"Jamaica Experience Shows Why Dire Y2K Predictions Went Wrong"

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Here's an article on possible reasons why the impact of Y2K on some foreign countries has been small:


-- Linkmeister (link@librarian.edu), February 03, 2000


[Fair Use: For Educational/Research Purposes Only]

Jamaica Experience Shows Why Dire Y2K Predictions Went Wrong


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By Rajiv Chandrasekaran, The Washington Post

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Back in August, Eric Dorman's to-do list would have made most computer programmers in the United States quail: He had promised to solve Y2K problems at 25 businesses in just four months on this tropical island.

It appeared to be too much work to finish before Dec. 31. After all, the Gartner Group, a prominent U.S. technology consulting firm, had predicted early last year that half of Jamaica's businesses and government agencies would suffer at least one serious computer failure. The World Bank declared that the country had only a "medium awareness" of Y2K issues. Even Jamaica's commerce and technology minister had cautioned that the country was not on course to finish its year 2000 fixes until 2004.

Yet when Jan. 1 rolled around, Dorman's companies were all functioning fine, thanks to the coattails he rode. "The Americans thought that we would never finish the job in time," he boasted. "But we proved them wrong-by using a lot of their technology."

Dorman's decision to adopt the fixes developed by American and European companies, a strategy that was shared by many others on the front lines of the Y2K fight here, helps to explain why this and other developing nations entered the new year with nary an electronic hitch. That achievement initially confounded and even chagrined computer experts who had predicted widespread disruptions in such countries.

When Dorman began to analyze the systems in his windowless office, the young computer technician discovered he did not have to revise and test millions of lines of programming code. Most of his clients relied on mass-produced software, and making them Y2K compliant, he concluded, would simply involve installing new versions of widely available programs from the United States and Western Europe.

"We didn't have to invent the wheel ourselves," said Herman Athias, a former AT&T Corp. engineer who now owns a computer consulting firm here. "We learned how to do the work much faster from countries that were much farther ahead of us."

Businesses here depended on programming "patches" developed by American firms. They used European software that automatically repaired computer code. They saved time by not testing elevators, certain medical devices and other equipment already found to be compliant by U.S. organizations. And, like Dorman, they found many systems could be fixed with new, off-the-shelf software.

"Dealing with Y2K wasn't at all difficult," said Dorman, who wrapped up his work by mid-December. "It was actually rather easy."

In fact, the only real suffering Jamaica underwent as a result of a Y2K glitch was a costly drop in tourism. Because of the uncertainty about Jamaica's Y2K readiness, hotel bookings for the normally packed New Year's weekend were between 10 percent and 40 percent lower than the previous year throughout the island, said Stuart Fisher of SuperClubs, which runs 10 resorts in Jamaica. "The perception that there would be problems was the biggest problem for us," he said.

As in many developing nations, most businesses and government agencies on this Caribbean island of 2.6 million people did not begin to test and fix their computer systems actively until early 1999, more than a year after large firms in the United States and Western Europe commenced their Y2K projects.

"When we first got serious about this issue, we thought it was far too late to fix all of our systems," said Camella Rhone, who coordinated Y2K preparations nationwide. "But we eventually realized that starting late didn't mean we wouldn't cross the finish line in time."

Instead of painstakingly testing medical devices as most American hospital chains did, for instance, by the time Jamaican hospitals got around to the task, the devices' manufacturers and international health care consortia had posted testing information on their Web sites. "We saved a lot of time by just going to the Internet," said Sylvia Brown, a senior manager at the Kingston office of consulting firm KPMG Peat Marwick.

International consultants and the U.S. government also lent advice. Worried that its mobile radio system might not be compliant, the Airports Authority of Jamaica checked with a visiting official from the International Air Transport Association.

"I asked them, 'What do you think of these,' " said Suzanne Grant, the authority's Y2K administrator. "They said, 'Don't worry. Somebody in another country already tested the system and it's just fine.' "

Jamaican officials acknowledged that the initial reports from their country were not encouraging. In a February 1998 survey, 160 of 200 government agencies had not yet drawn up plans to make date-related fixes, even though computers are central to many important public sector functions, from tax collection to police operations. The government also was facing an immediate repair bill of $25 million, which amounted to about 1 percent of its annual budget. (By contrast, the U.S. government has estimated that its Y2K price tag will total $8.38 billion, or less than one-half of 1 percent of its annual budget, but the cost has been spread over several years.)

"There was no budget for it," said Luke Jackson, who directed the Jamaican government's Y2K project.

While the government appealed to the World Bank and the Inter- American Development Bank for funding, Jackson and other officials decide to perform triage on their computer systems and focus only on five crucial areas: financial services, national security, transportation, health care and utilities.

"We had to have priorities," he said. "Our resources couldn't cover all areas."

At the Jamaica Public Service Co., the island's sole electric power provider, executives determined that 75 personal computers probably would need to be fixed or replaced, but since they were not in areas of the business deemed critical to delivering electricity, they would be "fixed on failure."

Thus far, the utility has replaced 30 of the machines.

Government officials and business leaders also drew up elaborate contingency plans to cope with power outages, inoperable telephones and dry faucets. Giant oil tanks were filled with a two-week supply of gasoline. Backup radios were purchased for the police. Bottled water was stockpiled.

But Jackson places the blame for the inaccurate forecasts squarely with technology specialists in the United States. "All those people making predictions," he scoffed, "they never even called us."


-- Linkmeister (link@librarian.edu), February 03, 2000.

This report by Rajiv Chandrasekaran is a very interesting one and adds to our understanding of why some countries seemed to fare so much better than had been predicted. The report did not, however, address some other key related issues. The report did not indicate the major difficulties that remain in assessing many other aspects of what happened domestically as well as globally. It also failed to acknowledge the difficulties in assessing what is happening now.

I will try to describe some of these other "pieces of the puzzle" briefly here and later in public meetings as well as in material to be posted soon on my website at http://www.gwu.edu/~y2k/keypeople/gordon In the meantime, here are some of the key issues:

I. The Public is Still in the Dark Concerning What Happened and What is Happening.

On the one hand, only a fraction of the problems that occurred and that are occurring have been either widely reported or received more than cursory attention in the media. This has left most people who tend not to be following developments on the web with the impression that there were and are far fewer failures than is case.

II. Initiatives that Decreased Actual Failure Rates Abroad.

And on the other hand, there were actions taken behind the scenes that helped minimize infrastructure disruptions. These were actions beyond the kinds of actions noted in the Post article. (I have discussed the "powering down" of the infrastructure in my January 17 "Comments and Impact Ratings" piece in the "Comments" section at my GW website and will not include it again here.) Some of the actions that are noted below in Item II are continuing.

I. The Public is Still in the Dark Concerning What Happened and What is Happening

A few of the reasons that the public does not know about the majority of the failures that occurred and are occurring are as follows:

A) The term "failure" has often been redefined. Do you remember the African nation in the first few days after the rollover that revealed that they had had a failure, but they had not reported it as a failure because they implemented their contingency plan immediately. This, it turns out, was not an isolated incident of unreported failures.

Many of those reporting tended to redefine the word "failure" to mean "reportable failure". Failures were not necessarily reported if contingency plans were implemented. Implementation of contingency plans could include:

~ taking a system offline and/or shutting the system, the plant, utility, or the pipeline, etc., down, and

~ going to manual, and/or

~ implementing some other "work around".

Such "failures" were not technically considered to be "failures" and were not reported or not reported fully. When and as the list of failures in the U.S., as well as failures around the globe becomes widely known, many people may well be quite surprised to find how many incidents were kept and are being kept from them.

According to one authoritative source, there were over 6000 reports to the Information Coordination Center in the first five days of the New Year alone. This probably represents a tenth or less of the failures that actually occurred and a far smaller fraction of the number of problems that have become evident after the first five days of the New Year and that still appear to be on the rise in early February.

B. Getting the true story out can be risky. Those who know what has occurred or is occurring in a company, plant, a government organization, etc., etc, may be find themselves in one of two positions:

~ keeping that information internal to the organization or

~ disclosing that information internally and/or externally.

Internal disclosure (if the problems are not known by upper management) can result in the "messenger" being "shot". Anyone who has been the bearer of bad news in an organization, may be all to familiar with this kind of reaction. Of course, it does not apply to all organizations. Some organizational cultures encourage open communication and the sharing of bad news. When the stakes get very high, however, that too can change. The stakes can involve a company's bottom line, the CEO's or the company's future, the company's reputation, questions of liability, insurance and reinsurance issues, and accountability and liability on the part of directors and officers. The stakes can also involve a country's reputation and even, the economic stability of a nation.

External disclosure can result in all kinds of other problems that "whistleblowers" can have. I will be touching on these matters in new Parts of my White Paper which will be posted in the next few weeks (at the same website noted above).

There are few companies that disclosed in their SEC filings prior to January 1, 2000 serious Y2K and embedded systems remediation problems. It will be interesting to see what the next SEC filings reveal.

Other clues concerning what is really happening can be found in the law suits being filed, the insurance claims being filed, and the claims being filed with reinsurers. For a long list of references concerning sites that are reporting problems (including TB 2000) and providing information concerning law suits and insurance claims, see my January 17, 2000 "Comments and Impact Ratings" piece. It can be found at http://www.gwu.edu/~y2k/keypeople/gordon Click on "Comments, Essays, & Op-Ed Pieces".

II. Initiatives that Decreased Actual Failure Rates Abroad

There were behind-the-scenes efforts that apparently only a few knew about and only a relatively few know about now.

~ As the Post article points out, countries like Jamaica, along with many other countries, started late, but benefitted by the lessons learned and the resources that were available to them.

~ In addition, multinational companies that had a definite vested interest in making sure that the infrastructure continued to function in the countries where they had a presence, made major contributions to remediation efforts of those countries.

~ Perhaps, of most critical importance, however, may be role played by the U.S. Department of Defense in conjunction with the U.S. Department of State. DOD and the State Department apparently played a major behind-the-scenes role in doing what needed to be done to help ensure that the infrastructure continued to function in a whole host of nations. They served as catalysts along with multinational corporations and other public and private sector interests in helping to ensure that remediation challenges were addressed.

So, we have a situation where on the one hand, the results were and are far worse than we have been led to believe and on the other hand there were some behind-the-scenes efforts that help explain the "apparent" results.

This leaves us with a kind of parallel universe of plausible explanations and assessments. The challenge is to try to sort out the apparent from the actual.

Many who frequent TB 2000, the Grassroot Information Coordination Center site, the Humpty Dumpty Y2K site and other public and private sector sites, have obviously been trying to do that. In my efforts, I have come to a preliminary conclusion that, irony of ironies, the U.S. is still among the most vulnerable country in the world when it comes to Y2K and embedded systems problems. This includes the problems that have already been experienced, the problems that are being experienced now, and the problems that will become evident over the coming year. Of course, the most obvious reason for this vulnerability is that the U.S. has the most technology. The U.S. had the most to remediate. Another is, that with some major exceptions (including apparently to date the work done on the electric power grid), there were not the same kind of proactive, crisis-oriented efforts going on here as there evidently were elsewhere in the world. Specifically, it appears that there is a continuing vulnerability in some of the highest hazard sectors in the U.S., along with a significant portion of local and county governments, and small and medium-sized businesses, along with others that I will mention shortly.

While U.S. public and private sector interests were working to minimize possible infrastructure disruptions in many parts of the world, a significant percentage of some major sectors in the U.S. were either not remediated or not fully remediated. These sectors included significant percentages of the following:

~ local and county jurisdictions

~ small and medium sized businesses

~ small and medium sized chemical plants

It was public knowledge prior to the New Year that there were refineries and oil and gas pipeline companies in the U.S. that were not going to be able to remediate fully or were not planning to remediate fully. Some major producers of oil around the world also decided to fix on failure and did not remediate fully.

It is therefore not surprising that there has been an unprecedented surge in the number of problems being experienced by refineries. There has been an unprecedented surge in the number of pipeline ruptures, pipelines of all kinds. There has been an unprecedented surge in the number of explosions involving natural gas, methane, and propane worldwide since the beginning of January. According to a researcher who has done a report on this topic, this latter fact can be confirmed by checking OSHA reports, the UN's version of OSHA, Product Safety Lists, and other publicly available sources. There have been an unsettlingly high number of plane and train crashes and problems here and abroad, sometimes with the same systems being at fault or suspected of being at fault.

According to public statements made in December of 1999, the Information Coordination Center (ICC) collected baseline data that would make comparisons easy between the incidence of such problems after 1/1/2000 and comparable period in prior years. I have not heard any mention of this baseline data since that December briefing. I hope that this data will be made available soon, along with the thousands of incident reports that have been accumulated by the ICC.

The ICC apparently is not making the connection between any of the refinery, pipeline, plane, train, nuclear power plant problems, etc., on the one hand and Y2K and embedded systems-related problems on the other hand. If they are, such connections have not been made apparent to the media and the public.

In order to find reports on problems in each sector, one has to know where to look. (See the list of references in the "Comments and Impact Ratings" piece that I mentioned above.)

According to an authoritative source, companies producing fuel additives, base chemical producers, complex hydrocarbon solvent producers, and nuclear power plants are among those likely to be most vulnerable (and in many cases) are among those proving to be vulnerable to Y2K and embedded system-related problems.

According to a software engineer familiar with the situation, the airplane fuel problem in Australia involved the sticking of a valve and inaccurate computer data.

According to news reports, the ecological disaster in Brazil involved a pipeline rupture and inaccurate computer data in a device monitoring the pipeline.

According to a software engineer, there are also some large chemical plants in the U.S. that did not fully remediate. They are planning on fixing those unremediated systems on failure as the need arises.

There will be a series of monthly panel programs beginning February 9 at George Washington University focusing on all of the issues mentioned here. The series is entitled

"A Continuing Assessment of Y2K and Embedded Systems Problems and Challenges."

The second part of the title is

"Y2K Computer and Embedded Systems Problems: Are We in the Top of the First Inning, the Seventh Inning Stretch, or the Bottom of the Ninth".

The first panel program will be held in the 103 Funger Hall Auditorium at 22nd and G Sts. NW in Washington D.C. The program is free and open to the public. Other programs will be scheduled in March and April.

For full details concerning panelists, watch the threads on TB 2000 or see http://www.gwu.edu/~y2k/keypeople/gordon (Click on announcements) The announcement has not yet been posted on that website, but should be by February 5.

C-SPAN will be invited to broadcast the program live. You may want to watch C-SPAN's schedule in the event that they decide to cover the program at http://www.c-span.org . The C-SPAN schedule for February 9 is usually posted by 7 PM the evening before the event.

-- Paula Gordon (pgordon@erols.com), February 03, 2000.


Thanks for your commentary on this.

-- Linkmeister (link@librarian.edu), February 04, 2000.

A list of some international Y2K glitches that have happened can be found at:


"International Y2K Glitch Report"

-- Linkmeister (link@librarian.edu), February 04, 2000.

LInK dUdE!!!!!

MaKeINg mY eYeS BLeeD!!!!!!!!!!

""""Instead of painstakingly testing medical devices as most American hospital chains did, for instance, by the time Jamaican hospitals got around to the task, the devices' manufacturers and international health care consortia had posted testing information on their Web sites. "We saved a lot of time by just going to the Internet," said Sylvia Brown, a senior manager at the Kingston office of consulting firm KPMG Peat Marwick"""""""

AnD wE arE NOt?????????

-- Brian (imager@home.com), February 04, 2000.

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