Y2K could produce long-term problems

BY SUSAN KIM | WASHINGTON | October 21, 1999


WASHINGTON (Oct. 21, 1999) -- While people may be less worried about

having electricity, food, and water on Dec. 31 this year, they are

focusing more on the chronic and long-term problems the rollover may

bring.

Hackers invading important financial computer networks, unpredictable

stock market fluxes, large-scale electrical and telecommunications

networks overseas, and the influence of ominous media coverage on

societal behavior are some of the larger long-term issues on Y2K

experts' minds.

While these problems will not invoke chaos on Dec. 31, they are more

serious than small irritations such as credit card rejections from

card readers that aren't Y2K compliant.

Still, the "end of the world" mentality propagated by marketers of

survivalist Y2K gear and television evangelists has faded somewhat,

according to reports from disaster response leaders.

"There has been widespread use of the Y2K issue by radio and

television evangelists as the coming of the end of the world," said

the Rev. Bruce Robbins, chief executive of the United Methodist

Commission of Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns.

"Many denominations have been hesitant to join in any theological

concerns because they don't want to see Y2K as a sign of the end of

time."

On the other hand, there may be practical reasons churches and

faith-based groups should be concerned, he added. Many church

facility managers have already checked computers, payroll systems,

elevators, alarm systems, and even programmed church bells for

compliance.

The General Board of Discipleship of the United Methodist Church has

published a liturgical collection with a millennial theme, added

Robbins.

For Richard Proudfit, owner of Future Foods, a company that sold

survival food especially for Y2K, the fading panic may be

bittersweet. While he's glad that people feel they're prepared, his

sales have fallen dramatically.

"This isn't just a (sales) plateau, it's below a plateau," he said.

"At this point, most people who are Y2K-concerned have their food and

supplies well stocked."

Even September 9 -- which many thought would be a pre-Y2K indicator

because the numerical date 9/9/99 was thought to mean 'stop' in some

codes -- passed without a ripple. "We thought there would be a little

increase in mid-September -- but nothing so far."

"Sales were fantastic, and now they're way down," said Proudfit. He

has decided to sell his packaged, quick-prepare food to grocery

stores and health food outlets instead of over the Internet to Y2K

worriers.

"We now see the Y2K situation as short-lived, though there are still

some sales," he added.

Experts remain worried that Y2K "fallout" will eat away at the world

economy for months after the new year. The vision of a dark, chaotic

night of civil unrest is giving way to one of prolonged, nagging, and

complex troubles in and between large networks on a global level.

Non-government organizations such as the Adventist Development and

Relief Agency (ADRA), have been distributing Y2K-related information

to overseas staff and partners in an attempt to curb potential

communication disruptions.

ADRA, which has offices in more than 120 countries, sent a packet to

each office that contained software to check computers, a list of

complaint software, and general information about Y2K.

Richard O'Ffill, management and information systems director for

ADRA, said he attended a Y2K presentation on Monday for

non-government organizations sponsored by the Center for Strategic

and International Studies. "We plan to follow up information we

already sent and to check people's vulnerability with regard to

supply chains," he said.

A Senate panel reviewed a report describing an emerging wave of

failures that will reverberate from one sector to another. A coding

glitch could cause non-compliant computers to mistake the year 2000

for the year 1900 and shut down as a result.

Even items such as farm tractors may have potentially non-compliant

chips in them.

A combination of network glitches and shaky consumer confidence have

some economists worried that Y2K could trigger a recession, the

report said. But it also noted that it is difficult to speculate on

the scope, scale, or length of Y2K-related disruptions worldwide.

Banks that normally shut down ATM machines on New Year's are

concerned that a shut-down this year will be interpreted by the

public as a Y2K crisis. Similarly, phone companies are concerned that

consumers, in a rush to test their phones at exactly midnight, will

inadvertently cause an overload on the working system.

Billions of dollars have already been spent worldwide to prepare for

Y2K. But, unlike a disaster such as an earthquake, Y2K won't hit and

be over with, the report maintained, even though government officials

say they are now 90 percent certain that telecommunications and

electricity will work.

Those systems, the report stated, are less vulnerable to the Y2K

glitch because they are not highly date dependent and have been

substantially backed up.

But the report expressed doubt that telecommunications and

electricity will work in the Ukraine and Russia, the only two

countries about which such doubt was expressed.

There is enough concern about an accidental atomic launch that

Russian and U.S. military personnel will meet at the U.S. Space

Command to keep watch as part of a Pentagon-devised project called

the Center for Year 2000 Strategic Stability. The Pentagon is

spending $3.8 billion to ready its most important systems for Jan. 1,

2000.

Banks, drug chains, insurance companies, utilities, and airlines have

also spent many millions of dollars to spread the public message that

they are ready for Y2K.

A survey by Taskforce 2000 of Britain's top 100 companies found that

almost one in three of the large companies has already experience Y2K

bug problems. Of those questioned, 98 percent were taking action to

curb foreseeable problems.

Posted October 21, 1999


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