Weathering Y2K backlash : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Weathering Y2K Backlash BY John Stein Monroe 02/07/2000

For the past two years or more, everyone associated with information technology has focused their energies on fixing the Year 2000 computer bug. At the end of it all, Jan. 1, 2000, came and went quietly, so we can put the problem behind us. Or so you would think.

Unfortunately, the uneventful New Year has left some people bitter. To them, the lack of problems on Jan. 1 and ensuing days seems to signify that no problem ever existed. They think the millions of dollars spent by state and local government agencies appear to have been wasted.

At a very basic level, that perspective fails to recognize that many problems did not occur because of the money and effort that were devoted to computer fixes. But that simple response really does not do the situation justice. In particular, it fails to recognize the great uncertainty created by the Year 2000 computer problem.

Many Year 2000 problems were fairly simple in nature. IT experts had no problem identifying and fixing glitches in applications that used days, months and years to perform calculations in a straightforward manner. No one expected problems with such systems.

But other systems use date code in less obvious ways. Radars and other systems that track changes in information in real time required a fairly arduous effort to find and fix potential bugs and to test the systems thoroughly.

Add to that the large number of embedded computer chips that provide the technical underpinnings of many towns and cities. Traffic lights, utilities and other key services rely on such chips. Agencies did the best they could to find and replace those chips, but most agency officials conceded that potential problems remained.

People generally did not know what would happen if some chips were missed. The chips may or may not have been date sensitive. If so, would there be isolated problems? Would there be cascading problems?

That uncertainty defined the problem that government agencies had to confront. It could be that no major problems would have occurred if agencies had hedged their bets and fixed only the obvious glitches.

But when public safety is at risk, and a potential solution is within reach, government agencies are obligated to react. It may seem fiscally foolish to take action based on the worst-case scenario. Agencies, though, rightfully recognized they had no other course of action.

Such subtleties are difficult to convey in a public debate. But as we head into this new year, lets just be thankful that enough people understood the situation and reacted accordingly, paving the way for smooth sailing into the new millennium (whenever that actually begins).

John Stein Monroe

-- Martin Thompson (, February 08, 2000

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