No more beware on Y2K scare : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

December 10, 2000

December 10, 2000

No more beware on Y2K scare Many agree that last year's panic was unnecessary, but some say caution was crucial. By WAYNE FALDA Tribune Staff Writer

SOUTH BEND -- It was to be a time of blackouts, of unheated homes, of financial market upheavals, of electronic gridlock and of mass confusion.

And an invisible rascal hidden deep within computers, called the Y2K Bug, was going to cause all this -- or so we were told.

Eleven months later, Jon Slough still gets irritated at the alarmists and the doomsayers who rattled a nation about an impending disaster, as well as the media for giving them credibility right until the stroke of midnight Jan. 1, 2000, when ... nothing especially big happened.

"I made no bones about the fact that there were a number of people who were ... radicals," said the immediate past president of the Elkhart PC Users Club. "The problem with Chicken Littles is that if they are right, they are very right. And if they are wrong, they are very wrong."

And how wrong they were.

To revisit that time period, scenarios being widely circulated described anything ranging from malfunctioning home computers to worldwide paralysis caused by a cascading domino effect of multiple computer shutdowns.

Many people bought into the latter scenario.

Jeanne Mahoney, emergency management director of St. Joseph County, recalls a telephone call from a woman who admonished her for not warning the populace of the impending cataclysm.

Mahoney had been advising people not to clear out their bank accounts, but to stock up as they normally would with a 72-hour supply of food.

"She told me she had vanloads of stuff coming to her house," Mahoney related. "She had stocked up enough food and clothing and fuel, everything for a year. The world was coming to an end and she had enough Hamburger Helper to feed an army."

But feeding an army was not her immediate intent. "She was having vanloads delivered at night so people didn't know what she had," Mahoney said.

She never heard from the woman again after Jan. 1.

Some of the most hysterical warnings came via the computer through the Internet. One Web site,, envisioned tens of millions -- possibly hundreds of millions -- of pre-programmed computer chips shutting down entire operating systems.

"This will create a nightmare for every area of life, in every region of the industrialized world," ran the Web site's text.

Dire warnings

Long before Jan. 1, the planet's financial systems were supposed to have crashed.

Said "A worldwide run on the banks will create havoc in the investment markets. People who have placed their retirement hopes in stocks and mutual funds will see their dreams vanish."

A year ago, Slough was in the thick of it, advising people and firms with computers about how to avoid software problems with the rollover from 1999 to 2000. Uncorrected, some early software would have reverted the date to 1900, or even shut down its computer system.

Make no mistake, the simple two-digit programming glitch was very real, he said.

But Slough said most corporations had paid attention to the warnings and dodged the bullet with plenty of time to spare.

But Slough soon found there would be a downside to any notoriety connected to Y2K. Being on the front lines and a focus of attention meant he was indiscriminately lumped with the fear-mongering set.

When angst-ridden Americans woke up to a normal New Year's Day followed by a ho-hum Jan. 2, the backlash began. Anyone linked to 2YK became fair game for derision. "I got a whole bunch of criticism afterward," he said.

Retired South Bend financial adviser Gene Behnke and Roger Dooley, managing director of CompStar Technologies Inc. of Mishawaka, were also hosting seminars and dispensing advice to computer neophytes during the days when nobody was quite sure how or in what form the Y2K bug would appear.

This was all uncharted territory, and even if many took the precautions, no one knew how many others had taken Y2K seriously.

Behnke, a volunteer with Service Corps of Retired Executives, had stocked up on food and water at home for the possibility that things might go awry for a couple of weeks.

"We saved milk jugs and filled them up with drinking water," he said.

And when nothing happened, "I don't think we went to the grocery store for two months after that," he laughed.

Many took these measures because national figures like Ed Yourdon, a computer programmer and author of "Time Bomb 2000," offered plausible theories of widespread failures based on the interconnectedness of the world's computer systems.

After little happened on the stroke of midnight, Yourdon wrote his apologia, "I was wrong about Y2K" (his italics).

Yourdon said in his postmortem that he had miscalculated the extent of the repairs that were made on computers before the fateful click of 12:01 a.m.

Yourdon, like others, suspected there were probably more disruptions that many company CEOs were willing to admit publically, "but (Y2K) has not turned out to be the crisis that some of us had anticipated."

Not all bad

Lynn Mischke of Granger was one of those who stocked up with a little extra food. But the experience of the nonevent hasn't soured her from heeding future warnings.

"I think you have to ... check out as many sources as you can and weigh together," she said.

For American Electric Power spokeswoman Susan Sheets, the New Year's Eve barrage of media calls from AEP's 10-county region in Michiana had a silver lining.

"I was the busiest AEP employee in the area that night," she said. "It was tiring, but it was also a great opportunity for AEP to show what we do and that we ... provide this service 24 hours a day and 365 days out of the year."

When it was over, Sheets called it a night. "I went home and went to bed," she said. "It had been a very long couple of days."

In retrospect, Dooley said, the 2YK scare in late 1999 may have accomplished far more than it has been given credit for.

"Some people -- after the world did not shut down -- thought of it as some huge hoax," he said. "But in fact, there were undoubtedly numerous issues that would have cropped up had companies not taken preventative measures.

As for those exaggerations, "it was by people who didn't understand the technology and were trying to imagine a world in which everything would cease to function. That simply wasn't going to happen."

"If Y2K did nothing else," Slough said, "it raise people's attention to how susceptible computers are and how much they affect their lives. It was a good thing."

-- Martin Thompson (, December 10, 2000

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