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IP: Y2K- a futurist view: Society not resilient enough to withstand

From: "A.C." <[email protected]>
Subject: IP: Y2K- a futurist view: Society not resilient enough to withstand
Date: Sun, 04 Oct 1998 21:26:27 -0700
To: [email protected]

change + 2 more related articles.
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Reply-To: "A.C." <[email protected]>

"However, he warns that our present economic and institutional=20
structures have milked communities and individuals of their=20
resilience to handle major and abrupt change such as Y2K may unleash."
>Watershed for life as we know it

>29 Sep '98
>ROBERT Theobald is a futurist who sees the year 2000 computer glitch=20
>as a potential watershed for global civilisation.=20
>Theobald, a British-born economist based in the US, says the year=20
>2000 - or Y2K - computer bug will have as big an impact on the global=20
>economy as the oil shocks of the 1970s.=20
>On a more sobering note, Y2K is already shaping up as the biggest=20
>technological fix in history. It will cost the US alone at least=20
>$US600 billion ($1034 billion) and possibly $US1 trillion - double=20
>what it spent on the Vietnam War when adjusted for inflation.=20
>Theobald, who for 37 years has advocated the need for change to a=20
>more sustainable economy, says Y2K just might be that catalyst, given=20
>the "inertia" of the current system.=20
>But he says that how Y2K will change our lives will depend largely on=20
>the degree to which governments and individuals prepare themselves=20
>between now and December 31 next year.=20
>"For me, Y2K is only the beginning of the shocks that are going to=20
>come as we begin to realise that technology does not resolve all of=20
>our problems," Theobald says.=20
>Theobald, who is in Australia to promote his latest book, Reworking=20
>Success, says that if handled successfully, Y2K could lead to a more=20
>decentralised economy and political decision-making process.=20
>However, he warns that our present economic and institutional=20
>structures have milked communities and individuals of their=20
>resilience to handle major and abrupt change such as Y2K may unleash.=20
>Theobald says community resilience will determine whether Y2K is=20
>treated as a natural disaster or whether it will be seen as another=20
>technological blunder by those above.=20
>Theobald's big fear is that large-scale anger caused by Y2K=20
>disruptions could lead to a breakdown in social order, especially in=20
>the larger US cities, which will be the hardest areas to organise for=20
>Y2K at a neighbourhood and sub-neighbourhood level.=20
>"I believe the core issue on (handling) this Y2K thing is to start at=20
>the sub-neighbourhood level so that you can say you know who will=20
>need things.=20
>"If we don't do anything, the chances of a major breakdown in public=20
>order, which has already been seen in Indonesia and elsewhere around=20
>the world in one way or another, is a very real threat.=20
>"And without far more intelligence being put in to handle this, I'd=20
>say a global slump is a very real possibility, and a significant=20
>collapse is not off the cards either."=20
>However, while Theobald canvasses the dark side of the millennium=20
>glitch, he also dissociates himself from the so-called cyber-
>survivalists. These are people, mostly in the US, who are prepared to=20
>ride out the Y2K bug by stocking food and hiding away in isolation.=20
>Theobald has been putting his words into action by working closely=20
>with his local neighbourhood in Spokane, Washington State, on Y2K=20
>His efforts were recognised last year by the Institute for Social=20
>Innovation in Britain, which awarded him a prize.=20
>The institute's other recipient was former computer programmer Paloma=20
>O'Reilly, founder of the Cassandra Project, a community-based Y2K=20
>preparedness group that has been examining and preparing for self-
>sufficiency in all areas that could be millennium-glitch affected,=20
>including power, water and food distribution.=20
>"What we do as individuals, as societies and communities over the=20
>next few months will make an enormous difference to how serious Y2K=20
>becomes," says Theobald.=20
>"This is a fairly established position. I'm one person among many.=20
>"When you consider the very well established companies and the=20
>enormous sums of money being spent on this, what I say is not out of=20
>the ordinary.=20
>"But what disturbs most is that the dominant message in our culture=20
>at the moment is not about Y2K preparedness."=20

Boston Top Stories

Spotlight Boston October 2, 1998 =A0=20

Texas city stages test of `Y2K' doomsday effects=20

By Chris Newton/Associated Press=20

A cold front was icing streets and causing power outages. A riot at a=20
prison outside town was using up valuable police resources. To make=20
matters worse, the 911 emergency system was broken.

The nightmare scene didn't really happen, but Lubbock officials=20
imagined it did Wednesday as part of a test of how the city could=20
react if, as many fear, computers driving vital public systems fail=20
to recognize the year 2000.

The west Texas city of more than 180,000 people didn't test any=20
equipment but rather conducted a drill to see how city personnel=20
responded to mock crises. It was called the first such citywide=20
simulation of the problem in the nation.

City manager Bob Cass, scheduled to testify about the experience=20
Friday before a U.S. Senate committee, said the clear lesson was that=20
cities risk being blindsided if they don't work on contingency plans=20
for the worst-case ``Y2K'' scenario.

``This is the one disaster that we know exactly when it could occur,=20
but it's also the one disaster that we have no idea how bad it will=20
be,'' Cass said. ``One thing that sticks out in my mind is that there=20
is the potential for so many things to go wrong all at once.''

Some computer scientists fear the Y2K bug could cause water systems=20
to shut down, traffic lights to go haywire or life-support systems to=20
fail. When a Chrysler plant ran a Y2K test on a computer system, it=20
was discovered that security doors were stuck closed.

The Lubbock experiment coupled such effects with mock emergencies=20
that would make for an extra-busy night at the police department.

``Our simulation took into account things like slick roads and=20
traffic accidents that would be standard fare for New Year's Eve,''=20
Cass said.

The test was essentially a role-playing game.

Exactly what or when the ``disasters'' would occur was kept secret=20
until the drills started Wednesday evening. The only thing announced=20
was a four-hour window, starting at 5 p.m., when anything could=20

Test conductors sent e-mail messages to city officials notifying them=20
of mock natural disasters or failed systems. Emergency officials,=20
including police, fire and utility workers, then had to react. A=20
system was set up to judge response times.

At emergency management headquarters, officials frantically practiced=20
deploying police officers to deal with problems and posted red flags=20
on a giant city map to highlight emergency areas.

The illusion was made complete with reporters summoned for ``news=20
conferences'' and mock reports from a National Weather Service=20

As the drill began, officials were told the city's 911 emergency=20
system had failed. Officials quickly switched over to a county system=20
and broadcast two new police and fire department emergency numbers on=20

Cass said city workers improvised well when unexpected problems arose.

``We pulled together and acted like a team,'' he said. ``A lot of=20
these agencies aren't used to dealing with each other like they had=20
to tonight.''

Mayor Windy Sitton said the test revealed that Lubbock needs to study=20
how to better respond to natural gas shortages. When fake gas outages=20
left hundreds of homes without heat, officials had to devise a plan=20
to set up shelters in the parts of town that still had power.

The Kansas City Star=20

Nervous world seeks ways to exterminate the year 2000 bug

Date: 09/26/98 22:15

Marilyn Allison has spent the last three years making sure computers=20
at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City don't fail after the=20
ball drops on New Year's Eve 1999.=20

Allison is confident Blue Cross has the problem well in hand. And she=20
thinks most of Kansas City does, too.=20

But she still is planning to sock away enough food, water, cash and=20
firewood to last a couple of weeks in case everything does go haywire=20
on Jan. 1, 2000.=20

There's the rub of the year 2000 bug, a glitch that could cause some=20
computers, machinery, medical equipment, utilities and VCRs to quit=20
working, or spit out bad information, when the 1900s become the 2000s.
 Nobody really knows what's going to happen.=20

The problem stems from computer systems and billions of embedded=20
computer chips that might read the "00" in a computer program as 1900=20
rather than 2000.=20

Edward Yardeni, one of the nation's leading economists, forecasts a=20
70 percent chance of global recession because of the bug. Another=20
leading forecaster, David Wyss, chief economist for Standard & Poor's,
 doesn't expect significant disruption. He even contends the=20
resulting fallout might be fun -- if we keep a sense of humor about=20

But everyone acknowledges something is coming down the tracks, said=20
Leon Kappelman, a university professor and author who is spending=20
much of his time these days talking about the year 2000 problem.=20

"The uncertainty is whether it's a locomotive or a bicycle,"=20
Kappelman said. "And it's difficult to get definitive evidence."=20

Until now there hasn't been much information to rely on. Some credit=20
cards with "00" expiration dates have been rejected. A 104-year-old=20
Minnesota woman was invited to report to kindergarten, and a computer=20
docked an Olathe couple $17,800 for insurance premiums.=20

But those are just scattered hints of the trouble to come. The real=20
warning lies in our growing reliance on vast networks of technology --
 a single misfire in the wrong place can sabotage lives in far-flung=20

For example, when just one satellite malfunctioned in May, millions=20
of pagers and automated teller machines went out for two days. An ice=20
storm in eastern Canada knocked out part of the country's power grid=20
and shut off power to millions of people for more than a week.=20

Think if all of that -- and more -- happened on one day: Jan. 1, 2000,
 a Saturday.=20

American businesses rely on computers to do almost everything. They=20
run huge manufacturing machines, answer telephones, pay employees and=20
control alarm systems.=20

Federal government computers track airliners, generate Social=20
Security checks, and control satellites in space and missiles on the=20
ground. Cities use computers to run traffic lights and dispatch=20
police officers.=20

Utilities use them to operate water and sewage systems. Grocery=20
stores use them to keep track of stock and place orders.=20

Even more important than the software that runs those computers are=20
the tiny, embedded computer chips buried in the guts of technological=20
gadgets, heavy machinery, airliners and even granddad's pacemaker.=20

There are 40 billion of the chips, most of them hard or impossible to=20
test, said Dave Hall, an expert with the CABA Corp. in Oak Brook, Ill.

Estimates vary on how many of those chips will fail. Hall says 1=20
percent. Others say failures could go as high as 10 percent -- and=20
even higher in some medical equipment.=20

Even a 1 percent failure rate means 400 million chips would fail.=20

Kappelman, the University of North Texas professor, thinks the=20
interrelationships between all those elements will cause serious=20

For instance, it's unlikely that America's electric utilities will be=20
caught unprepared on the last New Year's Eve of the 1900s. In fact,=20
an industry report released last week said utility problems seemed to=20
be fewer -- and easier to fix -- than expected.=20

But if only a few plants shut down on Jan. 1, 2000, the strain on the=20
rest of the power grid could trip a cascading failure that causes=20
widespread brownouts or blackouts.=20

"This will change the way we see the world," Kappelman said. "We'll=20
see our dependence on technology in a whole new way."=20

The fix is in?=20

Even if embedded chips are hard to check, the software problem=20
shouldn't seem too difficult to fix -- on the surface, at least.=20

For decades, computers have been programmed to recognize dates using=20
six digits: today's date is 09/27/98. When the calendar rolls over at=20
midnight on New Year's Eve 1999, computers that haven't been taught=20
differently will see the year as 1900 or some other date entirely. If=20
they work at all.=20

So solve the problem. Add a couple of numbers to the programming code.
 No big deal, right?=20

It's become a very big deal. For Sprint Corp., that small fix means=20
programmers must pore over 80 million lines of code. The fix will=20
take two years.=20

Big business thinks the problem is so significant that fixing it has=20
become a big business.=20

Sprint Corp. is spending $200 million on year 2000 repairs; Hallmark=20
Cards, $25 million; Blue Cross in Kansas City, $25 million; UMB Bank,=20
$22 million; Yellow Corp., $17 million. Johnson County taxpayers will=20
pay $17.2 million to fix that county's year 2000 problems.=20

All told, the fix in the Kansas City area will easily top the $400=20
million mark. Worldwide, the total is estimated at $300 billion to=20
$600 billion.

Entire companies have sprouted just to deal with the year 2000 bug.=20
More than 140 public companies, ranging from Acceler8 Technology to=20
Zmax Corp., are touting their solutions.=20

Where there's a problem, there's a lawyer. Law firms have established=20
special teams just to handle potential litigation from the year 2000=20

Companies that cater to survivalists are hawking canned or dried food=20
and survival gear to those with year 2000 angst.=20

That type of hype is spreading across the Internet on hundreds of=20
year 2000 Web sites. A few of the most radical year 2000 worriers=20
already have moved to rural areas to get away from what they think=20
will be urban chaos when the lights go out and the food supply chain=20
breaks down.=20

Cynthia Ratcliffe of Pleasant Valley, a disabled former office worker,
 can't afford to move. But she's worried.=20

"I'm figuring at least six months of everything being messed up,"=20
said Ratcliffe, who's stocking up on canned food and kerosene lamps.=20
She's worried that those who have prepared will become targets for=20
those who haven't.=20

"I'm contemplating whether I should get some 2-by-4s to put bars over=20
the doors and windows," Ratcliffe said. "I'm trying to decide whether=20
I should buy a weapon."=20

One expert sees self-interest driving much of the panic.=20

Consultants benefit from the year 2000 fear that helps pay their=20
skyrocketing fees, said Nicholas Zvegintzov, president of Software=20
Management Network of New York and a programmer for 35 years.=20
Politicians also benefit from a puffed-up problem they can fix=20
without much effort.=20

"Unfortunately, there's no political clout in common sense,"=20
Zvegintzov said.=20

Sen. Bob Bennett, a Utah Republican who coordinates the Senate's year=20
2000 efforts, isn't doing anything to add to the national calm.=20

In a July 15 speech to the National Press Club in Washington, Bennett=20
told journalists to expect electrical brownouts and regional=20
blackouts. He predicts some banks will go bankrupt and some water=20
systems will break down.=20

Such alarm might actually be good, said Heidi Hooper, year 2000=20
director for the Information Technology Association of America. She=20
said the general public could use a serious wake-up call.=20

"These huge Fortune 100 companies are spending, collectively,=20
billions and billions of dollars. I don't think that's hype," she=20
said. "They are not going to spend that money for no reason. They=20
know, bottom line, that if they are going to make money they have to=20
stay in business."=20

But for some businesses to stay afloat, other businesses will have to=20
drown, she said.=20

"What we need, unfortunately, is examples of failures," Hooper said.=20
"That's going to start soon enough in 1999. And the private sector is=20
not going to share that information, so it's going to have to be up=20
to the federal government to step in."=20

But the federal government is in no shape to provide leadership.=20

Overall, one congressman gave the federal government a "D" on its=20
most recent year 2000 preparedness report card, up from the "F" it=20
received in June.=20

"This is not a grade you take home to your parents," said Rep. Steve=20
Horn, a California Republican and chairman of the House subcommittee=20
on government management of information and technology.=20

Horn predicts the government will not be able to fix a substantial=20
number of "mission critical" systems by 2000. And the price tag to=20
fix the 24 governmental departments surveyed is $6.3 billion, up $1=20
billion from the estimate given by the Office of Management and=20

"The executive branch has a deadline that cannot be extended," Horn=20
said. "There is no margin for error."=20

Closer to home, Kansas City is requiring all city departments to=20
submit contingency plans by October for dealing with the year 2000=20

What to look for: Will traffic lights work? Will prisoners be=20
released early if a computer mistakenly thinks an inmate has been=20
jailed for more than 100 years? Will fire trucks start, and what is=20
the backup plan if they don't?=20

"You don't want to overreact, and we're not," said John Franklin,=20
assistant city manager. "But there is a real issue here for public=20
managers that's kind of scary."=20

Elsewhere, Water District No. 1 of Johnson County will spend $1.56=20
million to fix 4,109 computer programs and 701,021 lines of code by=20
the end of next summer. The district says the job is 75 percent=20
complete, and General Manager Byron Johnson said he was confident the=20
district would be prepared.=20

But experts aren't prepared to declare victory.=20

"My whole theme from day one is we need answers," said Yardeni, the=20
Yale economist and managing director of Deutsche Bank Securities.=20
"I'm not trying to foment panic. I'm not trying to create revolution.=20
But you have to be a naive optimist to think things are going to be=20
pretty relaxed Jan. 1, 2000."=20

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