Despite early smooth sailing, experts say the bug will still bite
NEW YORK (AP) – After the 21st century dawned without a crippling Y2K catastrophe, some people branded the millennium bug an exaggerated threat, a huge angst-washed waste of money that got mounds more attention than it deserved.
Not so fast, the experts said Saturday.
Tens of millions of the world’s business systems have yet to reboot. And why should anyone be surprised that the computers guiding the globe’s vital power, telecommunications and air traffic infrastructure didn’t fail?
Their software was the focus of the most diligent millennium bug removal efforts. Experts never expected anything but a few failures in such systems.
”Throughout the world I think you’ll find that almost a trillion dollars was spent on Y2K work. There ought to be some results,” said Ian Hugo, a British information technologist who helped write his country’s Y2K standards.
”The more cautionary news is that only 10 percent of the world’s systems went to the gym last night. Ninety percent of them weren’t exercising,” noted Howard Rubin, a leading Y2K expert in the United States who was nevertheless amazed at how well the world did.
Institutions including the CIA and U.S. State Department had said the Year 2000 computer problem might spawn major blackouts or phone outages in countries including Russia, Ukraine and Indonesia.
None of that appears to have happened so far, though a slew of glitches – from merely nagging to worrisome – were reported.
The Pentagon said Saturday that a failure in a ground-based system prevented officials from handling information from some U.S. intelligence satellites for a few hours on Friday night. France said one of its defense satellite systems lost the ability to detect equipment failures.
Hospitals in Sweden and Egypt reported non-lethal bug bites in medical equipment, a computer linked to radiation monitoring systems seized up at Japanese nuclear power plant and door locks sealing off sensitive areas refused to open at nuclear plants in Arkansas and Spain.
”Things are looking very good,” said Bruce McConnell, director of the World Bank-funded International Y2K Cooperation Center. ”This is consistent with, although on the bright side, of our prediction of few if any serious disruptions.”
He cautioned, though, that it’s too early to declare victory.
Most of the world’s business systems don’t go back on line until Monday or Tuesday after extended holidays – some of them intended to give banks and stock markets extra time to fix any bug errors that have cropped up.
Chile, for example, told the Y2K center that two-thirds of its computer won’t go back on line until Monday.
”It is very, very premature at this point in time to declare victory,” said Peter de Jager, a Canadian Y2K pioneer: ”We expected the infrastructure to be OK, but wait until next week to start drawing conclusions about how successful or unsuccessful we’ve been.”
Unready at this point to celebrate was Tony DeRosa, of Spencerport, N.Y., who has paid attention to the pundits who say many glitches won’t show up for days or even weeks.
”It’s like a baseball game, we’re only in the third or fourth inning maybe,” he said. ”I don’t think we’re out of the woods.” DeRosa stocked up on MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) for his family of four and filled four 55-gallon drums with tap water.
No one has argued credibly that the Y2K bug – the legacy of programming in which years were expressed with just two digits – was a scam, although experts say many people have misunderstood the software flaw.
”I was monitoring some of radio stations yesterday. People were calling in and saying, ‘I didn’t do anything to my computer and it’s working,’ ” said Faizel Dawjee, a South African government spokesman.
Experts say only about a third of the world’s computers were susceptible to crippling Y2K errors in the first place – and that electricity generation and distribution are on the whole devoid of date-sensitive systems, though computers that monitor them are not.
The primary control systems that run power plants and telecommunications tend to be far more simple and less date-infested than the accounting and administrative software on which the global economy so depends.
Whether all the corporate SWAT teams and New Year’s government command posts were really necessary is also a nagging question.
A survey by the Information Technology Association of America of its Year 2000 newsletter readers found that 76 percent set up command posts at their workplace but 62 percent said they expected any Y2K-related outages to last no more than a few hours.
Terry Holzer, general manager of the Yellowstone Valley Electric Cooperative in Huntley, Mont., thinks all the extensive preparations were ”somewhat of an overkill.”
”I heard that Italy just started preparing in September and they were fine,” he said.
Holzer listed the two main reasons for his cooperative’s hard Y2K work and contingency planning.
”One, we had a responsibility to fulfill, and, two, the fear that we were going to get sued,” he said. ”The lawyers were just lining up to go after people if there were any problems.”