The Co-Intelligence Institute/Y2K // Y2K home // CII home

Is this Y2K problem for real?

{For more recent news that has crossed our desktops, visit 1999 Y2K Problem News}

Important Note: The Y2K scene is constantly changing. I have chosen to focus on finding and creating materials to help people use Y2K for personal and social transformation. I have found that trying to keep general Y2K pages like this one updated takes a tremendous amount of time. Since there are dozens of sites that do that job better than I ever could, I've decided to refer you to them and to spend my time on what I do best -- collecting materials on transformation. Good sites to keep up with current genral Y2K information include: Wild2K, Douglass Carmichael's site (see especially his archived weekly newsletter), the Napa Valley, CA community group's site, Alan Lewis' Y2K Pages: Y2-KO or Y2-OK?, Larry Sanger's Daily links to and intelligent summaries of 6-10 top news stories about Y2K, Westergaard, Peter de Jager's site and the comprehensive news source Y2Ktoday. I wish you good luck in your explorations. -- Tom Atlee

Is this Y2K problem for real?

The simple answer is yes. Corporations and governments wouldn't be spending billions of dollars on it if it weren't real. But will it be a real crisis? There are two answers to that:

  1. We don't know. And we won't know until it happens. There are just too many variables to make dependable predictions.
  2. How much of a crisis it ends up being will depend on how much remediation and preparation we do beforehand -- as individuals, organizations, communities and nations -- and how wise we are about our choices. The more effective attention we put on this problem, the less of a problem it will prove to be.

But (you may well ask) how should we act NOW? This is the hard question. The longer we wait to find out how bad it's going to be, the less time we will have to prepare if it looks like a real crisis is inevitable. But preparation uses up precious time, attention and resources that we'd really like to use on other things right now. So we are faced with having to make judgements about how much preparation is wise, and when to start. Different people, groups, communities, organizations and countries will come to different conclusions. Time will tell whose judgements were wisest.

Personally, I think there is a real crisis unfolding which can only be ameliorated by A LOT of us acknowledging that it is happening and putting A LOT of attention on preparations. This page gives you some of the evidence I have seen, which lead me to take this problem seriously.

-- Tom Atlee

The informed judgements of authorities

Official 60 Minutes Transcript, the official and complete transcript of the May 23, 1999 60 Minutes segment on Y2K; look at how local governments, including Washington, DC, are less prepared for a possible Y2K crash than many think.

Gordon's Y2K Sifter - one person's intelligent attempt to pick the best pieces of info about whether Y2K is a problem and how to prepare.

"I came here today because I wanted to stress the urgency of the challenge.... Clearly, we must set forth what the government is doing, what business is doing, but also what all of us have yet to do to meet this challenge together. And there is still a pressing need for action.... In the business sector just as in the government sector, there are still gaping holes. Far too many businesses, especially small- and medium-sized firms, will not be ready unless they begin to act. A recent Walls Fargo bank survey shows that of the small businesses that even know about the problem, roughly half intend to do nothing about it." -- President Bill Clinton, in a speech about Y2K at the National Academy of Sciences, July 15,1998

"I am very, very concerned that even as government and business leaders are finally acknowledging the seriousness of this problem, they are not thinking about the contingency plans that need to be put into place to minimize the harm from widespread failures.... I think we're no longer at the point of asking whether or not there will be any power disruptions, but we are now forced to ask how severe the disruptions are going to be.... If the critical industries and government agencies don't start to pick up the pace of dealing with this problem right now, Congress and the Clinton Administration are going to have with a true national emergency." -- Senator Christopher J. Dodd (Democrat from Connecticut), at the first hearings of the Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem, June 12, 1998

"When people say to me, 'Is the world going to come to an end?' I say, 'I don't know.' I don't know whether this will be a bump in the road -- that's the most optimistic assessment of what we've got, a fairly serious bump in the road -- or whether this will, in fact, trigger a major worldwide recession with absolutely devastating economic consequences in some parts of the world... We must coldly, calculatingly divide up the next 18 months to determine what we can do, what we can't do, do what we can, and then provide for contingency plans for that which we cannot." -- Senator Robert F. Bennett (Republican from Utah), chair of the Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem, in a speech June 2, 1998, to The Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"The nation's utilities told a Senate panel today [June 12] that they were working to solve expected computer problems when 1999 ends but that they could not guarantee that the lights would not go out on Jan. 1, 2000." -- New York Times, June 13, 1998

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) -- a trade association for electric utility companies -- says the Y2K problem will begin to disrupt businesses, including electric utilities, a year before the new century begins: "Major disruptions in technical and business operations could begin as early as January 1, 1999. Nearly every industry will be affected." [ challenge.html]

Y2K is "the biggest screwup of the computer age" and it may cost $1 trillion to fix. [For comparison, the Vietnam War cost half that much, $500 billion.] -- Gene Bylinsky, "Industry Wakes Up to the Year 2000 Menace," Fortune, April 27, 1998, pgs. 163-180. []

Y2K is a "very, very serious problem.... There's no point in sugarcoating the problem... If we don't fix the century-date problem, we will have a situation scarier than the average disaster movie you might see on a Sunday night." -- Charles Rossetti, commissioner of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS), cited by Tom Herman in "A Special Summary and Forecast of Federal and State Tax Developments," Wall Street Journal, April 22, 1998, pg. A1.

"Serious vulnerabilities remain in addressing the federal government's Year 2000 readiness, and ... much more action is needed to ensure that federal agencies satisfactorily mitigate Year 2000 risks to avoid debilitating consequences.... As a result of federal agencies' slow progress, the public faces the risk that critical services could be severely disrupted by the Year 2000 computing crisis." "Unless progress improves dramatically, a substantial number of mission-critical systems will not be year-2000 compliant in time." -- Joel C. Willemssen in the Government Accounting Office report "Year 2000 Computing Crisis: Actions Must be Taken Now to Address the Slow Pace of Federal Progress" [GAO/T-AIMD-98-205] (Washington, D.C.: General Accounting Office, June 10, 1998). []

"The focus of conversation among those best versed in this issue is about how we are going to clean up after what appears now to be an inevitable train wreck. As a society, we are on the point of conceding failure. Those unwilling or unable to move off the track are numerous. Federal agencies. State governments. Local and municipal governments. School districts. Private sector industries. Small and mid-sized companies. Critical infrastructure players. And most foreign nations. It's crazy. It's frustrating. It cannot be happening. But it is. Now the "smart" questions have shifted to concentrate on contingency planning, crisis management, and liability. Lawyers are circling, and that is not a good sign. Failure is not part of the American fiber. Yet after this transition to the new century, society may have to admit that here was a situation it saw coming. Everyone understood its hard deadline. Everyone appreciated its worldwide scope. Everyone realized its massive potential to cause harm. And everyone let it happen. Given where the federal government stands today, I feel very confident in predicting that some mission critical government systems will fail -- perhaps as early as January 1, 1999. A recent ITAA survey showed that 44% of organizations have already experienced a Y2K failure." -- Harris N. Miller, President of Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), a trade association representing 11,000 information technology companies, testifying to the House Subcommittee on Oversight, Ways and Means Committee, May 7, 1998.

"I plead guilty to journalistic incompetence for ignoring what may be one of the decade's big stories: the Year 2000 problem.... The House subcommittee on government management, information and technology, chaired by Rep. Stephen Horn (R-Calif.), estimates that the federal government has almost 8,000 'mission critical' computer systems and that only 35 percent are now prepared for the year 2000. At the present rate, the committee projects that only 63 percent will make it. Most disturbing is the estimate that only about a quarter of the Defense Department's 2,900 systems are now ready. Among private companies, readiness also seems spotty. The head of General Motors' information systems recently told Fortune magazine that the company is working feverishly to rectify 'catastrophic problems' at its plants.... The FAA reports that its radar has a date mechanism to regulate a critical coolant. If the software isn't fixed, 'the cooling system will not turn on at the correct time ... and the [radar] could overheat and shut down.' Potential glitches like this abound. No one knows how many there are. Millions of lines of software have to be scanned and, if wrong, rewritten, computers must then be tested.... Little testing has been done. It's complex and time-consuming. Often, systems can only be tested on weekends when not in use. For the press, I grasp the difficulties of covering this story. It's mostly hypothetical....[so] anyone writing about it now is shoved uneasily toward one of two polar positions: reassuring complacency (fixes will be made); or hysterical alarmism (the world will collapse).... I lean towards alarmism simply because all the specialists I contacted last week -- people actually involved with fixing the computers -- are alarmed. On the record, they say the problem is serious and the hour is late. Their cheeriest view is that 'no one knows' what will happen. Off the record, they incline toward Doomsday.... We can deny the possibilities and pray they don't materialize. Or we can pay attention and hope to minimize them. Either way, the year 2000 won't wait." -- Robert J. Samuelson, "Computer Doomsday?" Washington Post, May 6, 1998

"I would like to tell you that...the efforts of hundreds of Y2K-focused consulting firms around the world has pretty much worked, and that long before we hit the Y2K wall less than two years from now, the problems will be pretty much solved. I would like to tell you that-- but it would be a lie.... Many, many firms, including some surprisingly large ones, have continued to drag their feet...and now won't possibly be ready to avoid disastrous problems come that cold January morning. For one thing, virtually everyone competent in the Y2K analysis-and-fixes business is already fully booked through January 1, 2000 and beyond. Companies with Y2K problems often cannot find people to work on those problems. Not just enough people, but any people.... The Y2K business ... is full of misinformation, hype, fear mongering and exaggeration. Certainly some of that is crass, self-promoting hype by such entities as consulting and programming shops, which stand to benefit from spreading fear about Y2K meltdowns. But a tragic if understandable backlash has begun against Y2K warnings that is ultimately even more destructive: the claim that Y2K is a myth, a nonissue that will go away if the loudmouths will just shut up. It will not. It is real. I believe Y2K will be the single biggest business crisis many of us will face in our lifetimes.... I've avoided writing a Y2K Fears column until now because I find it unseemly to be associated with the sky-is-falling types. I've been confident that American business, indeed global business, would address this problem early, aggressively, effectively. I was wrong. They didn't. We didn't." -- Jim Seymour, "The Hidden Side(s) of Y2K," PC Magazine, February 10, 1998 <>.

"The fact is no one knows how much progress is occurring among state and local governments, private business firms, foreign businesses, and foreign governments. No one can say with any certainty that the following systems won't fail to some degree during 2000: nuclear missile systems, electric power grids, oil and gas distribution, telecommunications, air traffic control, transportation, shipping, manufacturing, distribution, banking, finance, and government services. I suppose, we can be naïve optimists and conclude that all will be well because the consequences of failure are so terrible. This blind approach is unacceptable, in my opinion. We need more answers about Y2K so we can assess the risks and prepare contingency and disaster recovery plans." Dr. Edward Yardeni, Chief Economist & Managing Director, Deutsche Bank Securities (a global investment banking firm), testimony July 22, 1998 to the Senate Committee On Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, Hearing on the Year 2000 Problem and Agriculture (read the rest of his testimony at for an excellent set of 11 questions regarding the vulnerability of our food supply in 2000)

"Research has shown that only 43% of businesses suffering a disaster ever recovered sufficiently to resume business, according to the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C. Among businesses that do re-open, only 29% are still operating two years later. Even more ominous, is the fact that 93% of businesses that lost their datacenter for 10 days or more had filed for bankruptcy within one year of the disaster. And 50% of businesses that found themselves without data management for the same time period filed for bankruptcy immediately." American Power Conversion,

"We do not know or cannot really realistically make an evaluation of what the economic impact is as a consequence of the breakdowns that may occur. We do not know the size. We do not know the contagion and interaction with the system, and we do not know how rapidly we can resolve the problem." Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan, Senate Banking Committee Testimony, February 25, 1998.

"Year 2000 is truly a 'weakest link' problem. The single system or date conversion we miss may be the undoing of the 99% we did find. Because the telcos can't recreate the entire public network, the true test of the network won't come until January 1, 2000." A. Gerald Roth, VP of Technology Programs at GTE, InformationWeek, June 22, 1998.

"The biggest problems and opportunities with the Y2K bug are not going to be food storage, debugging code, or power outages, but how people react to the situation: how we treat each other; how much we help each other through this; what kind of creative, appropriate responses we meet the challenge with will determine whether we build and bring together our local communities or whether things degenerate into mob rule." Michael Connolly, WizCity,

Has the Y2K bug bit your PC? Find out with tools that analyze, report, and sometimes fix this date dilemma. Read Computer Current's February 23, 1999 article, Y2K Revisited.

See also South African Year 2000 Decision Support Centre

Solid evidence from Rachel's

This evidence is gathered from Rachel's Environment and Health Weekly -- one of the most respected research journals in the environmental movement -- Issues 604 (6/25/98) and 605 (7/2/98) of the electronic edition.

By the year 2000, there will be an estimated 25 billion embedded
systems, according to the Gartner Group, which advertises itself
as the world's foremost authority on information technology.
[Embedded systems are microchips embedded in machines, appliances, equipment and automated systems of all kinds. -- Tom]
By Gartner Group's estimate, two-tenths of one percent of these
25 billion embedded systems will be [Y2K] noncompliant. Two-tenths
of one percent of 25 billion is 50 million. Therefore, the
problem, according to Gartner Group, is to identify and replace
those 50 million noncompliant embedded systems in the next 500
days. To solve this problem, someone would have to identify,
replace, and test about 100,000 chips each day between now and
December 31, 1999. Does the U.S. have enough technicians to
identify, replace and test 100,000 chips each day? It seems

Because non-compliant
computers could harm a company's financial picture (up to and
including bankruptcy), on January 12, 1998, the federal
Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued SEC Staff Legal
Bulletin No. 5, which requires publicly-held companies to report
their progress toward solving their Y2K problems. On June 10,
1998, Steve Hock, president of Triaxsys Research in Missoula,
Montana, testified before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban
Affairs Committee that his company had examined the SEC filings
of America's 250 largest corporations. Mr. Hock told the
Senate that 114 of the 250 companies had filed no Y2K information
with the SEC. Of the 136 companies that HAVE filed Y2K
information, 101 reported their progress on the assessment phase
of the problem. Of these 101, 60% revealed that they have not
yet completed their assessments of the Y2K problem.

[Note: The assessment phase should take up 5% of the time used in any Y2K remediation project (see notes below). Since I believe companies making good progress would not tend to hide that progress, I tend to suspect that (114+101=) 215 of the largest 250 corporations in the US still have over 90% of their Y2K work to do yet. This is only an assumption, but it is based on the best information available. -- Tom]

Mr. Hock testified that 36 companies reported their estimated Y2K
project costs and how much they had so far spent. The average
company reported having spent 21% of the expected total costs of
Y2K fixes. Mr. Hock concluded, "[The] data shows remarkably
little progress by the largest US companies in addressing the
Year 2000 problem. Most of the work has been compressed into an
extremely tight window of time. Given the information technology
industry's long history of failure to complete large scale system
conversion projects on time, this is cause for serious

The New York Federal Reserve Bank has said that it will take more
than a year for a large corporation to test its computers for Y2K
compliance AFTER all their software has been fixed. This
means all fixes must be completed by September or October of 1998
so testing can begin in time. But many large corporations are
still at the stage of assessing the problem, and it's now late

How big is the task for a complex corporation? State Farm
Insurance -- a company that believes it is on top of the Y2K
problem -- began working on the problem in 1989 and found that it
had 70 million lines of computer code to convert, 475,000 data
processing items, more than 2000 third-party software programs,
900 shared electronic files, plus miscellaneous telephone and
business equipment in 1550 corporate and regional service
facilities. State Farm still has 100 employees working "around
the clock" on nothing but Y2K.

But even a forward-looking company like State Farm could be
harmed by this problem if its customers, suppliers, partners,
bankers, and regulators aren't compliant by the year 2000. As
Merrill Lynch says, "Even institutions that have fixed their own
internal problem will feel the ripple effects from problems
occurring externally."
ref: <>.

A survey of small businesses by the National Federation of
Independent Businesses (NFIB) reported June 1 that 75% of small
businesses have done nothing about the Y2K problem. The NFIB
estimated that 330,000 small businesses will go bankrupt and
another 370,000 will be "temporarily crippled" by the Y2K problem.

[If the vast majority of large companies aren't through the assessment phase of their remediation projects, and if 75% of small businesses haven't even started Y2K remediation projects (and half of those who know about Y2K don't plan to do anything, according to the Wells Fargo survey cited by Clinton, above), isn't it reasonable to conclude that a lot of these businesses are going to be in trouble? And, to the extent we're dependent on them, wouldn't we be in trouble, too? -- Tom]

The deadline for having everything fixed -- December 31, 1999 --
is just over 500 days away, and it is an unusual kind of deadline
because it cannot be ignored or extended. FORTUNE magazine
reported April 27, 1998, that, on average, large corporations are
only 34% of the way through the job of making their systems
ref: Gene Bylinsky, "Industry Wakes Up to the Year 2000 Menace,"
FORTUNE April 27, 1998, pgs. 163-180.

[So who does one believe? And how do we deal with the differences among surveys and estimates? 34% is one of the most optimistic estimates I've seen -- but what does being 34% of the way through mean when there's one year left and State Farm has been working on it for a decade and isn't done? -- Tom]

GAO reported June 10, 1998, that 24 government agencies are only
40% of the way toward their goal of Y2K compliance.
[GAO/T-AIMD-98-205] (Washington, D.C.: General Accounting Office,
June 10, 1998).

Why is this seemingly-simple problem so difficult? Merrill Lynch,
the financial management firm, says there are four reasons:

1. Pervasiveness. Computers that depend on dates are present in
every kind of technology -- manufacturing systems, medical
equipment, elevators, telephone switches, satellites, and even

2. Interdependence: Computers exchange information among
themselves. "A single uncorrected system can easily spread
corrupted data throughout an organization and even affect
external institutions," Merrill Lynch says.

3. Inconsistency: Computer languages do not store and use dates
in a consistent way. Dates are labeled, stored, and used in
different ways from program to program and even within a single
program. Therefore, identifying and correcting dates requires
close inspection of the computer code line by line.

4. Size: Most large corporations and government agencies use
thousands of programs containing millions of lines of computer
code. Each line of code must be inspected manually and, if
necessary, fixed.


[These reasons are given for why it is so hard to find bad code, correct it, and keep it clean. But some of these same factors help make our entire socioeconomic system vulnerable to damage if even a small amount of bad code doesn't get found and corrected. For example, the manual switching systems on railroad lines have been replaced with computerized systems. If a Y2K bug knocks a few of them out -- or knocks out even just a few of the electrical utilities upon which they depend -- we won't have manual overrides. The railroad system could get very snarled very fast. That, in turn, would result in a failure to deliver fuel to other power plants, which would go down, causing railroad snarls in THEIR areas, etc. That kind of interdependence could be quite problematic, as the ripples spread... -- Tom]

There are additional reasons why this is a particularly difficult

** Many business computer programs that run on the largest
("mainframe") computers are written in an obsolete language
called COBOL. COBOL hasn't been taught for 10 years, so there is
a distinct shortage of COBOL programmers.
ref: Gene Bylinsky, "Industry Wakes Up to the Year 2000 Menace,"
FORTUNE April 27, 1998, pgs. 163-180. Available on the web:
and ref: Rajiv Chandrasekaran, "Older Programmers May Fix Future,"
WASHINGTON POST March 2, 1997, pg. A1.

** Indeed, there is a shortage of all programmers to work on Y2K
problems. Swiss Re (a firm that insures insurance companies
against major losses) says, "A total of well over three million
programmers would be needed to solve the millenium [date] problem
in the US. In actual fact there are only around two million of
them at present."
ref: <

** When computer code is re-written, new errors are introduced at
an average rate of one new error in every 14 lines of re-written
code. Thus even "Y2K compliant" code may not work right when the
time comes.
ref: Gene Bylinsky, "Industry Wakes Up to the Year 2000 Menace,"
FORTUNE April 27, 1998, pgs. 163-180.

And from other sources...

Year 2000 expert Peter de Jager notes that it is not unusual for a company to have more than 10,000,000 lines of code -- the IRS, for instance, has at least eighty million lines. The Social Security Administration began working on its thirty million lines of code in 1991. After five years of work, in June, 1996, four hundred programmers had fixed only six million lines. The IRS has 88,000 programs on 80 mainframe computers to debug. By the end of last year they had cleaned up 2,000 programs.
ref: The Washington Post, "If Computer Geeks Desert, IRS Codes Will Be ciphers," December 24, 1997

In a stark warning about the Year 2000 computer glitch threat, Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre cited a need to calm Russian nuclear forces in particular if the "bug" caused their computers to crash, as many systems may fail worldwide. He told the Senate Armed Services Committee that cash-strapped Russian forces were relying more and more on nuclear weapons "as a safeguard for their national security." "And their early warning system is fragile," he said. Such systems [are] heavily reliant on computers to mesh data from satellites, radars and other sensors... He said Defense Secretary William Cohen ordered plans drawn up for sharing early warning information so "we don't enter into a nightmare condition where everybody is all of a sudden uncertain, and their screens go blank." He said Asian countries and nations of the old Soviet bloc were lagging the most in rewriting old computer code to cope with the date switch [and that] Russian forces lacked a program to deal with the so-called Y2K problem.... Calling the Y2K glitch the electronic equivalent of El Nino weather pattern, Hamre said: "This is going to have implications in the world and in American society we can't even comprehend." "I will be first to say we're not going to be without some nasty surprises," he said. -- Jim Wolf, "U.S. fears 2000 bug could spook Russian forces" (Reuters, June 8, 1998)

The city of New York awoke to the magnitude of this problem last September. The governor of New York State banned all nonessential IT [information technology] projects to minimize the disruption caused by the year 2000 bomb after reading a detailed report that forecasts the millennium will throw New York City into chaos, with power supplies, schools, hospitals, transport, and the finance sector likely to suffer severe disruption. Compounding the city's Y2K risks is the recent departure of the head of its year 2000 project to a job in the private sector.

The anticipated problems extend far beyond U.S. shores. In February, the Bangkok Post reported that Phillip Dodd, a Unysis Y2K expert, expects that upward of 70% of the businesses in Asia will fail outright or experience severe hardship because of Y2K. The Central Intelligence Agency supports this with their own analysis: "We're concerned about the potential disruption of power grids, telecommunications and banking services, among other possible fallout, especially in countries already torn by political tensions."
ref: Reuters: "CIA: Year 2000 to hit basic services: Agency warns that many nations aren't ready for disruption," Jim Wolf, May 7, 1998

"After investing person-decades, Motorola and Digital Equipment Corporation have concluded that it is cheaper to let some of their manufacturing facilities fail than to begin the analysis, much less the repair, much less the testing required to address the problem [of their embedded systems]. The electric utilities do not have this option. The water, food and transportation systems do not have this option. There are rare examples, Sallie Mae Corporation to name one, that have spent billions to build entirely Y2K compliant buildings so that they will be able to function next century... When one ponders the implications, for some, a numbness sets in.... The Wyoming Legislature voted in March 1998 to spend no dollars to STUDY the Y2K issue."
ref: "Embedded Systems and the Year 2000 Problem" (23 March 1998) by Mark A. Frautschi, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Johns Hopkins University  

This Journey Begins with Five Steps

Electronics engineer Harlan Smith is a leading member of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility's Y2K Working Group. He has 36 years experience working on complex radar systems in the military, General Electric and Texas Instruments -- systems with tens of thousands of embedded chips. He describes the five steps needed in any Y2K Remediation plan, and the percentage of the total schedule time needed, on average, to complete each step.

Inventory and Initial Assessment: (5 percent)
Impact Assessment and Conversion Planning: (20 percent)
Systems Conversion: (20 percent)
Unit and System Testing: (45 percent)
Implementation and Business Partner Links: (10 percent)

This should be followed by at least six months (and preferably a year) of full operational testing to "wring the bugs out." If the minimum six months testing time is allowed, any company starting in mid-1998 would have a year (52 weeks) to complete the five steps. The initial assessment stage would then have to be done in 2-3 weeks. Since most companies, large and small, haven't even finished this first step, an objective observer would have to conclude that many won't complete their task before the immovable deadline. Wouldn't it make sense to start investing resources in contingency preparations?


In 1995 Peter de Jager predicted difficulties with last-minute fixes as systems started to go down: "How fast can you install a new system when the entire company is a) screaming at you? and b) Blaming you? and c) the old system is dead and dead computers leave no audit trails. How stable will your project team be ... when the company down the street is in the same predicament and offers huge 'incentives' to your staff to jump ship and help them?" (Quoted in "The Year 2000 Frequently Asked Questions," Version 2.3 - May 5, 1998, from de Jager's website

Why you can't be sure until it's tested, and even then...

In Australia, when engineers simulated tests of the water storage facility at Coff's Harbour, they discovered that the system that regulates purification of the water would have dumped all the purification chemicals into the water on 1/1/2000 causing a mix toxic enough to kill the entire population of it's supply area. (Note: see Is the Coff's Harbor Y2K incident real?)

Also in Australia, a giant manufacturer's Y2K remediation team rolled their "corrected" computers forward to January 7, 2000 for what they expected would be a 6-hour test run of their work. Twelve programmers had worked diligently for nine months on a $3 million contract to get to this point. What happened stunned them. "Within minutes, 750 programs had fallen over. One of the few programs to continue running was invoicing, but it was producing invoices for the 43rd day of the 14th month. As the job finally ground to a halt, a silence hung over the room as everyone stared vacantly into the terminal...." Luckily for the company, this was only a test. The extremely obscure bug that caused the problem was duly found and corrected. But the team calculated that it would have taken a month to find that bug, if they'd been working in a live operating environment. To actually fix the bug would have taken six months. Even now, the team will not promise their client that no further bugs will crop up in the year 2000. The experience did, however, provide the company with a powerful wake-up call. The Y2K team's project manager noted that "until something like this happens, they don't understand what Y2K can do to them."

Back here in the US, Chrysler shut down it's Sterling Heights Assembly plant last year to test its Y2K fixes. They set all the clocks in the plant to 12/31/99. They expected to find a few computer glitches ­p; but they were unprepared for what actually happened: The security system shut down and wouldn't let anybody in or out of the plant. And they couldn't have paid people because the time clock systems didn't work.

General Motors conducted similar experiments and their CIO, Ralph Szygenda stated that "at each one of our factories there are catastrophic problems. Amazingly enough, machines on the factory floor are far more sensitive to incorrect dates then we ever anticipated. When we tested robotic devices for transition into the year 2000, for example, they just froze and stopped operating."

And it isn't just that we might not have new cars: An executive of a company that makes a volatile gas told Y2K expert Peter de Jager that an embedded chip had failed when the date was moved forward in a test. In real life, that chip failing would have shut off a valve that would have shut down the cooling system. A cooling system shutdown, the executive said, would have caused an explosion.

(from an article by Virginia Hick, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nov. 19, 1997, p. C8)

Perhaps now you can appreciate why I'm worried that so many companies have barely begun the first steps of remediation. They're going to need all the time they can get for their "step five" testing and final debugging.

Watch that last step. It's a doozy!

(For other incidents that are Year 2000 or date related, click here.)

The view from the trenches

What do those on the Y2K front lines think of all this? The Washington D.C. Year 2000 Group is made up of individuals dealing with Year 2000 issues in their respective government agencies and private organizations as workers, technical managers, high-level managers, consultants, vendors, lawmakers, and so on.. 229 of them responded to an email poll asking them to estimate the impact of the Y2K bug on a scale of 0-10:

0 No real impact
1 Local impact for some enterprises
2 Significant impact for many enterprises
3 Significant market adjustment (20%+ drop); some bankruptcies
4 Economic slowdown; rise in unemployment; isolated social incidents
5 Mild recession; isolated supply/infrastructure problems; runs on banks
6 Strong recession; local social disruptions; many bankruptcies
7 Political crises; regional supply/infrastructure problems, disruptions
8 Depression; infrastructure crippled; markets collapse; local martial law
9 Supply/infrastructure collapse; widespread disruptions, martial law
10 Collapse of US government; possible famine

Note: "Social incidents" and "disruptions" have to do with demonstrations, work stoppages, strikes, organized vandalism, looting, and riots. "Supply/infrastructure problems" have to do with food shortages, fuel/heating oil shortages, disruptions in public utilities (power, gas, telecom), disruptions in transportation (airlines, trucking), and so on.

Partial results of the survey were published in Newsweek May 4, 1998, p. 62. Full results are available at . Here's the summary made by the surveyor, Bruce Webster:

84% believe that it will trigger at least a 20%+ drop in the stock market -over 1800 points in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, given its current levels- and some business bankruptcies.

Two-thirds (66%) believe that it will cause at least an economic slowdown, a rise in unemployment, and some isolated social incidents.

Over half (56%) believe that it will at the least result in a mild recession, isolated infrastructure and supply problems, and some runs on banks.

One-third (34%) believe that it will at the least result in a strong recession, local social disruptions, and many business bankruptcies.

One-fourth (26%) believe that in additional to all the above, the Y2K problem will at least result in political crises within the United States, regional supply and infrastructure disruptions, and regional social disruptions.

One-tenth (10%) believe at least that the United States will suffer another depression (or worse), that financial markets will collapse, that the national infrastructure will be crippled, and that martial law will be declared in some local areas.

Once we decide there is really something to pay attention to here, we can respond in a number of ways. Some people choose to focus on their own organizational or personal preparednes. Some of us have chosen to focus on the preparedness of whole communities and countries -- and on making our societies more resilient and sustainable so such crises don't happen to us so often. If you'd like to join this effort, or would like more information, read more of the Co-Intelligence Institute's website You can email us at

There's much more evidence around regarding Y2K -- on my site and elsewhere on the Web.
Try to base your Y2K judgements on significant evidence
and not just heresay or the opinions of a few friends or relatives.
The stakes are too high to be uninformed.

A few further notes:

(which you can drop if you are copying this to pass along...)

The Dream of a Technical Fix for Y2K
A Big Grocer's Y2K Nightmare