Northwest NEWS

February 22, 1999


Guest Editorial

Y2K chaos? Not if you plan ahead

by John Diefendorf, General Director IS, John Hancock Financial Services

   We've all heard the stories about high-powered executives and top-flight military personnel flying the coop, withdrawing all their finances, buying a bunch of gold bouillon, and moving to Montana in preparation for the dreaded Year 2000. While these people will certainly be prepared, you really don't have to take such extreme measures to ensure your livelihood into the 21st century.

   The Reality, Part I: The Year 2000 "bug" exists in programs that were only written to recognize the last two digits of the year. For example: 1973 would be read as xx73 and 1901 would read xx01, and 1999 becomes xx99. As a result, when the Year 2000 rolls around, these programs would theoretically roll themselves back to 1900, since they assume the first two digits are 19xx.

   Basically, this means that these programs, if left unfixed, would either reset themselves or crash--both bad results. This is a worldwide problem affecting all companies, banks, financial institutions, utility companies, the 7-11 down the block, the U.S. government, local government, flight radar, and all systems in operation around the world.

   The Reality Part II: The United States, for the most part, recognizes this issue, and as a result, vendors, programmers and IS brethren of the nation are united for a lot of overtime. While this is good to know, there is still a long way to go, and the point is that it is up to each of us, the customer and the consumer, to make sure that we will not be adversely impacted by this Y2K bug. Proper research is the key.

   Recommendations: Use the Internet; use the phone. Ideally, using the Internet is the best first step. Find your bank and any other financial institution which is currently holding your money, stocks, funds, 401K, pension plans, etc., and look it up online. There is a 99% chance that each institution has a presence on the Web, and this is where you should start your research. For example, if you do your banking at U.S. Bank, you can go to and find information on what this bank is doing to make sure your assets stay safe for the Year 2000. As it turns out, U.S. Bank is still in the process of making their systems Y2K compliant, but it's a good sign that they are publicizing their progress.

   Monitor your bank each month to chart progress, and if they are still "working on it" by July, 1999, it's time to pick up the phone and make a call to the bank to ask for an expected Y2K compliant date. If this yields little response, and it very well may, it's time to begin compiling records. Each month, you should request a written statement (if you are not receiving it already) and file it away as proof of asset holdings.

   On December 31, 1999 (it's a Friday), get in line at the bank and receive one last copy of your financial statement. For those of you who are looking for statements from other institutions not accessible in person, make sure you have a printed copy of your holdings during the month of December and, if possible, ask them to fax a copy to you on December 31. This will provide you with the documentation you need, should any mishap occur.

   Speaking of documentation, it is also a good idea to acquire official copies of birth certificates, Social Security cards, marriage license/certificate, and religious records (baptism, confirmation, etc.). Deeds, titles, insurance, pensions, and other proofs of all assets owned, mortgages, credit cards, and all other loan agreements, tax returns, W-2s, 1099s, IRS agreements, educational records, and diplomas should also be documented.

   Travel, public utilities, transportation, travel, food: My personal opinion is that travel outside of the United States during the New Year is somewhat risky. If you must travel, I would do some basic research into the foreign airport you are flying into and out of to make sure that they are upgrading the basic technology needed to guide and organize incoming and outgoing flights (i.e., radar systems). Public utilities such as traffic lights, electricity, sewer systems, and mechanical systems such as gas pumps can be monitored on government Internet sites that I have listed below.

   A good example is to take a look at the city of Lynnwood's Internet site at On this site, there is a very clear link to what this city is doing to ensure that the Year 200 passes without a hitch, as well as links to other cities and the State of Washington as a whole.

   An excellent link from which you can jump is This page offers the websites for all state and local governments, utilities, and bank information in the state of Washington. I encourage you to do similar research for your own county and/or city. King County, for example, is one of the links, and on that site, there are Y2K plans and an e-mail address if you have any questions.

   Transportation, as in your automobile, should also be researched. While the chances are very slim, every automobile has multiple processors that help to control fuel intake and monitor other functions for continued operation. Some late model cars, Jeeps, trucks, etc., may have problems when 2000 comes up. Call your dealer to find out if your car in Y2K compliant, or you can research it on the Internet.

   According to Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, "The Year 2000 computer problem will not cause widespread food shortages in the United States, partly because many farmers do not rely on automated systems and partly because large domestic companies will continue to operate in spite of the so-called millennium bug."

   While this is certainly reassuring, my advice is simply stock up a bit on non-perishables and fresh drinking water (about 30 gallons). In any case, it certainly can't hurt!

   All said, the Year 2000 is posing many challenges for everyone, but with a little foresight and research, you can be well-prepared when the 21st century arrives. The chances are very good that we will see only minor glitches, but if you're thinking of packing up all your worldly possessions and withdrawing to the Badlands of the Dakotas, I'd suggest simply hitting the books. Or rather, hitting the Internet. This online medium has never been more valuable or time-saving than it is now.

   Note: According to the State of Washington, 75% of its mission-critical systems are now Y2K compliant!