Senate panel predicts local disruptions but no disasters

Wednesday, September 22nd 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Senate's Y2K panel, in its final report
before the dawning of the new year 100 days from now, predicted
today the nation will escape nationwide crises from computer
failures but individual Americans can expect some inconveniences.

"This is sort of a fender-bender, we don't see any major wrecks
here," Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, ranking Democrat on
the Y2K panel, said at the release of the 228-page report.

Disruptions from computer failures, concurred Sen. Robert
Bennett, R-Utah, chairman of the panel, "will not occur across the
nation. They will occur across the street."

The report stressed that while problems will be mostly
localized, "disruptions will occur and in some cases those
disruptions will be significant."

It said doctors' offices, school systems, local government
functions such as 911 services and small businesses are the most
vulnerable to computer breakdowns. Dodd said there was concern that
some states are not yet ready to handle Medicaid claims that the
nation's poorer citizens depend on.

Overseas, where many countries have lagged behind in fixing
computers, the situation "will certainly be more tumultuous."

John Koskinen, President Clinton's chief Y2K adviser, said he
and the Senate committee were "pretty much in agreement on where
the risks are."

The bottom line, he said, is that "there will be some glitches,
and nobody is guaranteeing perfection even in the sectors" where
much money and technical know-how has been employed.

The Senate report, the result of nearly 30 hearings by the
panel, emphasized that national preparations have gone well -- that
federal agencies are ready, air traffic control systems are fixed,
nationwide power grids will work, banks will have plenty of money
and Medicare health claim payments should go out on schedule.

The prospects are less predictable for smaller businesses and
public functions that haven't had the money or technical ability to
fix their computers, the report said.

"Y2K could affect the lives of individuals, but exactly in what
manner is unknown," it said. It said Y2K problems "will hit
sporadically, based on geography, size of organization and level of
preparedness, and will cause more inconveniences than tragedies."

It noted that Y2K has been compared to a winter storm, and that
people have been told to make similar kinds of preparations.

The problems could come from older computer systems that use
only two digits to designate years. They could thus mistake the
year 2000, or "00," as 1900, causing malfunctions or breakdowns.

Specifically, the report concluded:

--A prolonged nationwide power blackout will almost certainly not
occur, but local and regional outages "remain a distinct

--Large-scale hospitals and pharmaceutical manufacturers have
made considerable investments to fix Y2K problems, but concerns
remain about the thousands of physicians' offices, nursing homes,
inner-city and rural hospitals and some biomedical devices.

--The telecommunications industry has spent billions to ensure
smooth service, but lagging Y2K readiness in some small domestic
carriers could affect services in rural communities.

--Air traffic control systems should function without trouble,
but some of the nation's 670 airports are at risk in areas such as
jetway security systems and runway lighting.

--Financial services are ready -- ATM machines will work and banks
will have money on hand if, as estimated, each American household
withdraws an average of $500.

--The federal government will spend more than $8 billion to fix
its computer networks, but there's wide variation in readiness
among the nation's 3,000 counties and 87,000 local jurisdictions.
Some 10 states are not prepared to deliver such services as
unemployment insurance and other benefits.

--Large companies have dealt well with the Y2K problem and the
insurance, investment and banking sectors are in good shape. Less
rosy is the picture for the education, healthcare, oil, farming and
construction sectors.

--Internationally, the Y2K picture is disturbing in Russia,
China, Italy and several oil-producing countries. Some important
trading partners are months behind in addressing the problem and
the economic repercussions could result in requests for
humanitarian aid.

The Pentagon, which says it expects little disruption from Y2K
glitches, released a planning memo today saying that, in the worst
possible case where widespread computer failures abroad affected
U.S. military installations, the military will be vulnerable to
possible deliberate attacks on its computer systems.

The memo also said Defense Secretary William Cohen intends to
issue a "Y2K posture statement," or an overall assessment of the
military's readiness to deal with Y2K-related problems, in October.