Disaster Waiting to Happen
Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, when computers were just begging to emerge, data storage space was expensive and in short supply. By today’s standards even the largest of the mainframe computers had insignificant hard memory storage abilities. Computer programmers adopted a habit of using two digits (55, 56, 57, .) in their programming codes to indicate the year, this is called COBOL. Programmers knew this practice might cause problems with the data rolled over to 2000 at the end of the century. However, they decided to save thousands of bytes of hard disc storage space in the more complex banking and government software packages. At the time, the two-digit system was looked at as a creative and necessary method of stretching the limited data storage space on early electronic machines. Early computer programmers believed the computers they installed the two-digit date coding in would be completely obsolete and replaced in the 1970’s or 1980’s; long before the turn of the millennium.
Today, as the year 2000 quickly approaches, thousands of those early mainframe computers using COBOL are still in use and still incorporate the two-digit year scheme. The problem that arises from the COBOL system in that the computers will interpret “00″ as the year 1900. It is uncertain at this point how this will effect computers and other electronic equipment that control our daily lives. No one is certain how the year 2000 will affect the transfer of data from computer to computer. Because of this uncertainty, it is important that precautionary steps are taken to avoid complete destruction on all scales. “When we go from 1999 to 2000, two-digit dates become ambiguous and the potential cause of big problems.” (Richards 1) Individuals, businesses, and the government must prepare for the Y2K bug before January 1, 2000.
To begin, individuals must prepare themselves for the possibility of Y2K havoc. Nearly all American families now own a personal computer. They use this computer for school, work, and play. “A substantial percentage of personal computers are thought to be vulnerable to the Y2K bug, especially those that were made before 1997.” (Richards 1) Y2K will most likely effect database and spreadsheet files that people have on their personal computers. However, computers are not the only electronic devices that will be affected by the Y2K bug. “Other appliances could have problems also, especially those which compute a date if that date or time is related in any way to the operation of the machine.” (Richards 1) Some machines that would be effected in this was by Y2K are VCR’s, microwaves, and coffee makers. Some machines may recognize the year to be 1900, and thus might not affect the operation of the machines. Individuals must begin now to safeguard themselves from the possible destruction Y2K could bring to their electronic devices. One way to find out if a computer is Y2K compliant is to set the date to later 1999, when the year 2000 rolls around, if the computer is unaffected, the computer is compliant and should be alright. However, if the computer shows problems, it is likely not Y2K compliant and it will need to be fixed or is in need of a program update to make the system ready for the year 2000. As well as problems with the personal computer, individuals must prepare for many other problems in the other areas of technology. “Possible effects include incorrect bank statements, non-functional credit cards, dead phones, missing social security checks, etc” (Olmsted 2) Y2K preparation can go so far as to store 55-gallon drums of water and at least three months worth of food. “Prepare for several months without electricity, water, or other services.” (Olmsted 3) “You might need three months of supplies for ‘camping out’ in your own home: propane stove, candles, shovel to dig a latrine, etc, etc.” (Olmsted 2) Because of the effect Y2K may have on bank accounts, some advise to withdraw money before the turn of the millennium. “Store at least several thousand dollars in small bills, more if possible. You need this in small bills in case the banks fail.” (Olmsted 3) At the very least, one should make sure that he or she has a hard copy, printout report of all bank accounts and investments. As the year 2000 approaches, so does the Y2K bug. Each and every individual must prepare and safeguard themselves for the possible effects this computer glitch may bring.
Similarly, businesses must also be prepared for the problems that the Y2K could create for their machines. “The alternative to addressing the Year 2000 will be going out of business.” (Celko 2) Businesses depend of computers for everyday operations, finances and numerous other databases. As the turn of the new millennium approaches, devastation for businesses may also be approaching. The Y2K computer bug could strip companies of their entire customer databases, destroying years of work and information gathering. Corporations must prepare for the shock that the Y2K could deliver. “The UW-Madison also began seeing the problem several years ago when making academic schedules that reached into the new millennium. It fixed those problems as they turned up, but only hired a Year 2000 coordinator last summer.” (Carleton/Saemann 1A) Power and water seem to be the items of most concern. Utilities use hundreds of computer chips in a vast array of everyday situations. If even one computer chip is not Y2K compliant, shutdown could occur. “That is why every employee of Madison-based Alliant Utilities will be working on New Year’s Eve 1999, even after the company spends $35 million or more to correct the year 2000 problem.” (Armstrong 1) The Y2K bug not only creates internal problems within business; it also creates problems serving customers. Without customers, business cannot survive. “Several credit card systems have problems that cause cards entered with a year of 00 to be designated as invalid.” (Manly 1) Companies must prepare a backup plan for computer problems. “Several machines have already started to exhibit the millennium bug.” (Manley) They may not be able to depend on their cash registers, credit card machines and computers. Corporations around the world must also find an alternative route to take if their suppliers and networking capabilities are shut down by the Y2K glitch. “All of these problems get compounded by the degree to which most large computer systems are networked and interdependent.” (Manley) Companies have to take preventative steps in order to prevent Y2K from creating problems not only within their computers, but also in the computers of the businesses they work with. Businesses and corporations must take the precautionary steps of preparation to finding a solution to the Y2K computer bug before thousands of dollars and hours of work are lost in technological space on January 1, 2000.
Finally, governments that control and dictate the lives of people throughout the world could face utter disaster and loss of information if they do not prepare for the Y2K virus. For years, people have known that the year 2000 is coming, the turn of a new millennium is no surprise. Some divisions of the government however, have not taken the necessary steps to prepare for what the year 2000 could bring. ” The latest report card released by the congressional subcommittee overseeing the government’s preparedness for the year 2000 computer problem has handed out failing grades to several of the government’s most important agencies.” (Tzemach 2) Unfortunately, rather than trying to fix the problem, some ignore what could happen. “A majority of the local government officials who responded to a recent survey do not believe the year 2000 problem will affect them and are not addressing it.” (Carleton/Saemann 1A) If proper steps of preparation and avoidance are not taken against Y2K government systems could shut down.
“Local governments in Dane County provide water, pick up waste and regulate traffic. They register voters, dispatch ambulances and track tax spending. They educate children and employ thousands of citizens, from snowplow drivers to librarians. To do so, they rely on elevators, fax machines, phones, and timers on everything from pumps in city wells to security systems. All are run by computers.” (Carleton/Saemann 1A)
The problem could be large on a local level, but on a national level could be enormous. Thenational government is doing a few things to prevent this disaster. Unfortunately, government as a whole is still lacking preparedness in many departments. ” The departments that lag the furthest include Energy, Defense, Health and Human Services, and State. None, according to today’s progress report is even remotely ready for the next millennium.” (Tzamach 2) In some sense, lack of preparation may be a result of not wanting to spend money. “In the United States, officials figure it will cost $2.3 billion to just fix the federal government’s computer systems.” (Goodman 4) This cost of preparation is a small price to pay for what may happen if nothing is done to prepare. Surprisingly, even national governments around the world are not prepared for the year 2000. “In what seems to be an alarming development, the report also indicated that most Asian governments, with the exception being Malaysia, display low interest and low awareness in addressing the Y2K problem.” (Pinaroc 2) Lack of knowledge of the bug may be the reason some parts of the world are failing to meet the preparation standards. “Most Asian businesses also reportedly lack in-depth understanding of the Y2K problem.” (Pinaroc 2) The time for fixing this problem is now. The government must create a standard date format that all software and electronic manufacturers must follow to prevent something like Y2K from happening or at the very least from worsening. “There is a need for this consistent adherence to the standard.” (Manley 2) With the vast amount of information on government computers it has to begin getting saved and backed up now, before it is too late. The programs the government uses to store information are completely useless without their data. Current efforts by government to combat the Y2K computer bug are a losing effort. Government must excel in their preventative efforts to terminate mass destruction by the Y2K bug, through computer shutdowns.
In conclusion, the year 2000 is coming and there is nothing that anyone can do to stop it. The Y2K computer bug may destroy the birth of a new millennium unless preventative measures are taken to stop this glitch before it becomes a major problem. “When the digital clock strikes 12:01 A.M. on January 1, 2000, at the very least assorted hard drives will celebrate by crashing. At the very worst, the international economy will collapse.” (Goodman 4) The Y2K bug will effect not only people with computers, it will effect everyone. Computers have formed a guideline for each and every person’s life. If computers begin to crash, they will take more than computer chips and plastic castings with them. “Most electronic devices that make use of dates will have serious unpredictable problems.” (Manley 3) Preparation must begin now. When buying electronics, make sure they are Y2K compliant, begin saving data, store money in banks that are prepared for the year 2000 and make sure normal life will carry on after dawn of the new millennium. Now is the time to prepare for the Y2K bug and the year 2000, before it is too late.
Analysts Foresee Some Computer Crashes, Not Wholesale Disaster. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, p. 1 (1998, August 2)
Celko, Joe. “Special Report: Year 2000: Start Fixing Year 2000 Problem Now!” Datamation Online. Internet. 1 January, 1996. Available http://www.datamation.com/PlugIn/issues/1996/jan1/StartFixingYear.htm
Manley, Stephen. “Solutions to the Year 2000 Problem” Online. Internet. 26 July,1998 Available: http://www.nyx.net/ smanley/cs3113/millenium.html
Olmsted, Scott. Prepare for the Year 2000 Crash: The Threat To Your Everyday Life.” Online. Internet. 12 April, 1998. Available: http://www.prepare4y2k.com/everyday.htm
Richards, Bob. Beware: Prepare For Y2K Glitches. Madison Capitol Times, p.1D. (1998, October 10)
Tzemach, Gayle. “Congressional Report Says Govt. Not Prepared For Year 2000: Government Gets Failing Grade.” ABC News Online. Internet. 23 November, 1998. Available: http://www.abcnews.com/sections/us/DailyNews/2000bug981123.html