- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 14, 1999

The Clinton administration hopes to diffuse year 2000-related panic with a list released yesterday of industry problems that could affect everything from automated teller machines to the nation’s power supply Jan. 1.
“This is not an attempt to downplay the significance of Y2K outages,” said John Koskinen, chairman of the President’s Council on Year-2000 Conversion. “Our strategy is to quell panic. We think the public and the media will benefit from knowing what’s normal and what’s Y2K-related.”
Information about standard industry problems, submitted by industry groups, confirms that people almost certainly will experience disruptions of service, Mr. Koskinen said.
For example, electricity could go out because there is a 50-50 chance a major storm will strike somewhere in the United States the weekend of Jan. 1, Mr. Koskinen said.
While the country’s electric supply is 99.7 percent reliable, according to information given to the White House year-2000 team by the Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned utilities, some of the nation’s 3,108 electric power companies could have problems.
Weather has caused major power outages in late December or early January somewhere in North America each of the past three years. Last year an ice storm cut power to 1.5 million people in Canada and New England.
“In terms of power outages, it should be a typical New Year’s Eve. You have ice storms and you have non-Y2K-compliant drivers who hit poles and leave neighborhoods in the dark,” said John Castagna, spokesman for the District-based Edison Electric Institute.
Mr. Castagna said 99.9 percent of electricity providers are year-2000 compliant.
Other industries also are susceptible to problems Jan. 1 that may not be related to the year-2000 conversion:
One to 2 percent of automated teller machines are out of service at any given time because of mechanical problems or because they run out of money, according to the White House report. The United States had 227,000 ATMs as of September, according to the American Bankers Association.
Typically less than 1 percent of traffic lights malfunction at any time, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Just 424 of 25,726 domestic commercial flights or 1.6 percent were delayed 15 minutes or more the last five New Year’s days, according to the Transportation Department.
The council gathered information on standard industry problems to show people that some problems consumers face won’t be year-2000 related.
It also gathered the information to help people who will staff the White House year-2000 information center know when computer problems are the result of the date change.
The government will collect information about industry problems nationwide and countries’ problems worldwide at its $50 million year-2000 center, a room on the eighth floor of a G Street office building near the White House. Information will come from federal departments and industry groups, and reports of problems will be shared with the White House and government officials, who will decide how to respond.
Representatives from federal agencies and experts from major industries being tracked by the information center will be present at the White House year-2000 office.
With the list of common industry problems affecting industries, Mr. Koskinen and his team at the White House year-2000 office will tell the public which are standard glitches and which are year-2000-related glitches as quickly as it’s able to determine the cause of problems, Mr. Koskinen said.
That should ease concerns, he said, but people already seem better prepared and less concerned about the potential for disruptions due to the year-2000 conversion than they were earlier this year.
In a Gallup Poll for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. conducted in October, 39 percent of people said they would take extra cash out of their bank down from 62 percent in March. The Federal Reserve last year ordered an additional $50 billion of new currency to be put into circulation.
“We are seeing no significant increase in the amount of money being withdrawn,” Mr. Koskinen said. “We see no indication that there is an overreaction at all by the public.”
Mr. Koskinen has recommended Americans take precautions, including saving financial records and making sure they have battery-powered flashlights and radios and a three-day supply of water and food.
The year-2000 computer problem stems from a cost-saving shortcut years ago in which software programmers devoted only two spaces in a date field to designate the year. That older software assumes the year always will begin with the digits “19.”
If technicians don’t reprogram affected systems and replace calendar-sensitive computer chips embedded some equipment they could shut down or malfunction when they “read” the digits “00” as meaning 1900 and not 2000.

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