Major Y2K problems remain spotty, minor
WASHINGTON, Jan. 1 (UPI) -- Less than 12 hours after the new year touched the U.S. mainland, federal officials monitoring the country and world for Y2K computer glitches report only minor problems that were quickly repaired.
With so few problems, government officials are now beginning to field questions about whether the predictions of disaster without the massive worldwide efforts to correct computers was overblown.
Industry officials from a variety of sectors, however, said the work was essential. In telecommunications and finance, for example, "Their systems would simply have not functioned," said John A. Koskinen, assistant to the president and chair, President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion.
In the United States, a military satellite, five nuclear power plants, Amtrak, and an unoccupied federal building that is being renovated in Omaha, had minor problems caused by the change in the century, when computers recognized "00" as 1900, rather than 2000, Koskinen said.
One of the Defense Department's reconnaissance satellites ran into millennium-related trouble Friday night shortly after 7:00 pm EST -- midnight Greenwich Mean Time -- and was down for a "few hours," Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre said Saturday. The satellite continued to function, but a ground station was unable to process its intelligence for two to three hours. The system continues to operate at less than full capacity, he said.
The safety, operation and output of the power plants were not affected, and involved functions such as monitoring weather, operational data as it came in and access. At Amtrak headquarters, it involved the ability to monitor a symbol of trains running on the track. Instead, Amtrak employees monitored the trains manually. As for the building, its security system was locked in the open position, which allowed access. The problem was fixed when technicians turned back the clocks on the system.
"We continue to be very pleased," Koskinen told reporters at a noon-time briefing Saturday.
Predictions of unprecedented cyber attacks, hacking of Websites and the appearance of new vicious computer viruses have not materialized so far, he said.
There also has not been much need for most of the $50 billion in extra bills printed last year in the event people decided to withdraw unusual amounts of money. "No shredding needed", said Koskinen. The federal government will just use the extra cash to reduce its printing needs this year.
Still, small businesses and small health care facilities and some doctor's officers are likely to be hit. Some voicemail may not work and billing may be affected. Some health care employees may see delayed reimbursement because their systems haven't been updated. Equipment such as EKG machines, for example, are expected to be unaffected except, perhaps displaying the wrong year on it. Some of the reimbursement problems may not surface until the first billing cycle of the year.
Other Y2K programming errors unrelated to Jan. 1 may surface by April 1. This is a leap year, meaning March has 29 days. Koskinen said, however, there's been a lot of misprogramming by programmers who understood that most years ending in "00" are not leap years. The one exception to that rule is that every 400 years, including 2000, is a leap year. Correcting that, he said, was part of the fix of Y2K repairs.
Koskinen said his office will continue to monitor the world for 24 hours a day through Tuesday morning, and then would likely revert to a daily routine to last through the rest of January. -- --