24 Time Zones - December 31st

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-- Linkmeister (link@librarian.edu), December 27, 1999


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24 Time Zones, 24 Shots at Y2K Disaster

Monday, December 27, 1999



While all but a few jet-setters will experience the arrival of the millennium only once, at the magic ring-of-the-bell moment at midnight, the wired world's interlinked computer systems will note the beginning of 2000 some 24 times.

The wired world, of course, is also the worried world of "Y2K." The computer-speak for year 2000 refers to the problems stemming from the shorthand used in computer code. Programmed without reference to centuries, many computers could confuse 2000 with 1900 on New Year's Eve, garbling data or even shutting down systems from cash registers to electrical power grids. Maybe. Or maybe not.

How well the world will fare remains the subject of great speculation and billions of dollars in last-minute fixes. But the ultimate test will be a 24-hour show, effectively beginning in New Zealand where 2000 begins when it is just 6 a.m. Dec. 31 in New York. The Hawaiian Islands, where midnight comes six hoursafter the ball drops in Times Square, will be the last area of significant population to usher in the next millennium. Between the date rollovers in Auckland and Honolulu, utility executives, civil defense authorities, corporate computer managers and some 170 "Y2K czars" around the world will be watching each step of the arriving millennium - partly out of curiosity and partly as early warning vigil.

Marcos Ozorio de Almeida, the Y2K coordinator for Brazil, will begin his day Dec. 31 at 8 a.m. in the capital of Brasilia - midnight in New Zealand. He plans to be tuned to CNN and other round-the-globe news broadcasts. He'll be linked to the United Nations' Y2K management center in Washington, D.C. All the major Brazilian embassies in the world will be on alert and in constant communication. And his command post will be stocked with reams of technical manuals and data files about the makes and models of more than 1,000 pieces of equipment used in basic utilities, power infrastructures and telecommunications grids around the world.

"It's not so much that we believe we can fix anything in the 10 or 15 hours warning we might have from a failure in the eastern hemisphere," said de Almeida. "It is more that we might be able to learn some things from Malaysia's or India's early experience that will help us manage."

He noted, for example, that most of Brazil's power is hydroelectric and the generation equipment is primarily made by three manufacturers: Siemens of Germany, General Electric Co. of the United States and Swiss-Swedish firm Asea Brown Boveri. If systems made by any of those manufacturers should fail or falter elsewhere, de Almeida will attempt to take any similar systems in Brazil off-line and rely solely on those systems that perform through the rollover.

"Or we may be able to do non-technical kinds of things, such as try and get ready if we see a rush to buy foodstuffs occurring somewhere else," de Almeida said.

At the other end of the vigil's continuum, de Almeida's New Zealand counterpart, David Henry, has a different set of challenges as the first major populated area to experience the year 2000. He'll have no early technical inkling of what to expect. New Zealand, with an aggressive Y2K preparedness program, however, is considered to be among countries in the best shape. Which means his responsibility is to try and quickly tell the world just how he is faring.

The international media is making plans for a major encampment on his doorstep. His office and staff will be monitoring all the major power, banking and telecommunications facilities in New Zealand. Beginning a few hours before midnight locally, Henry and his staff will be issuing status reports every half-hour with the hope that the information will be helpful to those following him into the millennium.

"We hope we can be helpful and we're confident about our own preparedness," Henry said. "But there are no guarantees that things will go perfectly."

The nerve center for the international vigil, meanwhile, will be in Washington, where the U.N.-sponsored International Y2K Cooperation Center will be attempting to track events in 170 countries and post status reports to a Web site at www.iy2kcc.org.

But don't expect the early reports to be all that dramatic, cautioned Bruce McConnell, the agency's director.

The nature of the glitch is such that Y2K problems may be slow in appearing, McConnell said. Power generation, for example, doesn't rely much on computer technology, so problems could come later: in software that tracks loads, in billing systems and other secondary elements of the system. So, too, with other kinds of systems, problems could accumulate or occur days, weeks or even months later.

But repairs, upgrades and contingency planning around the world continue apace, and McConnell thinks things will largely be fine.

Just in case, though, the U.S. Agency for International Development is topping off overseas emergency food caches in case problems necessitate a rush of aid. The State Department has equipped every embassy in the world with portable generators and satellite phone systems.

"My prediction is that what we are going to see is not very much. I think the world will get an interesting geography lesson in watching this unfold but that's about it," McConnell said. "But you can't afford not to be prepared. n What About Utah?

Tuesday, The Salt Lake Tribune examines how Utah plans to handle any Y2K problems.


-- Linkmeister (link@librarian.edu), December 27, 1999.

Yes, I've always been a real fan of the official local government officials whose Y2K policy is highlighted by references to the tremendous advantage we have, here in Hawaii, to see what the rest of the world is experiencing. Then, ostensibly, we can order enough food and supplies and create sufficient on-the-spot contingency plans for our unsuspecting population.

As if.

-- Sara Nealy (keithn@aloha.net), December 27, 1999.

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