All the government's emergency operation centers began monitoring for Year 2000 computer problems yesterday, with many sending reports to the White House Y2K command center.
Thirty-eight countries filed reports to the command center. All 50 states began sending reports to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which set up 10 regional centers to collect the data and help relay them to the White House's Information Coordination Center.
But the first wave of reports provided little information about the potential scope or severity of the Year 2000 computer problem.
John A. Koskinen, the president's chief Y2K adviser, said Charlotte encountered problems with a 911 emergency phone system while running a Y2K test. He also reported that a small number of stores in Britain were temporarily prevented from processing credit card purchases because of difficulties in processing "00" transactions.
The minor glitches, Koskinen said, reaffirmed the need for companies and governments to keep testing their computer networks, even at this late date. He said federal agencies continue to scan their software code for date-related trouble and that companies are using new information provided by manufacturers to make last-minute Y2K checks.
"We've been urging everyone to understand they're never done," he told reporters at a briefing. "When you think you're done, you've completed all your tests, you ought to continue to monitor and test."
Julie Hill, Charlotte city government spokeswoman, said the glitch there involved a computer-aided dispatch system, which allows 911 operators to type in information from callers for automatic relay to a police dispatcher.
The system broke down when technicians were removing a screen display, part of a new software package, that had proven troublesome to the operators. Somehow, the technicians unknowingly introduced an error into the system. That forced operators to write down on cards the information needed by police dispatchers.
The North Carolina city has been making Y2K repairs to the dispatch system since April, after negotiations with a vendor on installing a new system fell through, Hill said.
The repaired system began operating at 11:30 a.m. "At no time did it interfere with the public's ability to reach police," Hill said.
Other cities, meanwhile, reported that they were taking some Y2K precautions, Koskinen said. Mass transit systems in Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Miami, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and the District plan to stop their trains in stations at midnight Friday, he said.
All major freight railroads also plan to stop rolling their cars at midnight "and will resume operations once they've tested their systems," Koskinen said.
Ready for Y2K, VA Puts Checks in the Mail
The Department of Veterans Affairs said its computer systems and hospitals are ready for Y2K.
Benefit and pension checks will be deposited at banks, and the Postal Service will start delivering benefit checks today, Veterans Affairs Deputy Secretary Hershel W. Gober said.
The VA normally makes its benefit payments at the end of the month. It provides about $1.9 billion in monthly benefits to 4 million veterans, dependents and other qualified recipients. It also operates 172 medical centers and 600 outpatient clinics.
The VA spent about $231 million to check its computers and hospitals, including a $4 billion inventory of medical devices, for possible Y2K risks. Ernesto Castro, the VA's Y2K project manager, said the VA found only one medical device, a radiation dosage system, that could have harmed patients and had to be replaced with newer equipment.
Except for that device, Castro said, "we didn't find anything that could be called a show-stopper."
Treasury Unit to Operate Round-the-Clock
The Treasury Department also reported that its 323 mission-critical systems are fully fixed and checked out for Y2K. The last to be done, in mid-November, was a system that reports excise taxes for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Total cost of the repairs: about $2 billion.
During the rollover, Treasury will operate on a 24-hour basis an emergency command center in the annex building across Pennsylvania Avenue from its headquarters. Starting at 6 p.m. Thursday, the department's 14 bureaus will report every four hours the status of computer systems that handle such jobs as issuing Social Security checks and tracking Customs duties on goods entering the country.
The center's staff will have backup power, secure phones and faxes on hand. If for some reason the center cannot function, Treasury has another one on standby at an undisclosed location.
The department has established special 24-hour surveillance over the security features of a Web computer that guards access to various Treasury Web sites, in case hackers try to disrupt the sites during the millennium rollover.
Staff writer John Burgess contributed to this report.