Northwest NEWS

January 4, 1999

Front Page

Y2K: risks & solutions

by Carol Edwards

   With only 51 weeks left before the turn of the century, Y2K (the year 2000) is one of the primary concerns facing the world this year.

   No one knows the extent of what will happen to computers and computer-controlled systems when the clock turns to 12:00 a.m., January 1, 2000. The outcome can potentially affect every individual, organization, business, and government agency in some way.

   Any computer and piece of hardware or appliance that contains a computer clock is at risk, especially those computers and computer systems older than 1997. The problem exists for every phase of business operations, including telecommunications companies, banks and other financial systems, gas, water and electrical utilities, transportation systems, national defense systems, closed circuit and open security systems, medical equipment, and much more.

   Even cars, 1996 and older, with fuel injection systems and electronic ignition systems may be affected. Many vehicles that are used for utility and life safety will need to be inspected and verified for Y2K compliance. For example, fire vehicles may start, but their water pumps may not work.

   This situation stems from the way computers have been programmed since the early '60s. The date was entered as two digits, which saved considerable space when memory and storage were limited. Unfortunately, that practice has continued in many cases.

   Computers and those items with a computer clock may not recognize that "00" is greater than "99" and will then set their date to 1900. This could cause an error message and close down the system.

   "You don't have to own a computer to be affected by this," said Mary Freal of Freal and Saulness, CPA. "We have been working with our clients on this problem for the past three years. Everyone needs to know what could be a problem and develop a contingency plan."

   Books, Internet sites, community forums, and media stories and documentaries are now found addressing the potential problems and possible solutions.

   For many homeowners, it is a year to prepare for the worst with the accumulation of backup gear, including generators, batteries, photocopies of insurance policies, bank statements, extra cash, gas, water, and food.

   Others have an optimistic attitude and want to wait and see, believing that there will be rapid solutions. For businesses, however, it is vital for computers and programs to be checked to see if they are Y2K compliant.

   "We recommend that people develop a spreadsheet listing all computers and other items that they believe have computer chips in them. Each then needs to be checked or verified that it will accept the change in date. It is vital to know if the equipment and programs will be service-ready to accept the year 2000 as part of its operation, or will the date change render it useless or present problems," said Art Saulness.

   "Many DOS-based programs are not Y2K compliant. DOS itself is not Y2K compliant," said Rick Leib, a Woodinville MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer). Windows 95, with the Y2K patches, will operate. Windows 98 will also need the Y2K patch updates which are available on Microsoft's website. Windows NT 3.51 and 4.0 will require SP5 and SP4 to be compliant. DOS Windows NT 3.1 and 3.5 will not be Y2K compliant. There is no fix available. Apple Computer's system 7.0 and older are not, and cannot be, Y2K compliant. MacOS and Apple System 7.5 Pro will be compliant with patches provided by Apple (this conflicts with Apple's long-reported Y2K compliance ever since the first Macintosh debuted in 1984, details of which can be found at Apple and the Year 2000.).

   "The NASDAQ, NYSE, and S&P500 have successfully passed the Y2K audit," added Leib, who mentioned that major institiutions with old mainframe computers are scrambling to find solutions, including the IRS.

   The important thing for each individual is be aware and have a plan. Remember that even if you are one of the optimistic sorts, your electric alarm clock, microwave, TV, garage door opener, and coffee maker may be affected. To educate yourself, there are a growing number of Internet sites that may offer solutions.

   "The very best, and most respected, website that addresses the Y2K compliancy is www.gartnergroup.com," said Leib. "This website offers you not only information, but links and downloadable files that you can use to test your systems. However, the manufacturer of the item is still the best source for information."

   Other websites include:

   "Personally, I am taking all of my cash out of the bank and taking a vacation to Wyoming from December 26 to January 5 to make sure that the defense systems are working properly," said Leib.