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COUNTDOWN TO Y2K
A survey of expert opinions shows that just a few weeks away from the New Year, there still isn't a consensus as to what -- if anything -- could happen.
GUY DIXON The Globe and Mail Monday, December 13, 1999
Dec. 31, 11:59 p.m. The lights are on. The house is secure and the neighbourhood looks like it always does on a winter evening. Your money, so far as you know, is safe in the bank and your business still standing. Everything seems fine.
The seconds tick down. You smile at your spouse or friends or gaze into the night and, perhaps like many of us, start to wonder . . . 10 . . . 9 . . . 8 . . . what are the odds . . . 7 . . . 6 . . . 5 . . . that things are about to go horribly wrong?
Despite the billions of dollars spent testing and retesting for any potential problems computers may have in reading the year 2000, those who have been ringing the warning bells are still doing so, less than a month before everyone breaks into Auld Lang Syne.
A seasoned chief economist in New York gives a 5-per-cent possibility of a worst-case scenario after the new year rings in, with the chance of a prolonged slide into economic depression lasting maybe two to five years, heralded by blackouts, a falling stock market, perhaps social and political upheaval.
The problem, which economist Edward Yardeni at Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown in New York and a host of others have worked so hard to bring to the world's attention, is that a number of older computer programs, if gone unchecked, will mistakenly read the year 2000 as 1900, possibly causing disruptions in our computerized society.
The scenarios of Y2K problems have run from the benign, such as a misread cheque or bill payment, to the blockbuster, like city services shutting down. Most people predict only minor glitches, if anything, but no one is 100-per-cent sure, hence the odds some are giving to potential problems.
Mr. Yardeni seemed to intimate recently that he had cast aside his dire warnings and continued skepticism about the last-minute, Y2K fix-it efforts. Not so, he clarified the following day, as he restated his view that there's a chance of some economic trouble ahead.
As one of the most visible Y2K town criers, he did, though, amend his predictions a little bit in recent weeks, giving just slightly improved odds: 30 per cent for a more modest recession lasting six months, and a slightly reduced 35-per-cent chance of a bigger, global recession running six months to a year.
There are far worse predictions out there. The Internet, true to form, is a hive of apocalyptic warnings, year 2000 rants and personal jabs. On the one hand, there are joke sites with Dilbert-like scenarios of poor Y2K management. On the other, are the doomsday Web pages with religious overtones.
And then there are government agencies and business groups, presenting a much more benign picture of Y2K compliance. Canada's banks, the focus of most people's worries, say they are prepared. Ottawa is taking extra measures, just in case, and is providing numerous aids for small businesses to check their computer systems.
The prognoses of Y2K watchers have generally improved with New Year's Eve fast approaching, but as the countdown begins, there may be some people deciding to toast in the millennium with powered milk.
Here's what some of the most closely followed Y2K observers have been saying: Ottawa
September, 1997, Industry Canada's Task Force Year 2000: "More than half of Canadian businesses surveyed by Statistics Canada reported they had taken no action to prepare for Y2K. It became a rallying cry for government and private-sector action." At the time, task force chairman Jean Monty, head of Montreal-based BCE Inc., added: "The Statistics Canada survey confirms that the situation in Canada on business preparedness for the year 2000 technological problem is serious and must be addressed urgently. Our competitiveness is at stake and time is running out.
December, 1998, Auditor General Denis Desautels on Y2K: "I am very concerned that many essential government services may be interrupted at the start of 2000. Work on the systems supporting these services is falling behind in an already tight schedule."
February, 1999, final Statscan survey on Y2K preparedness: "In general, most businesses and organizations said they had taken at least some steps to prepare their systems. Respondents also reported they were confident that their organizations would be ready in time for the year 2000, and most organizations expected to be ready before the end of September, 1999. Preparations, however, generally remained a work-in-progress, and some organizations were not planning to finish until the last quarter of the year."
November, 1999, Paul Thibault, federal co-ordinator for Y2K contingency planning: "I don't want to be evasive about this, but I do want to be clear that we aren't anticipating any major disruptions." The White House
July, 1998, President Bill Clinton on Y2K: "Now, this is not one of the summer movies where you can close your eyes during the scary parts."
November, 1999, the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion: "Thanks to the extraordinary efforts that have been made to prepare systems for the year 2000, it is unlikely that there will be major national failures or breakdowns in the United States related to the date change," said council chairman John Koskinen in his final report on Y2K preparedness.
"The most recent data reinforces much of what we have been seeing for the past few months. Vital industries, including finance, power, transportation telecommunications, and oil and gas, are expected to make a successful transition to the new century."
President Clinton added: "The report shows that our hard work in this country is paying off. And while there is more to do, I expect we will experience no major national breakdowns as a result of the year 2000 date change." Peter de Jager
The Brampton, Ont., computer consultant and Y2K specialist, on his Web site in January, 1997: "Unless they are fixed . . . all computer programs . . . everywhere in the world . . . will go on strike on Jan. 1, 2000. . . . Can you imagine . . . just for a moment . . . the chaos this would cause?"
"There would be no air traffic, no traffic lights, no lights in your company, companies could not produce goods, no goods delivered to the stores, stores could not send you bills, you could not send bills to anyone else. Business would come to a halt."
December, 1999: "It required a tremendous amount of ranting and raving to finally get people's attention, to say 'listen, up, there is an issue here,' " Mr. de Jager said. "We finally got over our denial that it was an issue. We are finally treating it with respect. And I believe that, for the most part, we have put the worst of the scenarios behind us." Edward Yardeni
The New York-based Mr. Yardeni, September, 1997: "The year 2000 problem is a serious threat to the global economy. Yet it isn't being taken seriously enough . . . The more I read, the more convinced I am that some economic disruptions are inevitable."
November, 1999, in an interview at the end of the month: "The world clearly wants to believe this will be a total non-event. My problem is I really didn't expect I would be this visible on this issue at this time. I figured by now there would be a lot of other people working on the issue," adding that he didn't think he still had to be so careful with his remarks concerning Y2K.
November, 1999, in his latest year 2000 report issued the same day as the interview: "My final answer is that Y2K will be an event. I still assign a 70-per-cent probability to a Y2K-recession scenario. But I am a reasonable fellow. I can't ignore the fact that just about every IT [information technology] pro and Y2K policy official is optimistic that it will be a nonevent. I'm skeptical, but I'm not inflexible. So I am moderating my outlook for the severity of the recession." Edward Yourdon
The Massachusetts-based computer consultant and writer, September, 1999, on his Web site: "Even 1997 was too late for most companies to start their Y2000 project with much hope for success; a company starting in 1998 has no choice but to use a triage strategy in order to keep at least its mission-critical systems running. Meanwhile, Wall Street remains, for the most part, sound asleep . . ."
November, 1999: "For those who keep Emailing me to see if my opinion has changed because of some great cosmic insight in the past 24 hours, the answer is 'no.' " Bay Street and Wall Street
December, 1999, the Canadian Bankers Association's current prognosis: "Canada's banks have evaluated, updated and successfully completed intensive testing and re-testing of their systems. This means you can expect that banking services, including automated banking machines, credit card systems, debit card payments, as well as computer and telephone banking services, will be operating as usual in the new millennium."
September, 1999: "We are pleased to inform you that Goldman Sachs & Co. is 'Year 2000 ready.' In this regard, we have completed all Year 2000 testing and implementation with respect to our systems . . ." the giant investment bank said in a letter to the U.S. National Association of Securities Dealers. Gary North
The Y2K alarmist, reportedly taking shelter with his family in Arkansas, August, 1999; from one of his pages on the Internet entitled Cities Will Burn: "It will be cold in January. Someone in every city will do something stupid to keep warm if power goes off for 72 hours. Fires will begin. How will they end? We have relied on water pressure to protect our cities from fire. Without electrical power, pressure will drop. Then what?"
-- Mild Mannered Reporter (firstname.lastname@example.org), December 13, 1999
-- (no email@example.com), January 09, 2000.