):

Y2K Home Preparation: Officials Worry That Residents Are Not Ready (San Jose Mercury News)

http://www.greenspun.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg.tcl?msg_id= 001vpd

Valley's New Year's Mix: Work And Play; High-Tech: Workers On Y2K Duty To Be Offered A Fun Atmosphere -- Minus Booze (San Jose Mercury News )

http://www.greenspun.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg.tcl?msg_id= 001vra

Y2K Financial Advisers' Bottom Line: Stay Cool (San Jose Mercury News)

http://www.greenspun.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg.tcl?msg_id= 001vrt

For VCRs And The Like, 1972 Is The Quick, Easy Y2K Solution [Also... Rick Cowles & Embedded Systems] (San Jose Mercury News)

http://www.greenspun.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg.tcl?msg_id= 001vsH

Y2K Fixes Cost Billions, With Real Test To Come (San Jose Mercury News)

http://www.greenspun.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg.tcl?msg_id= 001vzz

-- Diane J. Squire (sacredspaces@yahoo.com), December 05, 1999.

Steve Hartsman posted 11-26-99 10:47 PM CT (US) ---------------------------------------------------------------------- ---------- Dec. 1st (or 2nd) will be a Y2k "event horizon" for all 30-day look- ahead programs. There are many such programs compared to Fiscal Year End and longer term look-ahead programs. Expect failures to escalate rapidly. Expect cpr to ignore each and every one.

-- df (a@w.l), December 05, 1999.

"The actual number was 2 to 4 percent."

OK, I'm an idiot.........What does this mean??????????

-- CP (Spoonman@prodigy.net), December 05, 1999.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ