LA Times: State Aims to Distinguish Y2K Glitches from Everyday Snafus : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

fair use, educational purposes

State Aims to Distinguish Y2K Glitches From Everyday Snafus
California has emergency crews standing by. The challenge may be in telling whether a systems failure is routine or a computer hiccup.

By JENIFER WARREN, Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO--Pick a day, any day. In California, disaster is bound to strike.

With its crowded conditions, slide-prone slopes and restless tectonic plates, the Golden State is ever imperiled by calamity, from killer quakes to medflies, floods, wildfires--even volcanic eruptions. Beyond that, there's the daily quota of toxic spills, freeway pileups and airplane crashes.

Now comes the dreaded millennium bug, and with it the potential for still more mayhem. Which begs the question: Amid the constant chaos of California, how will we know if New Year's Day disasters are Y2K-related?

"California is the Disneyland of disasters," said Dallas Jones, chief of emergency services for the state. Distinguishing the ordinary from the extraordinary as 2000 dawns "will be a real challenge."

Making that distinction is crucial, officials say, to head off panic. And it will help emergency crews gauge whether a Jan. 1 problem is run-of-the-mill or a Y2K glitch that foretells a crisis.

A Reminder of How Bad Things Are

Toward that end, government officials are gathering baseline information detailing the woes that typically plague our everyday lives. Their reports cover everything from the failure rate of ATMs to statistics on railroad accidents, missing boats, pipeline failures and power outages.

"If we watched the world tomorrow as closely as we will watch Jan. 1, we'd see a whole set of things not working," said John A. Koskinen, President Clinton's Y2K advisor. Knowing ahead of time what those things are will provide a context for millennium snafus and help the public "interpret events appropriately."

Although laudable, it may be one of the most curious public awareness campaigns ever: Remind people how bad things are all the time so they don't freak out if bad things happen New Year's Day.

Psychologists applaud the government's concern about public anxiety, but predict that this particular exercise may be futile. After a year's worth of news stories and other bulletins about the threat posed by the Y2K gremlin, people are primed to blame it for every conceivable problem they encounter around Jan. 1.

"It's all you see in the media. It's in the comic strips; it's everywhere," said Larry Rosen, a professor of psychology at Cal State Dominguez Hills who studies public attitudes toward technology. "The public consciousness is so tuned in to Y2K that officials who try to convince us that a certain problem is unrelated" simply won't sound credible.
Despite the potential skepticism, officials are pressing on. In Washington earlier this month, Clinton's Y2K czar released an intriguing catalog of various snafus that gum up daily life.

A banking survey showed that 1% to 2% of the nation's 227,000 ATM machines either malfunction or run out of cash on any given day. About 10% of credit transactions routinely fail because of equipment breakdowns or user errors. And on a bad day, 1% of all traffic lights turn to flashing.

Transportation Woes Common

Stumbles are common in air and rail transportation as well. An average of 424 commercial flights have been delayed 15 minutes or more on the last five New Year's Days, and there are about four train accidents annually on Jan. 1.
Water, sewer, oil and natural gas delivery systems aren't foolproof either. Southern California got a big reminder of that on Dec. 13, when a 69-inch Metropolitan Water District line ruptured in Irvine, affecting service to 700,000 residents in southern Orange County.

As for power outages, the biggest Y2K worry, U.S. customers typically lose electricity for 13 hours each year, not including failures caused by major storms.
"And there are always outages on New Year's Eve," said John Castagna of the Edison Electric Institute, a trade association in Washington, D.C. The culprit? Vandals who fire guns at transformers and drunk drivers who smash into power poles.

"Unless we see the smashed car and the pole lying in your front yard on New Year's, it will take a little time" to figure out whether the Y2K bug or something more ordinary bears the blame, Castagna said. But utilities will have oodles of extra staff on hand to do just that.

On the local level, the city of Los Angeles has gathered some baseline data of its own, although its effort was far less comprehensive than that undertaken by the White House.

Statistics show that the city water system has six to nine pipe leaks and repairs daily, and that two or three fire hydrants are damaged each day. On average, Los Angeles power systems experience 10 outages daily, and more during storms.

Although it wasn't mentioned in the city's report, a power surge at Los Angeles City Hall last May knocked out a third of the building's electricity, trapping people in elevators for nearly an hour and a half. Bob Canfield, emergency preparedness specialist for Los Angeles, said all of this proves that we don't need the Y2K bug to send things haywire.

"The point is," Canfield said, "every department, every business, has something that goes wrong every day. I have computer problems almost every day and threaten to shoot it or throw it out the window. But it has nothing to do with Y2K.

"People need to keep all of this in perspective and not get panicky if the lights happen to go out."

For California--victim of an endlessly diverse string of disasters, natural and not--this perspective would seem particularly vital. Though the last few years have been relatively calm--except for a 1998 winter freeze that destroyed the navel orange crop and threw thousands of pickers out of work--calm is hardly the norm.

In his first three years in office, former Gov. Pete Wilson issued 27 declarations of emergency covering 56 of the state's 58 counties. "I want to thank you for all the help you gave me to become governor," Wilson used to tell supporters, "and I want you to know that I've almost forgiven you."

Beyond the well-known toll of fires, quakes, riots, droughts, insect invasions and mudslides, California has suffered through a tsunami that killed 12 people in Crescent City, a dam break in Baldwin Hills and a chemical spill from a rail car that wiped out the entire ecosystem on the upper Sacramento River. For a while in the early 1990s, the state was averaging a presidential disaster declaration every four months.

Sometimes, trouble comes calling on New Year's Day. During the opening hours of 1997, for example, rains, heavy runoff and levee failures spawned the so-called New Year's Day Flood. By the time the waters subsided, eight people were dead and the damage had soared to $1.8 billion.

The disaster command post for California is the state Office of Emergency Services Warning Center, housed in an old Army barracks south of the state Capitol. There, dispatchers take phone calls at a horseshoe-shaped desk where they also can monitor weather satellites, earthquake maps, police radios and CNN. Nearby, two hotlines connect the center to the state's nuclear power plants: San Onofre and Diablo Canyon.

Denise Orsel, a dispatcher on duty on a recent afternoon, said a typical day involves calls on everything from hazardous waste spills to missing planes, lost hikers, winter storm warnings, even the occasional suicide attempt. Her job is to record the emergency in a daily log and, if needed, get help--be it a dog team to aid with a missing person search or the Civil Air Patrol crew needed to hunt for an overdue aircraft.

Throughout the New Year's weekend, the center will be on high alert, with extra staff on hand to take reports that ultimately will be available to the public on a Web site. Officials say they will distinguish as quickly as possible whether a particular problem is caused by the Y2K bug, but acknowledge that a time lag is inevitable.
"The first priority will be dealing with the disruption, whatever that may be," said David Lema, Gov. Gray Davis' Y2K advisor. "After that, we'll try to determine if it was normal happenstance or related to Y2K."

Everyday Snafus

Power: Each year, U.S. customers lose power for a total of 13 hours, not including outages caused by major storms.
Automated teller machines: One to two percent of the nation's 227,000 ATMs are down or out of cash at any given time.
Credit cards: Ten percent of all credit transactions fail because of equipment malfunctions or user errors.
911: Jammed lines, switch failures and other equipment problems cause a disruption in service each week.
Pipelines: Pipelines carrying natural gas or other hazardous materials failed an average of 18 times between Dec. 31 and Jan. 4 during the last three years.
Lost boats: An average of 57 search-and-rescue missions are launched in December and January by the Coast Guard, many due to the failure of navigational devices.
Airplanes: There were 424 commercial flights delayed 15 minutes or more on the last five New Year's Days.
Railroads: More than four train accidents occur annually on New Year's Day.
Source: President Clinton's Council on Year 2000 Conversion

copyright 1999 LA Times

-- kermit (, December 26, 1999


So the second time 911 fails next week, it's due to Y2K

-- worried (, December 26, 1999.

Yep, bad stuff happens all over the Golden State all the time. When you have a state as big and populous as this, it's a good bet that something pretty weird is happening somewhere in it almost every day. I can't stand watching LA TV news, since it's usually packed with car crashes and/or drive-bys.

However... A bit of history for y'all:

Governor Late in Getting Started, Has No Answers for Lawmakers


Author: Associated Press

...As is becoming typical of the Davis administration, the governor kept control of his Year 2000 plan in his office. His staff director, Vince Hall, was named chairman of the Year 2000 Executive Committee that will coordinate all fixing projects. Davis' new chief information technology officer, Elias Cortez, is under Hall.

"All public communications regarding California's Year 2000 status and the impact to state programs and citizens will originate in the governor's office,'' said Davis' plan.

Davis' team appeared last week before a legislative budget subcommittee, right after the auditor's report was released. The lawmakers repeatedly asked Cortez and David Lema, who handled the Year 2000 issue for Davis' transition team, how ready the state is.

"There is no precise answer where we are,'' Lema replied, explaining that Davis' team just that day began reassessing all the mission-critical systems identified by the Wilson administration...

See, they really started about 10 months ago, friends. One of the biggest Y2K remediation programmes in the country had no proper executive support until early March. We are asked to believe that they got everything important squared away in about 8 months time, since they declared victory earlier this month. It seems a bit unlikely, doesn't it?

My sense is that the current drumbeat about "bad stuff always happens" is simply perception management from Governor Davis, as supplied by Mr. Koskinen and the Rendon Group.

-- Mac (sneak@lurk.hid), December 26, 1999.

Mac - I know there were some problems with the Franchise Tax Board, but they seem to have kept it out of the newspapers. Check your tax returns next year. I have heard of other systems with corrupted data bases, but not life threatening.

But if you read this article, most of what it talks about is not California State services - it is banks and 911 and ATM machines - private industry and local government.

-- cant say (x@x.not), December 27, 1999.

Surprisingly well-written article...thanks for posting it.


Yes -state and local governments (school boards, counties, the very small cities (not enough budget and people), and the very big cities(old, very big systems, entrenched workers, little turnover, old infrastructure)) are the most likely to have failures. Medium cities (because they have enough budget to do the job, and a small enough "job" to do so that they can actually complete remediation in time) are the most likely government systems and taxes to manage.

-- Robert A Cook, PE (Marietta, GA) (, December 27, 1999.

HEY!! Wait a sec! I thought they said everthing was fixed! How could there be *ANY* Y2K related problems if everything is fixed? Wait, you mean they weren't telling the truth? How could that be? Our goverment wasn't telling us the truth? Say it ain't so!!


-- TECH32 (TECH32@NOMAIL.COM), December 27, 1999.

Just a small example of the state's efforts in Y2K remediation (or, to be fair, communicating about it):

CA Dept. of Education Y2K Site

Note the statement at the bottom about the site being "updated often and continuously", and the date of the last update. Must be using the geological definition of "often"...

-- Mac (, December 27, 1999.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ