GW Panel Program on Past and Current Y2K & Embedded Systems Problems (Wednesday Evening, February 9) : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

The following is an announcement concerning a panel program that will be held in Washington, DC on February 9. This will be the first in a series of three programs. The other two programs will be scheduled for March and April. All are welcome to attend.

I am also attaching a recent posting of mine to TB 2000 to provide an idea of issues that I will be addressing as one of the panelists. These comments were posted on the 2/3/2000 thread on Jamaica's remediation efforts. The thread included a copy of an article by Rajiv Chandrasekaran that appeared in the Washington Post.

First the announcement of the program and then the excerpt of that thread.



WHAT: In its first panel program of the New Year on Y2K computer and embedded systems problems, GW's Y2K Group will discuss the problems that have occurred since January 1, 2000. Reports on 6000 problems were received by the Federal government's Information Coordination Center in the first five days of the New Year alone. Panelists will also discuss ongoing problems and problems that can still be anticipated. The panel will address the following questions: What has happened to date? What is happening now? What is likely to happen on February 29th? What are the next months likely to bring?

WHEN: Wednesday, February 9, 2000, 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

WHERE: The George Washington University, Funger Hall, Room 103 (Auditorium), 2201 G Street, NW, Washington, D.C. (Foggy Bottom/GWU Metro; Orange or Blue Line)


Participants on the panel will include persons who have focused on global, national, and local Y2K concerns. Participants include:

~ Bruce Webster, Co-Chair, Washington DC Y2K (WDCY2K) Group and Y2K/Systems Failure Practice, Dispute Analysis & Investigations Group, Price Waterhouse Coopers, LLP

~ Robert S. Wright, Systems Engineering Division, Y2K Operations Center, Computer Sciences Corporation,

~ Stuart Umpleby, Professor of Management Science and Director, Research Program for Social and Organizational Learning (RPSOL), The George Washington University

~ Paula Gordon, Director of Special Projects, RPSOL, and Visiting Research Professor, GW

The panel is free and open to the public.

Broadcast media should contact Matt Nehmer, GW Public Affairs Office, at 202 994 6467 concerning logistical arrangements.



This report by Rajiv Chandrasekaran is a very interesting one and adds to our understanding of why some countries seemed to fare so much better than had been predicted. The report did not, however, address some other key related issues. The report did not indicate the major difficulties that remain in assessing many other aspects of what happened domestically as well as globally. It also failed to acknowledge the difficulties in assessing what is happening now.

I will try to describe some of these other "pieces of the puzzle" briefly here and later in public meetings as well as in material to be posted soon on my website at In the meantime, here are some of the key issues:

I. The Public is Still in the Dark Concerning What Happened and What is Happening.

On the one hand, only a fraction of the problems that occurred and that are occurring have been either widely reported or received more than cursory attention in the media. This has left most people who tend not to be following developments on the web with the impression that there were and are far fewer failures than is case.

II. Initiatives that Decreased Actual Failure Rates Abroad.

And on the other hand, there were actions taken behind the scenes that helped minimize infrastructure disruptions. These were actions beyond the kinds of actions noted in the Post article. (I have discussed the "powering down" of the infrastructure in my January 17 "Comments and Impact Ratings" piece in the "Comments" section at my GW website and will not include it again here.) Some of the actions that are noted below in Item II are continuing.

I. The Public is Still in the Dark Concerning What Happened and What is Happening

A few of the reasons that the public does not know about the majority of the failures that occurred and are occurring are as follows:

A) The term "failure" has often been redefined. Do you remember the African nation in the first few days after the rollover that revealed that they had had a failure, but they had not reported it as a failure because they implemented their contingency plan immediately. This, it turns out, was not an isolated incident of unreported failures.

Many of those reporting tended to redefine the word "failure" to mean "reportable failure". Failures were not necessarily reported if contingency plans were implemented. Implementation of contingency plans could include:

~ taking a system offline and/or shutting the system, the plant, utility, or the pipeline, etc., down, and

~ going to manual, and/or

~ implementing some other "work around".

Such "failures" were not technically considered to be "failures" and were not reported or not reported fully. When and as the list of failures in the U.S., as well as failures around the globe becomes widely known, many people may well be quite surprised to find how many incidents were kept and are being kept from them.

According to one authoritative source, there were over 6000 reports to the Information Coordination Center in the first five days of the New Year alone. This probably represents a tenth or less of the failures that actually occurred and a far smaller fraction of the number of problems that have become evident after the first five days of the New Year and that still appear to be on the rise in early February.

B. Getting the true story out can be risky. Those who know what has occurred or is occurring in a company, plant, a government organization, etc., etc, may be find themselves in one of two positions:

~ keeping that information internal to the organization or

~ disclosing that information internally and/or externally.

Internal disclosure (if the problems are not known by upper management) can result in the "messenger" being "shot". Anyone who has been the bearer of bad news in an organization, may be all to familiar with this kind of reaction. Of course, it does not apply to all organizations. Some organizational cultures encourage open communication and the sharing of bad news. When the stakes get very high, however, that too can change. The stakes can involve a company's bottom line, the CEO's or the company's future, the company's reputation, questions of liability, insurance and reinsurance issues, and accountability and liability on the part of directors and officers. The stakes can also involve a country's reputation and even, the economic stability of a nation.

External disclosure can result in all kinds of other problems that "whistleblowers" can have. I will be touching on these matters in new Parts of my White Paper which will be posted in the next few weeks (at the same website noted above).

There are few companies that disclosed in their SEC filings prior to January 1, 2000 serious Y2K and embedded systems remediation problems. It will be interesting to see what the next SEC filings reveal.

Other clues concerning what is really happening can be found in the law suits being filed, the insurance claims being filed, and the claims being filed with reinsurers. For a long list of references concerning sites that are reporting problems (including TB 2000) and providing information concerning law suits and insurance claims, see my January 17, 2000 "Comments and Impact Ratings" piece. It can be found at Click on "Comments, Essays, & Op-Ed Pieces".

II. Initiatives that Decreased Actual Failure Rates Abroad

There were behind-the-scenes efforts that apparently only a few knew about and only a relatively few know about now.

~ As the Post article points out, countries like Jamaica, along with many other countries, started late, but benefitted by the lessons learned and the resources that were available to them.

~ In addition, multinational companies that had a definite vested interest in making sure that the infrastructure continued to function in the countries where they had a presence, made major contributions to remediation efforts of those countries.

~ Perhaps, of most critical importance, however, may be role played by the U.S. Department of Defense in conjunction with the U.S. Department of State. DOD and the State Department apparently played a major behind-the-scenes role in doing what needed to be done to help ensure that the infrastructure continued to function in a whole host of nations. They served as catalysts along with multinational corporations and other public and private sector interests in helping to ensure that remediation challenges were addressed.

So, we have a situation where on the one hand, the results were and are far worse than we have been led to believe and on the other hand there were some behind-the-scenes efforts that help explain the "apparent" results.

This leaves us with a kind of parallel universe of plausible explanations and assessments. The challenge is to try to sort out the apparent from the actual.

Many who frequent TB 2000, the Grassroot Information Coordination Center site, the Humpty Dumpty Y2K site and other public and private sector sites, have obviously been trying to do that. In my efforts, I have come to a preliminary conclusion that, irony of ironies, the U.S. is still among the most vulnerable country in the world when it comes to Y2K and embedded systems problems. This includes the problems that have already been experienced, the problems that are being experienced now, and the problems that will become evident over the coming year. Of course, the most obvious reason for this vulnerability is that the U.S. has the most technology. The U.S. had the most to remediate. Another is, that with some major exceptions (including apparently to date the work done on the electric power grid), there were not the same kind of proactive, crisis-oriented efforts going on here as there evidently were elsewhere in the world. Specifically, it appears that there is a continuing vulnerability in some of the highest hazard sectors in the U.S., along with a significant portion of local and county governments, and small and medium-sized businesses, along with others that I will mention shortly.

While U.S. public and private sector interests were working to minimize possible infrastructure disruptions in many parts of the world, a significant percentage of some major sectors in the U.S. were either not remediated or not fully remediated. These sectors included significant percentages of the following:

~ local and county jurisdictions

~ small and medium sized businesses

~ small and medium sized chemical plants

It was public knowledge prior to the New Year that there were refineries and oil and gas pipeline companies in the U.S. that were not going to be able to remediate fully or were not planning to remediate fully. Some major producers of oil around the world also decided to fix on failure and did not remediate fully.

It is therefore not surprising that there has been an unprecedented surge in the number of problems being experienced by refineries. There has been an unprecedented surge in the number of pipeline ruptures, pipelines of all kinds. There has been an unprecedented surge in the number of explosions involving natural gas, methane, and propane worldwide since the beginning of January. According to a researcher who has done a report on this topic, this latter fact can be confirmed by checking OSHA reports, the UN's version of OSHA, Product Safety Lists, and other publicly available sources. There have been an unsettlingly high number of plane and train crashes and problems here and abroad, sometimes with the same systems being at fault or suspected of being at fault.

According to public statements made in December of 1999, the Information Coordination Center (ICC) collected baseline data that would make comparisons easy between the incidence of such problems after 1/1/2000 and comparable period in prior years. I have not heard any mention of this baseline data since that December briefing. I hope that this data will be made available soon, along with the thousands of incident reports that have been accumulated by the ICC.

The ICC apparently is not making the connection between any of the refinery, pipeline, plane, train, nuclear power plant problems, etc., on the one hand and Y2K and embedded systems-related problems on the other hand. If they are, such connections have not been made apparent to the media and the public.

In order to find reports on problems in each sector, one has to know where to look. (See the list of references in the "Comments and Impact Ratings" piece that I mentioned above.)

According to an authoritative source, companies producing fuel additives, base chemical producers, complex hydrocarbon solvent producers, and nuclear power plants are among those likely to be most vulnerable (and in many cases) are among those proving to be vulnerable to Y2K and embedded system-related problems.

According to a software engineer familiar with the situation, the airplane fuel problem in Australia involved the sticking of a valve and inaccurate computer data.

According to news reports, the ecological disaster in Brazil involved a pipeline rupture and inaccurate computer data in a device monitoring the pipeline.

According to a software engineer, there are also some large chemical plants in the U.S. that did not fully remediate. They are planning on fixing those unremediated systems on failure as the need arises.

There will be a series of monthly panel programs beginning February 9 at George Washington University focusing on all of the issues mentioned here......C-SPAN will be invited to broadcast the program live. You may want to watch C-SPAN's schedule in the event that they decide to cover the program at ....

(End of excerpt)


-- Paula Gordon (, February 05, 2000


---another good place to watch for any effects of current problems that may be occuring will be in agriculture. Various complex fertilizers and chemical sparys and powders are all produced and mixed using these same type of controllers it appears. Now the results of any mis-mixing and application might not show up for months. There is one major example I remember from quite awhile ago-from memory here, forgive me if the minutiae escape me-a fire retardant got accidently mixed into animal feed and mislabeled, it was fed to dairy cows in michigan, and they all had to be destroyed, at great economic loss, and only after a lot of milk was produced and shipped. Perhaps someone else remembers that incident. Immediate major problems would show up as the articles posted here suggest as ruptures, fires, etc, but the more insidious ones might slip by, in any number of industries. Just something to watch, I hope these companies are really being careful in monitoring, and not completely trusting on "normal;" testing and quality and control procedures. It would seem to be a time where being overly cautious might be prudent.

-- zog (, February 05, 2000.

Thanks Paula.


-- Diane J. Squire (, February 05, 2000.

Thanks Paula. Wonderful piece. Will keep abreast.

-- NoJo (, February 05, 2000.


Thanks for your interesting note.


Thank you....


So glad you found the posting of interest.

-- Paula Gordon (, February 05, 2000.

Thanks. I went to your website and started reading your white paper. This is some of the most interesting, hard-hitting reading on Y2K I've seen. Love how you have worked in some of the threads also. Hope you can turn some of the heads of the ostriches. The embedded problem will be here for a long time I'm afraid. They must come clean and admit it in order to start doing something constructive about it. You know, a larger pool of brains to pick, etc.

-- Deja (, February 05, 2000.

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