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  Senate Predicts No Y2K Disasters

By Jim Abrams
Associated Press Writer
Wednesday, Sept. 22, 1999; 1:19 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON –– The Senate's Y2K panel, in its final report before the dawning of the new year 100 days from now, predicted today the nation will escape nationwide crises from computer failures but individual Americans can expect some inconveniences.

"This is sort of a fender-bender, we don't see any major wrecks here," Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, ranking Democrat on the Y2K panel, said at the release of the 228-page report.

Disruptions from computer failures, concurred Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, chairman of the panel, "will not occur across the nation. They will occur across the street."

The report stressed that while problems will be mostly localized, "disruptions will occur and in some cases those disruptions will be significant."

It said doctors' offices, school systems, local government functions such as 911 services and small businesses are the most vulnerable to computer breakdowns. Dodd said there was concern that some states are not yet ready to handle Medicaid claims that the nation's poorer citizens depend on.

Overseas, where many countries have lagged behind in fixing computers, the situation "will certainly be more tumultuous."

John Koskinen, President Clinton's chief Y2K adviser, said he and the Senate committee were "pretty much in agreement on where the risks are."

The bottom line, he said, is that "there will be some glitches, and nobody is guaranteeing perfection even in the sectors" where much money and technical know-how has been employed.

The Senate report, the result of nearly 30 hearings by the panel, emphasized that national preparations have gone well – that federal agencies are ready, air traffic control systems are fixed, nationwide power grids will work, banks will have plenty of money and Medicare health claim payments should go out on schedule.

The prospects are less predictable for smaller businesses and public functions that haven't had the money or technical ability to fix their computers, the report said.

"Y2K could affect the lives of individuals, but exactly in what manner is unknown," it said. It said Y2K problems "will hit sporadically, based on geography, size of organization and level of preparedness, and will cause more inconveniences than tragedies."

It noted that Y2K has been compared to a winter storm, and that people have been told to make similar kinds of preparations.

The problems could come from older computer systems that use only two digits to designate years. They could thus mistake the year 2000, or "00," as 1900, causing malfunctions or breakdowns.

Specifically, the report concluded:

–A prolonged nationwide power blackout will almost certainly not occur, but local and regional outages "remain a distinct possibility."

–Large-scale hospitals and pharmaceutical manufacturers have made considerable investments to fix Y2K problems, but concerns remain about the thousands of physicians' offices, nursing homes, inner-city and rural hospitals and some biomedical devices.

–The telecommunications industry has spent billions to ensure smooth service, but lagging Y2K readiness in some small domestic carriers could affect services in rural communities.

–Air traffic control systems should function without trouble, but some of the nation's 670 airports are at risk in areas such as jetway security systems and runway lighting.

–Financial services are ready – ATM machines will work and banks will have money on hand if, as estimated, each American household withdraws an average of $500.

–The federal government will spend more than $8 billion to fix its computer networks, but there's wide variation in readiness among the nation's 3,000 counties and 87,000 local jurisdictions. Some 10 states are not prepared to deliver such services as unemployment insurance and other benefits.

–Large companies have dealt well with the Y2K problem and the insurance, investment and banking sectors are in good shape. Less rosy is the picture for the education, healthcare, oil, farming and construction sectors.

–Internationally, the Y2K picture is disturbing in Russia, China, Italy and several oil-producing countries. Some important trading partners are months behind in addressing the problem and the economic repercussions could result in requests for humanitarian aid.

The Pentagon, which says it expects little disruption from Y2K glitches, released a planning memo today saying that, in the worst possible case where widespread computer failures abroad affected U.S. military installations, the military will be vulnerable to possible deliberate attacks on its computer systems.

The memo also said Defense Secretary William Cohen intends to issue a "Y2K posture statement," or an overall assessment of the military's readiness to deal with Y2K-related problems, in October.

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press

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