Y2K - What Happened and What Didn't- January 10, 2000
Ten days into the new millennium many people are wondering about the Y2K crisis. Naturally many are asking themselves whether or not the Y2K problem was a real crisis or whether it was blown out of proportion by media, consultants, and various books like The Millennium Meltdown. A careful analysis of the issue reveals that Y2K is a genuine problem and that we would have suffered major breakdowns if we had not awaken to the danger, taken the proper corrective action, and fixed millions of computers and billions of lines of code worldwide.
Let's look at several key issues:
Was Y2K a genuine computer and technology crisis or was it all hype?
Virtually every major bank, industry, and government in the world analyzed this situation, concluded it was real, and committed over $600 billion globally to fix their key computer systems before failures affected their operations and infrastructure.
According to the IBM corporation's 1999 special edition of their THINK magazine headlined Understanding Y2K, the Y2K problem would cost approximately $3.6 trillion to completely fix all computers worldwide and the work would not likely end until 2004. An estimated 500,000 computer programmers worked on Y2K worldwide.
John Koskinen, the Y2K czar for the White House, revealed that a government department replaced three key computer systems but the Chief Information Officer of the department decided to keep the three original computer systems running without fixing their Y2K problems to see what would happen. Koskinen declared to Associated Press on Jan. 5 that, All three of the systems failed following the Y2K rollover and could not be used. The systems simply stopped and became unusable. He described the experiment as an interesting example of what happens with systems that have failures. This strongly suggests that computer systems would have failed if repairs had not been completed.
The breakdown of major infrastructure in the West African nation of Gambia due to its failure to fix its computers provides an understanding of what could have occurred worldwide if all organizations and businesses had refused to fix their Y2K problems. According to the International Y2K Co-operation Center significant power outages were evident in the Gambian energy sector, while major or significant disruptions crippled air and sea transportation, the financial sector and government services. In addition, failures have been reported in the Gambian Treasury Department, the national tax service and at the Customs Service.
Those who naively suggest that Y2K was all hype should ask themselves why banks (who are not generally known to throw their money away) would spend literally hundreds of millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of man hours to fix the problem if the problem did not threaten their profits and ability to function in the new millennium.
An analogy to Y2K might be this: A man visits a doctor complaining about some medical problems. The doctor warns him that he will become seriously sick in a few months unless he takes the prescribed medicine. The man takes the medicine as prescribed and finds that the threatened disease does not develop. Later the man complains to the doctor that his diagnosis must have been incorrect because he has not fallen ill. How would the doctor ever prove that his diagnosis was correct?
Why have so few major Y2K problems appeared in the first few days of January 2000?
It is important to remind ourselves that most computer experts have warned that the systemic nature of the Y2K problem would manifest only an expected 10% of the total problems in the month of January. Most experts suggest that many small accumulating errors in unrepaired programs will only manifest as observed problems during the next twelve to eighteen months. During the last year I have constantly told audiences on radio, TV, and in conferences that Y2K would not be apocalyptic but that it would be characterized by delays, errors, problems, and frustrations that would turn up over the next year to eighteen months. In addition, because of the awesome investment of manpower and dollars in fixing and replacing critical computer systems I suggested that we would not likely see too many major failures on the January 1st rollover.
Many Y2K problems have already occurred during the first ten days of January but have received relatively little coverage in the major media. There has been a tremendous media spin by the government and the financial community to encourage the media to minimize Y2K coverage to avoid the slightest danger of bank runs or a fall in the stock market.
A majority of Y2K problems will occur in the millions of small businesses throughout the world who chose to do nothing to fix their computers. While it is virtually certain that many of them will experience Y2K problems in unrepaired systems it is very unlikely that they will call a press conference to announce they are experiencing problems. Obviously, it is dangerous to a business to announce Y2K failures because customers could change suppliers and their competitors will rejoice. There is no incentive for any business to announce Y2K problems. Therefore, we will only learn about Y2K failures that are so large they cannot be hidden.
*A number of Y2K problems have already occurred during the first ten days. A list of a number of these Y2K problems is listed at the end of this article.
Is there anything about the first few days of our Y2K experience that surprised me?
Yes. I am personally delighted and somewhat astonished that so few serious problems occurred in the infrastructure systems such as electrical power, gas, and the financial community. When I wrote The Millennium Meltdown almost two years ago the level of awareness about the Y2K problem was abysmal. In addition, at the time of writing two years ago, most organizations had barely begun serious preparations to fix their mission critical computer systems. I am very impressed with the massive effort of computer programmers and information technology leaders to fix this serious problem before it caused serious damage to our economy.
However, as stated above, the top experts, including White House Y2K czar John Koskinen, Capers Jones, and Edward Yourdini warn that we are not out of the woods yet. Many more complications, errors, delays, and problems will crop up in both small and large organizations over the next eighteen months.
Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America stated, I don't believe it was hype. It was a real problem. I am surprised that so few major problems have been reported to date in infrastructure in Third World nations as well as in Russian and China which spent less money and time on Y2K. To date, only the West African nation of Gambia has reported massive Y2K failures in electricity, government, transportation, taxation, and customs. However, it is still too early in the process to declare victory. The next few months will reveal how successful we have been worldwide in fixing this problem.
Were the personal preparations you suggested in The Millennium Meltdown appropriate?
I repeatedly pointed out in The Millennium Meltdown, and in my various speeches, that no one but God could know in advance how badly Y2K would affect any particular city, county, or person. Therefore, following the biblical advice of Proverbs 27:12 and Proverbs 6:6-11, I suggested that a person should prayerfully ask God for guidance and make a reasonable amount of preparations in the area of securing financial records, some cash, heat, and 2 weeks of food and water for your family. Was this prudent or was it excessive? My recommendations were similar to many other responsible authorities. In fact, the Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency all recommend that we should acquire the above listed items to be prepared to protect our families against an interruption of goods and services in the event of a future disaster.
IBM's THINK magazine recommended to their employees the following: Stock non-perishable foods, water and medications you use regularly. Have some extra cash on hand; fill your gas tank a day or so before New Year's Eve; and have blankets, gloves, flashlights and extra batteries on hand in case of power failures.
This is the official Red Cross Y2K Checklist as posted on their Internet web site:
___ Check with manufacturers of any essential computer-controlled electronic equipment in your home to see if that equipment may be affected. This includes fire and security alarm systems, programmable thermostats, appliances, consumer electronics, garage door openers, electronic locks, and any other electronic equipment in which an embedded chip may control its operation.
___ Stock disaster suppies to last several days to a week for yourself and those who live with you. This includes having nonperishable foods, stored water, and an ample supply of prescription and non prescription medications that you regularly use. The Red Cross Disaster Supplies Kit checklist includes storing a gallon of water per person per day, non-perishable food, a first-aid kit, non-prescription drugs, various sanitation items such as toilet paper, tools such as flashlights and battery-operated radio, a non-electric can opener, warm clothing, extra eyeglasses or contact lenses and much more.
___ As you would in preparation for a storm of any kind, have some extra cash or traveler's checks on hand in case electronic transactions involving ATM cards, credit cards, and the like cannot be processed. Plan to keep cash or traveler's checks in a safe place, and withdraw money from your bank in small amounts well in advance of 12/31/99.
___ As you would in preparation for a winter storm, keep your automoile gas tank above half full.
___ In case the power failures, plan to use alternative cooking devices in accordance with manufacturer's instructions. Don't use open flames or charcoal grills indoors.
___ Have extra blankets, coats, hats, and gloves to keep warm. Please do not plan to use gas-fueled appliances, like an oven, as an alternative heating source.
___ Have plenty of flashlights and extra batteries on hand. Don't use candles for emergency lighting.
___ Be prepared to relocate to a shelter for warmth and protection during a prolonged power outage or if for any other reason local officials request or require that you leave your home.
___ If you plan to use a portable generator, connect what you want to power directly to the generator; do not connect the generator to your home's electrical system. Also, be sure to keep a generator in a well-ventilated area either outside or in a garage, keeping the door open. Don't put a generator in your basement or anywhere inside your home.
A List of Y2K Problems That Occurred During the First Ten Days
Known Problems on January 1, 2000(Source: The Y2K History Project Statistics on the Internet)
Jan. 1 Sacramento, Ca (USA) -- bank account errors (more than 24 hours)
Jan. 1 Palm springs, CA (USA) -- airport disruption (more than 24 hours)
Jan. 1 Ellijay, Georgia (USA) -- telecommunications (more than 24 hours)
Jan. 1 Prescott, AZ (USA) -- 911 failure (6 hours) Harrington
Jan. 1 Delaware (USA) -- bank computers are down (more than 24 hours)
Jan. 1 San Diego, California (USA) -- drinking water (more than 24 hours)
Jan. 1 Woodland Park, CO (USA) -- telecommunications (1 hour)
Jan. 1 St. Louis, MO (USA) -- telecommunications
Jan. 1 Huntington Beach, California (USA) -- water supply (more than 24 hours)
Jan. 1 Prescott, Arizona (USA) -- tax errors
Jan. 1 Dallas, Texas (USA) -- water supply (24 hours)
Jan. 1 Alberta (Canada) -- cash withdrawal limitations (more than 24 hours)
Jan. 1 Clearwater, Florida (USA) -- lost records
Jan. 1 Scttsdale, AZ (USA) -- failed ATM machine
Jan. 1 Santa Fe, NM (USA) -- food stamps (more than 24 hours)
Jan. 1 Orlando, Florida (USA) -- drinking water
Jan. 1 Stow, Ohio (USA) -- gasoline (instantaneous)
Jan. 1 Ackley, Iowa (USA) -- train disruption
Jan. 1 Benton, Ar (USA) -- insurance problem (more than 24 hours)
Jan. 1 Roanoke, VA (USA) -- failed ATM machine (more than 24 hours)
Jan. 1 Orange County, CA (USA) -- train disruption (more than 24 hours)
Jan. 1 Albuquerque, New Mexico (USA) -- cash withdrawal limitations
Jan. 1 San Jose, CA (USA) -- failed ATM machine (instantaneous)
Jan. 1 Yakima, WA (USA) -- failed medical equipment
Jan. 1 Jackson, Michigan (USA) -- telecommunications (more than 24 hours)
Jan. 1 Eastman, Wisconsin (USA) -- telecommunications (3 hours)
Jan. 1 Richmond, VA (USA) -- drinking water (more than 24 hours)
Jan. 1 St. George, Utah (USA) -- failed ATM machine
Jan. 1 Richmond, VA (USA) -- flashlights (more than 24 hours)
Jan. 1 Denver, CO (USA) -- drinking water
Jan. 1 Three Rivers, MI. (USA) -- social security
Jan. 1 Lewiston, ID (USA) -- bank computers are down (12 hours)
Jan. 1 Farmingville, Long Island, New York, NY (USA) -- cash withdrawal problems (24 hours)
Jan. 1 Westminster, Colorado (USA) -- failed ATM machine (3 hours)
Jan. 1 Minot, north Dakota (USA) -- explosion (instantaneous)
Partial List of Y2K Problem Reports From Jan. 3 to Jan. 10, 2000 (Source: Center for Y2K and Society - Internet)
Report dated January 10, 2000
Jan. 3 Two Citgo gas stations (Marion County, Florida) forced to accept cash due to Y2K
Jan. 3 Computer malfunction at an air traffic control center in New Hampshire Delays Flights
Jan. 3 Brief outages interrupt Chicago Air Traffic at O'Hare International Airport
Jan. 3 Y2K alert issued for dialysis machines by director of the Int. Y2K Coordination Center
Jan. 3 Gambia (West Africa) has massive energy, taxation, phone, and customs Y2K failures
Jan. 4 Y2K bug bites driver's license issuing in half of New Mexico's motor vehicle offices.
Jan. 4 Indiana has Y2K problems with licenses, registrations
Jan. 4 U.S. nuclear weapons plant in Tennessee still has Y2K glitch
Jan. 4 Y2K hits ATF and other agencies licensing software system
Jan. 4 Microsoft reports bugs in Web-page software,
Jan. 4 Godiva Chocolates - cash registers and computers were down in their NYC, NY store
Jan. 5 A small part of a Danish bank's payment system was erased
Jan. 5 MSNBC reported the stock exchange in Islamabad, Pakistan crashed after rollover
Jan. 5 Ticketing machines on some buses in Australia briefly jammed
Jan. 5 Bug hits [Washington, DC] Fire Dept. payroll system reads 1900
Jan. 5 The Palatka-Putnam, Florida 911 service was experiencing intermittent Y2K problems
Jan. 5 MP3 device hit by Year 2000 glitch
Jan. 5 Pentagon's radar-imaging Lacrosse spy satellite hits Y2K glitch
Jan. 5 4th largest national auto insurance database affected by Y2K
Jan. 5 France's Syracuse II military satellite system has Y2K glitches
Jan. 6 Minor nuclear reactor problems: 1 in Spain, 1 in Ukraine, 5 in Japan and 8 in the US
Jan. 6 Glitches hit government and bank computers in Hong Kong and mainland China
Jan. 6 U.S. Dept. of Defense issues 230 checks dated 1900
Jan. 6 Credit Card Processing Company Could Be First Major Multi-system Y2K Failure
Jan. 6 EPA's ERNS database for reporting chemical spills goes down due to Y2K problem
Jan. 6 FAA Center in Leesburg, Virginia Computer Glitch Delays Air Traffic on East Coast
Jan. 7 FEMA has its own Y2K glitch in its database of reservists and regular staff
Jan. 7 Chicago Bank Computer Glitch Delays Medicare Payments in 8 States
Jan. 7 The MTX inventory system for the Utah Food Bank crashed by Y2K bug on Jan. 3
Jan. 7 Glitch zaps some Liberty Cash cards
Jan. 7 Y2K bug bites 22 counties in Arkansas County Management Info. Systems Association
Jan. 7 Y2K Glitch Hits Some Credit Cards Causing Multiple Charges for Some Cardholders
Jan. 7 Y2K Problems in train-pass vending machines in Tokyo
Ja n. 7 Norway loses numerous government computer archive records
Jan. 7 Courthouse computers in Italy mixed up prisoner dates by 100 years
Jan. 8 Pinellas County workers are paid twice after a Y2K mix-up
Jan. 8 Livingston, CA's MCS Spectrum accounting software not Y2K-compliant
Jan. 8 Chevy Chase Y2K glitches affect financial software
Jan. 8 Atlanta Y2K fallout: Bureau of Buildings computer slows building permit office
Jan. 9 North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) - several N.A. electric utilities have
reported minor glitches with their energy management system computers
Jan. 9 South Korean court issued summonses to 170 people to appear for trial on Jan. 4, 1900
Jan. 10 A vital payroll computer failed at an Alabama company
Jan. 10 There were 6 to 8-hour electrical outages outside of Islamabad, Pakistan
Jan. 10 Three dialysis machines stopped functioning in Egyptian hospitals
I have been studying the possible problems concerning Y2K since late in 1997, long before this became well known to the media or public.
For over two years I have stated that Y2K is not a particular event but rather a process that will occur over 12 to 18 months according to the top computer experts.
Nevertheless, there are many who are today trumpeting their conclusion that it was all much about nothing.
For those who doubt that Y2K was ever a genuine problem, ask yourself why major consulting and accounting firms like Ernst & Young, thousands of government organizations, and computer scientists througout the world spent hundreds of billions of dollars and several years of work to fix this.
Consider these points that point to the longer term problem associated with Y2K:
Andy Kyte, a top computer analyst with the Gartner Group, the largest information technology research company, has warned, "Unless purged, the bug will act more like a debilitating disease which insidiously weakens computersystems before finally toppling them." Kyte and other experts have predicted that less than 10 percent of all Y2K-related breakdown will occur in the opening weeks following Jan. 1, 2000. He claims over 55% percent of problems will occur later this year. Kyte warned earlier that "We've been saying for a long time that this was not going to be a pyrotechnic event... It's about the gradual degradation of the efficiency of computer systems."
Nick Fitzhugh, the top Y2K expert at Ernst & Young, also warned that its too soon for companies to relax. Every expert I have talked to warns that the more serious Y2K difficulties will only manifest themself over time. Most experts believe the real Y2K problems will only become apparent in late January to February.
One of the problems is that North Americans have become used to the instantaneous solving of problems and tend to ignore complex, long term problems such as Y2K failures.
We all should have a great deal of gratitude for the millions of computer programmers that worked around the clock for years to solve the worst dangers concerning the greatest technology challenge our world has ever faced. But as someone has said before: "It not over till its over." Only time will tell the full story of this crisis.