Y2K—The Non-Event

April 26, 2000
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Welcome to 2000, the rollover that was touted as doomsday to some, and the beginning of a new millennium to others. To the whole, it was an uneventful and unexpected success. Experts were not expecting worldwide chaos, but they were shocked by the relatively easy transition. The concentrated effort to anticipate for possible Y2K-related problems contributed to America’s preparedness.

For the last three years, American businesses and its government have been securing financial, transportation and educational institutions for fluid transition. On the eve of this momentous occasion, companies scheduled additional technical staff for the midnight turnover, cities beefed up police forces, and emergency personnel were at the ready. Fear of losing electricity and water, as well as financial records—especially with the possibility of disrupting the prosperous US economy—were realistic concerns, but everything went smoothly, smoother than a typical New Year’s Eve than previous years.

So, What Did Happen?

The situation was not perfect though. The government sector had its share of bug-related mishaps, which the President’s Council on Year 2000 Conversion covered in a recent status report.

The council stated that seven nuclear power plants encountered minor problems with computer systems used to support physical plant control access, monitor operating data and calculate meteorological data. The systems were not critical, the council reported.

In another power-related problem, the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) reported to the Department of Energy that a brief desynchronization of minor, non-critical management systems occurred at power plants throughout North America.

In addition, the United States lost contact with a core net of spy satellites orbiting Earth. The Pentagon stated that immediate repairs to enable observation in “high priority” areas were completed within hours; however, the satellites were not fully operational until approximately Jan. 4, 2000.

A frightening situation also hit a Charlotte, NC, 911 system when the computer dispatch system shut down during a Y2K test conducted on Dec. 28, 1999. Fortunately, the bug was fixed in the system after further tests.

Air transportation—probably the most scrutinized and most vulnerable to error—reported that a few airports encountered problems due to minor glitches in Low-Level Windshear Alert (LLWAS) and Kavouras Graphic Weather Display systems. And a security access system froze in the open position at a federal building in Omaha, NE. The problem was fixed temporarily by resetting the system’s internal clock to 1972.

The Cost of Preparation

The successful transition has been accompanied by a backlash from critics condemning the hype and the high cost of Y2K preparations. It has created a strong dialogue in the media between critics and defenders of Y2K spending. Efforts to correct the early computer programming technique required a new technical-assistance infrastructure that needed to be budgeted.

The Gartner Group estimated that businesses in the United States spent more than $225 billion to combat the millennium bug. More than $13 billion tax dollars went to protect the government sector, according to the International Data Corp. In contrast to the Gartner Group’s business estimations, the International Data Corp. says U.S. businesses spent more toward $134 billion on preparations. These numbers are preliminary speculations since official cost numbers are currently being collected.

Ironically, business spending on preparation has helped American economy, said Lawrence Kudlow, chief economist from Schroder & Co., a New York investment bank. Kudlow explained that Y2K spending on computer software and hardware may have added 1.5 percentage points to the U.S. economic growth from 1998-1999.

Overall, the costs were a preventative method to combat a new problem for modern culture. Fortunately, in the case of Y2K, no news was good news. The last few years of preparation paid off well. Forecasts of large electrical and telecommunications fears failed to raise their ugly heads, and financial records have been found accurate and primarily untouched by any Y2K-related mishaps. So much for the “Y2K bug.”

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