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911 centers, schools, hospitals unprepared for Y2K

Updated:
Local governments, schools, hospitals and
small businesses continue to lag on repairs to avoid possible Y2K computer problems, the White House warned in its final report on
the nation's preparations.

Only half America's 911 call centers confirmed last month they were ready, and more than one-third of the country's elementary and
secondary schools told the Education Department they aren't yet prepared, said the report, which was to be released Wednesday.

With just over 50 days left, the President's Council on the Year 2000 Conversion cited surveys showing more than one-fourth small
businesses don't intend to do anything to get ready for the New Year's rollover.

The worst among them are adopting a "wait and see" stance toward expected failures, said the report.

John Koskinen, the president's top Y2K adviser, previously warned that 911 computer failures probably wouldn't prevent police
or fire departments from taking calls. But they could force employees to use manual dispatch systems, meaning it will take longer for rescue workers to respond.

"It is clear that a significant amount of work remains for all centers to be ready," the White House study said.

It warned that failures in schools could affect heating, lighting, fire alarms, elevators, student records and teacher payroll.

The council said some health care providers and medical organizations "exhibit troubling levels of readiness," which could cause headaches with billing systems and patient records.

It also debunked worries about a misfired nuclear missile. "Y2K problems will not cause nuclear weapons to launch themselves," the White House reassured citizens. "Nuclear weapons launch requires human intervention."

The report chided organizations "that are not paying appropriate attention to the problem or are adopting a 'wait-and-see' strategy, opting to make repairs after non-compliant systems break down."

The council also criticized organizations with late deadlines for repairs for failing to develop contingency plans for dealing with problems.

But the report broke little new ground. It said the nation's best-prepared sectors continue to include the federal government, power and water utilities, airlines, railroads and telephone companies.

The Clinton administration expressed its "high degree of confidence" in those areas.

The council indicated computer failures overseas were possible, noting that information about preparations by foreign governments is hard to find.

The largest U.S. trading partners, Canada and Mexico, will be ready, and so will most developed countries with which the United
States conducts the bulk of its trade, the report said.

Four of the five countries the U.S. most relies upon for oil imports, for example, predicted no problems with their drilling, refining and delivery systems. Those were Venezuela, Mexico, Canada and Saudi Arabia. Less information was available for Nigeria.

"The greatest risk for significant Y2K-related failures continues to be in developing nations and countries that got a late start on the problem and already have fragile infrastructure systems," the report said. It specifically cited Russia, Ukraine,
China and Indonesia as "more likely to experience significant failures."

The so-called Y2K problem exists because many older computers and software programs recognize only the last two digits of the year and could mistakenly interpret "00" as 1900.
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