Battling the Bug
The millennium bug is such a formidable
opponent that programmers are concentrating on fixing only the computers critical
to a business's operation. Here is where some key industries are at present.
Though only one-third of the FAA's critical computer systems - air traffic
control, for example - had been fixed as of press time, administrator
Jane Garvey, insisting the organization will be ready, recently announced
plans to fly across the country shortly after midnight January 1, 2000.
Boeing and Airbus say their aircraft have no Year 2000 safety issues.
Missiles will not fire without warning, says Army consultant Rich Hoffman.
Though these and other weapons have embedded chips, Hoffman says a malfunction
would disable the weapon, not deploy it. The bigger issue, he says, is
the possibility of a mistaken offensive. Recently, the Clinton administration
appointed a commission to raise awareness in the international
community about this issue.
Billing systems are more at risk than operations, says Steve Rosenstock of
the Edison Electric Institute, which represents America's publicly owned
utilities. Even if an embedded chip detected a maintenance problem,
Rosenstock says, the chances are slim that it would shut down the system.
Only 30 percent of U.S. hospitals have formal remediation plans, yet the effects
of Year 2000 could be dire: Not only could medical records be lost,
but IV feeders could malfunction and dialysis machines could shut down. On
the positive side, pacemakers and other medical implant devices are
not affected, contrary to popular belief, says leading manufacturer
The Year 2000 problem could
show up in two places: the internal clock or the operating system. All
Macintosh computers and operating systems are compliant, but IBM-compatible
PCs built before 1996 with Pentium or older chips could face millennium
bug issues, depending on which version of the chip you have. As far as operating
systems, Windows 98 has no problems, but Windows 3.1 and older versions of
Windows 95 will need software patches. Software to test and fix these
older machines and systems is available on the Internet. Also, a few
software programs, such as Intuit's online banking software, have Year 2000
The major U.S. banks are well along. Small banks, however, are lagging,
prompting experts to warn that some of them could be bought out as a
result of Year 2000. Even so, they say, your money should be safe. But if
you're looking for another layer of security, keep copies of old financial
statements - along with copies of credit card, investment, loan,
and tax records - just in case.
The Social Security Administration began its efforts seven years ago and,
as such, is the government's poster child on how to fix the problem
correctly. It is also working with related agencies - the Treasury Department,
Federal Reserve, and Postal Service - to ensure checks are delivered
Though the major U.S. long-distance carriers - AT&T, Sprint, and MCI - expect
to be ready, their transmission systems depend on the nation's 1,400
regional carriers to work properly. The Federal Communications Commission
says 98 percent of U.S. coverage areas will be compliant by mid-1999. Calling
international? Experts warn that some developing countries will
likely not make the deadline.
With most aspects of the securities industry reliant on computers, Year 2000
is a top priority. In July, the Securities Industry Association sponsored
a two-week test - the first example of an industry coming together to test
for the bug - involving major stock exchanges and 29 brokerage firms,
among others. Results are encouraging; no major glitches were uncovered.