News Articles

Y2K continues to make headlines from wide range of societal sectors

WASHINGTON (BP)–While a noted Y2K expert believes most families need only to store a few extra groceries for the new year, others fear Jan. 1, 2000, could bring major disaster.
In a letter published Aug. 8 in USA Today, Gartner Group CEO William Clifford said there is no reason to withdraw money from banks and investment accounts. The reason? The financial industry has played a leading role in Y2K preparedness, he said.
The president of the Stamford, Conn.-based firm — named the nation’s top Y2K research consultants by USA Today — said 99 percent of Year 2000 failures will be resolved within 72 hours. Thus, all most families will need is a bag of groceries, he said.
In addition, he said advising people to buy guns in anticipation of chaos is like yelling “fire!” in a crowded theater. Planning for violence could create a self-fulfilling prophecy, he warned.
“We have moved mountains in the past six years to bring America’s government and corporate organizations up to speed with Year 2000 computer readiness,” Clifford concluded. “It would be tragic now to see that record spoiled because of irresponsible reporting.”
Still, the potential for problems on New Year’s Day has prompted the federal government to establish a Y2K watch that will begin at 7 a.m. EST Dec. 31, when the nation of New Zealand welcomes 2000.
A special White House coordination center will gather information about computer problems here and abroad, according to a July 30 report in The Washington Post.
John Koskinen, chairman of the President’s Council on Year 2000 Conversion, said Y2K- related difficulties, however minor, may occur simultaneously in multiple locations.
“Much like the computer problem itself, gathering information about systems operations during the date rollover presents the federal government, and the nation, with yet another unprecedented challenge,” he told a Senate committee.
Other challenges could include an upsurge in guerrilla violence against U.S. targets, Reuters news service reported recently. In early July, the wire service quoted officials of a Washington crisis management firm as warning that disruptions may be caused by doomsday cults and unstable people.
“I think the millennium is going to usher in a period of intensive activity,” said William Crowe, former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush. “We’re going to see more terrorist acts against United States’ interests.”
Crowe, who was also ambassador to Britain from 1994-97, is a senior advisor to Global Options, a crisis management firm.
The company’s CEO, Neil Livingstone, has blamed U.S. authorities for failing to prepare the public for disruptions that may occur regardless of how well computers adjust to 2000, Reuters reported.
“Not only is business continuity going to be a problem, but millennium madness may also include employees going ‘postal’ and taking hostages or shooting up their workplaces,” Livingstone said.
He isn’t alone in his trepidation. In late August, Reuters reported the U.S. government has established a new, FBI-led center to protect critical U.S. infrastructure.
Center leader Michael Vatis told Congress the agency expects to see increased — and possibly violent — millennium-related activities among domestic hate groups and others, the news service said.
Y2K fears include the possibility of computer hackers doing their best to use confusion generated by the date changeover as a cover for malicious attacks, the news service reported Sept. 1.
“When systems crash at the start of the year 2000, technicians are going to be quick to blame the Y2K problem, which is exactly the kind of vulnerability that malicious hackers love to exploit,” Reuters’ Dick Sartran wrote.
Reuters also noted the world’s largest computer security company, Network Associates, has launched a new Internet site listing potential dangers posed by hackers.
Company spokesman Sol Viveros said network administrators will be looking for system failures, but not necessarily virus writers. “We’ve started this initiative to let people know that they really do have to worry about this,” Viveros said.
Ironically, the Gartner Group is among those warning of possible Y2K problems. A mid-July story published in USA Today quoted a study by the consulting firm that predicted the computer glitch could lead to history’s largest heist.
An electronic theft topping $1 billion is possible, the newspaper reported, citing a study of more than 1,000 of Gartner’s clients worldwide.
A primary concern is that employees hired to upgrade systems may have used methods that will allow them to later seize control of those computers, USA Today reported, noting $11 trillion moves electronically each year among banks, corporations, governments and private organizations.
“That’s certainly a safe prediction,” computer security expert Donn Parker said of Gartner’s forecast. “Fixing Y2K has opened up vulnerable business computer programs to attacks by a larger group of people.”
“I’m very concerned,” added Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, co-chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Year 2000. “I think the Y2K experience has opened our eyes as a society to how vulnerable we are. If [Y2K] could cause this kind of disruption by accident, what kind of disruption could we have if someone sought to do us harm on purpose?”
The senator is among those making preparations. Earlier this year, he disclosed that he plans to stockpile water in a 55-gallon drum at his Salt Lake City home, according to a Washington Post report.
The newspaper reported Bennett previously had indicated he would follow a modest plan, storing such items as extra canned food, flashlights and batteries. Bennett also advocates keeping paper copies of financial records.
A spokesman for the senator told The Post that citizens should consult with local officials. “Everyone needs to be able to prepare based on information they’ve gathered about their own community’s Y2K preparedness,” said Don Meter.
Another report that raised concerns — Christian author Mike Hyatt issued a special alert last month to readers of his e-mail newsletter — originated with the U.S. Navy.
Summarized and released over the Internet Aug. 19 by former Naval officer Jim Lord, it predicted probable or likely failures in many U.S. cities’ electrical and water systems.
But two days later, the Navy issued a statement saying there are no indications of widespread utility failures. Rear Adm. Louis Smith told the Associated Press the report represented “worst-case” scenarios.
The New York Times also reported the information Lord received was outdated. But the author and lecturer told The Times, “The Navy study raises many questions not yet addressed.”
The far-reaching implications of the Year 2000 situation are reflected in a continuing series of newspaper reports. Others in recent months have spotlighted these issues:
— Global implications. On July 23, The Washington Post reported the State Department found about half of 161 nations surveyed face a medium to high risk of computer breakdowns in telecommunications, energy and transportation.
Jacquelyn Williams-Bridgers, the department’s inspector general, said that may have an impact on international trade. “It would be prudent to recognize that Y2K-related failures are inevitable, both here and abroad,” she told a Senate committee.
The survey found highly industrialized countries are at low risk, but Russia and former Eastern Bloc nations face a high probability of problems. In addition, Pentagon officials warned Y2K power-grid failures could cause Russian defense systems to shut down, The Post said.
To date, the newspaper said federal officials have avoided identifying foreign nations lagging on Year 2000 computer repairs. But starting the week of Sept. 13, the State Department plans to issue the first in a series of information sheets on the international effects.
In a Sept. 7 story, The Post said these reports will review what computer glitches could mean for travel, health, crime and public safety conditions abroad. More information will be available at www.state.gov.
— Health care. Despite efforts by the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) to alert the health-care industry to possible problems, response has been weak. The Post reported on Aug. 10 that only 2 percent of approximately 10,000 health-care providers invited to HCFA-sponsored conferences on Y2K attended the sessions. Less than 1 percent of Medicare providers called a special hotline the agency maintains, the newspaper said.
The HCFA expects to pay $288 billion in benefits next year, The Post report noted, and does not want to be swamped by paper claims or face delays because of problems submitting claims electronically. Deputy administrator Michael Hash said many health-care providers “do not seem to understand the urgency and importance of Y2K readiness.”
Also of concern is whether consumers will be able to obtain enough medications in the event of year-end problems.
USA Today reported on May 5 that some pharmaceutical companies are boosting production in anticipation of increased purchases. Some health insurers are debating whether to relax the customary 30-day limit on prescriptions, the newspaper said, while consumer advocates hope to inform patients to prepare but not panic.
— Interest rates. A rush by corporations to raise capital in case of problems at the start of the year is boosting U.S. rates, The Washington Post said in a Sept. 2 story. Borrowers are rushing to sell billions of dollars of debt, worried that panicked investors might not buy securities sold late this year, it reported.
“When it comes to raising money in the capital markets, it’s prudent to avoid the last few weeks of this year and the first few weeks of next year,” said Thomas Capo, treasurer of automaker Daimler Chrysler.
This flood of debt is boosting interest rates issuers must pay to attract buyers, the newspaper said. In turn, that raises rates on other business and consumer loans.
In addition, many lenders and investors are pulling money out of developing-country markets, where significant computer problems are considered more likely, The Post reported.
— Airline safety. On Sept. 10, Reuters reported the General Accounting Office of Congress had called on the Federal Aviation Administration to continue working to prevent problems from arising at local airports and with smaller carriers.
On July 2, The Washington Post reported that U.S. and Canadian airlines had completed 95 percent of Year 2000 computer repairs and should finish by late summer.
“We will be ready for the new millennium,” Carol Hallett, president of the Air Transport Association told White House officials.
Despite that assurance, The Post reported the State Department would begin issuing travel advisories in late summer or early fall if any other nations or individual airports seem vulnerable to Y2K problems. Hallett said U.S. embassies and the International Civil Aviation Organization are collecting readiness information from airlines and foreign governments.
— Religion. Saying it recognized the influence of churches, in August the American Bankers Association distributed a sample sermon to help clergy debunk apocalyptic Year 2000 scenarios. That includes the possibility of consumers rushing to withdraw money from banks and buy gold bullion, The Post reported Aug. 25.
ABA spokesman John Hall said the sermon was only given to bankers, with the intent of them sharing it with local clergy as a model. It warns against the fear that some computers’ inability to read dates after 1999 will cause massive system collapses, the newspaper reported.
In his Sept. 1 column, Scripps-Howard religion writer Terry Mattingly noted the sample sermon generated criticism from Quentin Schultze, author of “Internet for Christians.”
A professor at Calvin College, Schultze said the text used only one biblical metaphor and never mentions Jesus. He also said the message embraced the “great defining myth” of American culture — a belief that progress is inevitable because technology makes life better.
“This thing reads like something a government officer would send out to clergy who work for a state church,” he told Mattingly.
— Sports. Those cautious about possible problems include the National Basketball Association (NBA). Last March, league spokesman Chris Brienza told the Nashville Tennessean the NBA will likely not schedule any games Dec. 31 or Jan. 1-2.
“The process of putting the schedule together is far from complete, but that’s the way we’re leaning right now,” Brienza said.
A number of Southern Baptists have produced materials concerning Y2K. The latest is from the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Y2K task force. It has produced an informational brochure and video with suggestions for family disaster preparation. Earlier, similar materials were distributed by the Missouri Baptist Convention.
More information on Georgia’s resources is available at the state’s website, www.gabaptist.org or by calling 1-800-746-4422.
Western Kentucky pastor Rick Reader has written a self-published book titled, “Y2K: Trouble Ahead?” In it, he explains the problem in non-technical terms.
In a July 20 story in the Western Recorder, the Hickman, Ky., pastor advised families to prepare by:
— Storing bottled water, food and medicine.
— Arranging for alternative sources of heat and light.
— Keeping adequate cash on hand.
— Securing copies of important documents, such as Social Security records, bank statements and pension fund statements.

    About the Author

  • Ken Walker