State Department officials gave their Y2K operations team a practice run yesterday, linking up computer operations at the department's seventh-floor Operations Room here with 167 U.S. embassies and consuls around the world.
They were actually testing their procedures for reporting on other countries' Y2K status come Jan. 1, 2000, rather than their own computers' ability to handle the date change. State Department officials said the agency's systems are virtually all ready for Jan. 1.
The trial run was scheduled for yesterday partly because of a concern that the date--Sept. 9, 1999, or 9999--would cause glitches, adding a greater challenge to the test. No 9999 problems cropped up, however. A 9999 code was thought to have been used by some systems to indicate that a program had finished its operations and should shut down.
By midday, the Ops Room staff appeared pleased with how smoothly the practice had gone.
Next week, the State Department will issue consular information sheets on individual countries detailing progress they have made in combating the potential effects of Y2K, the shorthand for computer systems that have two-digit year codes. The fear is that computers would read "00" as 1900 rather than 2000 and would crash or otherwise malfunction.
Bonnie Cohen, undersecretary for management at the State Department, smiled and parried with reporters yesterday when she was asked at a news conference if some countries would be unhappy with their Y2K rating.
"Well, we've had active dialogues. . . . Our responsibility is to the American citizens, and I think our embassies and other government agencies that are involved in these assessments have done the best they can," she said.
The State Department will be more than willing to change its Y2K advice to U.S. citizens traveling and living abroad if new information comes in, Cohen said.
"This is a moving target. This is a fixable problem. . . . What we have seen over the last year is extraordinary progress everywhere in fixing these systems," she said.
The State Department's test began on Wednesday, when at 8 p.m. EST diplomatic staff in Suva, Fiji; Majuro, Marshall Islands; and Wellington, New Zealand, duly reported in, followed an hour later by officials in Kolonia, Micronesia, and Vladivostok, Russia. The stations reported as the clock hit noon their time, ending yesterday with a final dispatch from Apia in Samoa, at 7 p.m. Most filed via the Internet; backup systems, including satellite support, were available.
Officials at a bank of 10 computer screens in the Ops Room in Washington took turns at coordinating the operation as the time zone shifted from region to region.
Staff filed reports on each nation's situation under the categories of energy, transportation, telecommunications, financial, water/wastewater, public services, health care and civil unrest. Officials also reported on conditions inside the embassies--the state of electric power, water and food supply, and medical and information services.
The exercise did give Y2K officials the chance to iron out one or two unforeseen issues. For example, a U.S. official in one country, which the State Department would not identify, reported that the railroads were not operating. They weren't operating, it turned out, because the country doesn't have any railroads. The official had simply checked the option closest to the four he had been presented with on the list.
"We're adding N/A [not applicable] to that," said John O'Keefe, the department's Y2K coordinator.