John A. Koskinen, the president's chief adviser on Year 2000 computer issues, calls it "winnowing the risks." In other words, trying to figure out where the so-called Y2K bug will bite on Jan. 1.

A White House working group, for example, has determined that prisons and jails built from 1985 to 1995 are vulnerable to Y2K glitches, since they rely on computers to help monitor and control inmates. Jails constructed before 1985 are mostly free of automated devices, and those built after 1995 use updated technology that reduces Y2K risks, officials said.

William J. Taylor, a Y2K specialist at the American Correctional Association, said the group is especially interested in 144 jails built during that decade--each with more than 200 inmates--that have not responded to surveys asking about their readiness. They may have resolved possible computer problems, Taylor said, but no one really knows.

But Taylor said manual overrides would ensure that even automated prison doors do not swing open Jan. 1. "They won't open," he said at a news conference last week. The inmates "won't run out."

Jails that ignore Y2K, however, could end up with perimeter cameras and monitors going blank. Without remote cameras, jails would require more guards to watch the fences and walls.

Taylor predicted that at most prisons "all staffs will be on duty for two weeks before and two weeks after" New Year's Day. Just in case.

FAA Declares Its Fixes Made The Federal Aviation Administration, which got off to a late start on Y2K, has finished its repairs and upgrades. A year ago, some congressional critics questioned whether the FAA could even finish before Jan. 1.

But after more than three years of effort involving 1,100 FAA technicians, the agency said all of the computer systems requiring Y2K repairs have been successfully installed at air traffic control towers and other facilities across the country.

Science Applications International Corp. of Vienna, an outside contractor, checked FAA records to verify that the computer systems have indeed been fixed. The Transportation Department inspector general also examined a sample set of systems and approved the FAA's work, the FAA said.

Year 2000 Center: Open Round-the-Clock

Correctional officers won't be working alone at year's end. The White House plans to set up a $40 million Year 2000 Information Coordination Center that will collect data from private-sector organizations, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the departments of Defense and State and other agencies.

The center's start-up staff recently moved into offices near the White House and it plans to operate round-the-clock with about 250 staff members, many loaned by federal agencies, during the date transition. Retired Army Lt. Gen. Peter Kind will head the center.

The Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem has scheduled a hearing Thursday to learn about the center and whether it could serve as a model for how to combat other high-tech threats, such as "cyberterrorism" and "information warfare."

Headaches for a Corporate Conglomerate

The FAA estimates it will spend about $340 million on its Y2K work in the 1997-2000 period. But one tobacco, beer and food conglomerate expects to spend even more.

Philip Morris Cos. Inc. told the Senate committee last week that with 220 factories in 50 countries, it probably will spend $550 million on Y2K repairs and compliance and an additional $150 million to replace certain systems and hardware.

Kevin Click, Philip Morris's director of corporate audits, estimates that contingency planning could cost an extra $85 million. While the expenses seem large, Click noted that the corporation brought in $74 billion in operating revenue last year from its major product lines.

Philip Morris expects that about 700 of its more than 6,000 most critical business partners will suffer Y2K breakdowns. Contingency plans call for stockpiling additional raw materials and finished goods to mitigate any disruptions to the corporate supply chain, Click said.

Name That Country

The following passage was included in last week's Senate testimony from the State Department. The country in question was not identified. What's your guess?

"A June 1999 embassy assessment of one European country, which will be hosting many large-scale millennium events that will be attended by thousands of Americans, expressed skepticism about the country's telecommunications sector because of a lack of information. The assessment further noted that water and wastewater efforts were inconsistent, health care preparations were inadequate, but finance was in good shape."