29 Mar We Will Survive Y2K
Like most concerned Americans, I have been closely watching developments as the nation prepares for the transition that will take place on January 1, 2000. Will the computers that drive our society fail? Will we face a literal meltdown of life as we know it? Are we at the threshold of an economic depression? Will the government abort the Constitution and impose martial law? For a change of pace, here’s some good news about Y2K!
By itself, Y2K will be no more than a temporary bump in the road. It will not cause an economic meltdown. The power grid will not fail. The Constitution will not be abridged. Life will go one as usual after New Years Day 2000.
Will Critical Systems Fail? Answer: No.
What most predictions fail to take into account is the dramatic increase in effort that has taken place as the Y2K date draws near. There is a huge nationwide effort targeting the problem that simply wasn’t there even a year ago. The readiness predictions fail to account for human nature and improved techniques. Moreover, 1999 is filled with critical dates that experts say will test the computer systems before January 1, 2000. Some are dates actually built into the computers by early programmers. Others are dates when government and corporate fiscal years officially change to 2000 before year’s end.
Several of those dates have already come and gone without any major computer disruption. January 1, 1999 was a critical date for the Y2K watch. Since the number “99” was used as a default code by early programmers, many predicted that computers would react adversely when the date switched to 1999. In fact, there were some problems on New Years Day, as computers, particularly in Europe, shut down. Not much was reported about the event, however, because the glitch lasted only “momentarily.” The computers recovered and continued to function properly. There were no headlines about the glitch because there was no problem. Some companies have experienced Y2K-related problems, but each has been systematically fixed, with little or no disruption of service.
In February, the travel industry faced a major test of its ticket reservation system as it began booking trips and issuing tickets for dates in 2000. The industry held its breath and nothing happened. After a series of preliminary tests in early 1999, the securities industry ran a final test of its entire international computer trading system on April 10, 1999. The test involved more than 400 stock brokerages. More than 170,000 mock trades went through the system with no problems.
Power is one of the great concerns of Y2K hysteria. If the power fails, homes won’t be heated, computers certainly won’t work, communications will fail and the predicted meltdown would be well on its way to becoming a reality. Some predict loss of civil control as panic brings on riots and looting.
These so-called experts say the probability of a power failure is very high, because a great number of those buried computer chips are used by the power industry. However, power companies across the nation have been hard at work to insure that power is not disrupted on January 1, 2000. They’ve set up and tested a contingency plan just in case the nation’s computer communications system fails. The truth is, however, even if no effort were made at all to fix the Y2K problem in the power industry, errors would only occur with billing systems, regulatory compliance schedules and maintenance schedules. There will be no problem in generating power. Most power is routed manually and most imbedded computer chips simply don’t care what day it is. Tests of the emergency radio communication system show there will be no problem with the nation’s power supply on January 1, 2000.
Will the Government be Ready? Answer: Yes.
A report issued by the President’s Council on Year 2000 Conversion, issued on March 31st, showed that federal government computers were 92% ready to face the new year. Clearly, several agencies continue to drag their feet, most noticeably the Department of Transportation. The report, however, shows that agencies have made impressive progress in recent months.
Told that they must list all “critical” programs and their compliance status for them, government agencies are being forced by the Y2K situation to reevaluate which programs are critical. If not, it can be downgraded and dropped from the target programs that must meet mandated compliance. The best news for Americans is that the Y2K exercise is actually forcing the government to combine or even completely drop programs altogether. In other words, Y2K is actually helping to reduce massive government waste.
Many fear that air travel will be hazardous as the result of the Y2K problem, but, on April 11, 1999, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ran a critical test of its air traffic control computer system. As clocks were changed to represent midnight, December 31, 1999, no problems took place. FAA computers performed as usual.
As the year progresses, more critical dates will challenge the government’s computers’ ability to function in the new year. June 30th is the new fiscal year for a large number of American companies. September 9, 1999 is a major date to watch as older computers read 9/9/99; the default date preset by the old programmers. October 1, 1999 is one of the most significant Y2K dates of the year. That is the date the 2000 fiscal year begins for the federal government. If computers are going to fail, this may be the day they choose, but so far, with one challenge after another passing into history, nothing has happened.
Certainly there will be some problems. Gasoline shortages may potentially be a major source of economic disruption. Computer failures are expected at oil refineries and in ports in Venezuela, Mexico and Saudi Arabia, which provide 43.5% of all U.S. petroleum. Though most glitches will probably be fixed quickly after discovery, even a small disruption will cause higher prices and shortages leading to gas lines. The problem will be temporary.
Prudently, the Federal Reserve is adding $200 billion in cash to the money supply to meet any run on the banks by depositors. On New Years day there will be a National Guard mobilization but this is another prudent measure that one would want the government to take. Contrary to the scare mongers this not a plot for power, but a government actually doing what it is supposed to do; taking action to protect its citizens in a time of potential crisis.
A Real Problem: Not Failure, But Terror
There are indications that the government is very concerned about possible terrorist attacks on American cities. Many experts believe that anti-American groups intend to use confusion caused by a possible Y2K computer shutdown to launch attacks on American cities using biological and chemical weapons. What better time for terrorists to plan such attacks than when they believe American defenses and communications will be disabled and government attention diverted? Indeed, intelligence experts have reason to believe American terrorist groups, such as Earth First and the Earth Liberation Front have been in contact with outside terrorist organizations. These groups who view humans as a threat to the earth are believed to be helping to make plans to aid a murderous, biological attack from within the U.S.
If the government wants Americans to avoid being drawn in by charlatans and doomsayers, then it must tell them the truth. It needs to stop running secret “test” attacks on our cities without explanation. It needs to explain that it is monitoring the terrorist groups, internal and external, and is getting ready for the possibility-not probability–of a terrorist attack. Secrecy breeds suspicion and panic. One thing the American people have proven throughout our history is that we can deal with almost anything, if we know the truth.