International Group Expects Limited Y2K Damage

According to a report from the UN-supervised International Y2K Cooperation Center, the massive effort made by governments and companies around the world will prevent widespread computer problems from marring the arrival of the Year 2000.

“The combination of a great deal of dedicated effort, the limited use of digital controls in most infrastructures, and society’s general resilience mean that, although there will be many Y2K-caused errors, the combined negative effect of these errors will be moderate,” the group says in its report.

In a brief philosophical moment, the report adds that, “Life is full of risks.” While the arrival of a new year that will reset the last two digits of computer dates to 00 “creates additional risk in some areas,” the group says, that risk is dropping as companies and organizations around the world increase their readiness.

These findings, however, do not mean that the “moderate” effect will not be felt by some, the center said. “Because some businesses, schools, and governments will not be sufficiently ready, they, and some of the people who depend on them, will suffer economic harm from Y2K-caused errors.”

Such harm will range from minor headaches to job losses, the group noted. Additionally, although most governments and markets are prepared for Y2K-related emergencies, “rapid, large-scale changes in behavior at the end of the year could still exceed the capacity of markets to respond, creating temporary shortages.”

Patience Still A Virtue

Noting that Y2K will not be the automatic culprit of every computer glitch on January 1, 2000, the Cooperation Center is advising people not to panic when computer failures do occur. “Computer failures unrelated to Y2K create problems every day. Like all technologies, information technology is imperfect,” the group said. “Patience will be a virtue, for it will take time to sort out Y2K’s real effects.”

The world is mostly ready for Y2K, across all regions and all infrastructure sectors, the center said. The Cooperation Center is monitoring nine key infrastructure areas: Energy, telecommunications, finance, transportation, health and hospitals, government services, customs and immigration, food, and water.

Most of these critical infrastructures will function about as well as they usually do at the start of a new year, the group says.

In the wealthier countries, where many systems depend upon digital technology, much effort and money has been spent to adjust for the date change and test the new system. Progress toward Y2K solutions has not moved as far in developing countries, but these societies are less dependent upon digital systems. Therefore, the impact of glitches will still be minor, the center says.

Nipping Errors in the Bud

In the early days of January, technicians will have to race to resolve any problems that show up in systems, the center said, because unexpected errors will eventually lead to degraded performance in many infrastructures.

While most infrastructures are not vulnerable to significant problems, the center said the risk remains “medium to high” in health and hospital infrastructures and government services.

“The diversity of medical equipment, a culture that responds best to acute problems, and the complexity and interdependency of systems in modern hospitals” have made addressing the Y2K problem a slower process in health care systems that are not nationalized, the center said.

“In many cases, under-prepared health care facilities [in developing countries] will be required to reduce levels of service beginning early in January.”

In the government arena, the Cooperation Center said the Y2K problem is of gravest concern regarding social welfare payments, emergency services, and national defense, because those are services people rely on the government to provide.

However, the group said it is “highly confident” that errors in social welfare systems will occur sporadically, “causing moderate to serious inconvenience to persons dependent on them.” Manual procedures and contingency plans will be able to ease these problems, the group added.

Emergency services, such as police and fire, are most vulnerable in smaller jurisdictions within wealthy countries, where manual procedures and other contingency plans will likely be tested in the early days of the new year, the center said.

National defense systems around the world have all been fixed and tested, and “confidence and global stability are being enhanced by a variety of bilateral arrangements designed to avoid miscues should warning systems produce erroneous data,” the group said.

In addition, the group added that, “Nuclear weapons present no risk of accidental launch.”

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