Government to warn citizens of Y2K failures overseas

Tuesday, September 14th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) -- In what promises to be the best road map yet
for identifying global problems caused by the Year 2000 technology
glitch, the State Department is readying country-by-country
warnings for Americans living or traveling in 194 nations.

The unprecedented warnings will include details from countries
where visiting Americans could be affected by power outages, water
shortages and other potentially serious problems if computers are
unable to recognize the four-digit date 2000 on Jan 1. The report
was being released today.

Britain said it also planned to publish today a
country-by-country advisory to warn British citizens about nations
most at risk from the Year 2000 technology problem.

The U.S. reports were compiled by its embassies worldwide.
Experts have long complained about the difficulties collecting
adequate information from foreign governments about possible
computer failures.

"Most of the information we're getting is self-reported," said
Robert Bennett, R-Utah, chairman of the Senate's Year 2000
Committee. "If it turns out these self-reported statements are
accurate, the folks won't feel much in the way of Y2K."

The warnings also were expected to suggest how and where
failures overseas may affect U.S. interests in the interconnected
global economy, where problems with the export of Venezuelan crude,
for example, might affect the price of gasoline for motorists here.

"Disruptions in this infrastructure and the relationships among
suppliers and customers will negatively affect individuals, firms,
industries, governments and national and regional economies around
the world," the agency's inspector general, Jacquelyn
Williams-Bridgers, told a Senate committee earlier this year.

The State Department previously has criticized Y2K efforts in
Russia and former Eastern bloc countries, citing a "relatively
high probability of ... failures." It also has predicted problems
with power grids in India and Poland, railroads in China and
telephones and water supplies in Italy.

The task of publicly identifying countries where systems might
fail was clearly a sensitive one for the agency, which called the
warnings "carefully compiled ... in an objective, non-comparative
and non-alarmist way."

The Bureau of Consular Affairs said comments about Y2K efforts
will be added to each nation's updated consular information sheet --
available on the State Department's Internet site -- and said
details will be updated periodically as countries improve.

"Our first priority is to provide information to U.S. citizens
to try to meet their needs," State Department spokesman Phil
Reeker said.

The Year 2000 problem may occur because some computer programs,
especially older ones, might fail when the date changes to 2000.
Because the programs were written to recognize only the last two
digits of a year, such programs could read the digits "00" as

Experts say the world's worst Year 2000 failures will occur
overseas. They are predicting with increasing confidence there will
be no national failures in the United States among key industries.

A new report today from the Office of Management and Budget said
97 percent of the U.S. government's most important computers at its
largest agencies have been fixed. OMB estimated the total cost of
government repairs at $8.34 billion, a slight increase from the
$8.05 billion cited earlier in the summer.

"China is a worry, Japan is a worry, Russia is a worry, Italy
is a worry. ... But many of these countries now are moving more
aggressively and catching up," said Sen. Christopher Dodd,
D-Conn., vice chairman of the Senate Year 2000 Committee.

The Gartner Group Inc., an analyst firm in Stamford, Conn., last
month identified Russia as the highest risk for Y2K failures,
followed by India and a cluster of countries that included
Venezuela, Norway, Japan, Taiwan and Finland.

"Except for what might be a small handful of countries, things
like air-traffic control, airlines and airports are doing pretty
well," said Lou Marcoccio, a research director at Gartner. "I
don't think we're going to end up with a long list of countries
that are extremely dangerous."

Earlier this summer, Cargill Inc., a worldwide grain shipper,
told South Africa it plans to avoid trading in the country between
mid-December and mid-January because of inadequate Y2K

The British list will initially cover 50 countries, with more to
be added in the next few weeks, the government said. When complete,
there will be information about 125 countries.

Countries named as potential problem sites were China,
Indonesia, Malaysia, Russia and Portugal. The Foreign Office
reserved its strongest warning for Ukraine, advising against all
holiday and nonessential travel between the New Year period and
early January.