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A glitch in Y2K

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The Boston Globe OnlineBoston.com Boston Globe Online / Y2K: Ready or Not
In the months leading up to Jan. 1, 2000, the Globe will periodically check the status of regional Y2K preparedness.
Study: Boston one of two major US cities ready for Y2K

First government survey of readiness finds that some municipalities won't be ready until December

By Heather Kamins, Globe Correspondent, 7/15/99

WHAT COULD GO WRONG
The likelihood of problems in the United States next year from the Y2K bug:

Bad credit reports due to year 2000 errors 70%
Loss of local electric power for more than one day 55%
Litigation against corporate officers 55%
Loss of international telephone services 35%
Errors in 2000 tax reporting (1099 forms) 35%
Errors in Social Security payments 35%
Errors in first January paycheck 30%
Errors or delays in tax refunds 30%


[ More potential scenarios ]

oston is one of only two major cities in the nation whose key services are ready to fend off the Y2K computer bug, according to a study to be released today by an investigating arm of Congress.

The Senate Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem is scheduled to issue the report at this morning's hearing on state and local readiness. This is the first time the government has surveyed cities about Y2K readiness.

"Boston should be very proud and feel really good about where they are," said Senator Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah), committee chair. But not all of the nation's cities are in such good shape, he warned.

"Basically [the survey] says we are going to have some trouble," Bennett said. "Those [cities] that say they are not going to be all compliant until the fourth quarter [of the year] are a little optimistic. If anything goes wrong they don't have any wiggle room."

Only Boston and Dallas meet all of the criteria for year 2000 readiness of the survey conducted by the General Accounting Office. Boston still lacks the completion of a contigency plan, the report says, but city officials said it should be ready by Aug. 15 and it will be tested on an ongoing basis.

The GAO, an organization that audits and evaluates government programs at the request of congressional committees, examined the public utilities, emergency services, telecommunications, hospitals, transportation, public buildings, and city government services of the nation's 21 largest cities.

Municipalities and companies have spent billions of dollars to fix software to prevent computer problems when the clock strikes midnight on Jan. 1, 2000. If not repaired, some computers may misinterpret the year as 1900 and cause systems to malfunction.

Since electric companies, water treatment centers, and hospitals in Boston are privately owned, they were not included in the survey of the city.

Nine of the cities reviewed plan to finish addressing Y2K issues by Sept. 30. And preparations by the remaining 10 will not be completed until at least October. El Paso, Texas, and Baltimore both reported they will not be ready until December.

The threats of noncompliance are real. Last month, a glitch during a test of a water treatment facility in Los Angeles that was supposedly Y2K compliant caused 4 million gallons of raw sewage to spill into a park.

Boston began repairing its systems to cope with the Y2K bug in 1995. A year later, the city unveiled plans for major hardware and software operating system replacements. On Jan. 21, Mayor Thomas M. Menino signed an executive order making Y2K readiness a priority for his administration.

A team of senior executives, department heads, directors, programmers, analysts, staff assistants, and private contractors have spent "a significant" number of hours on the project, said William J. Hannon, director of the city's management and information systems.

Among other efforts, city engineers earlier this year bought a Y2K-compliant computer to control 350 traffic signals downtown, which they concluded was cheaper than trying to make the old system ready.

"It's a great tribute to the leadership in Boston," said Senator Christopher J. Dodd, vice chairman of the Y2K committee. "I wish all of the cities would take this as seriously as Boston."

But not everyone is as enthusiastic about Boston's progress. David Eddy, a software consultant and longtime Y2K watchdog, said the city has patted itself on the back but has given little public information.

"Places like Dallas, or even Texas as a state, have taken this much more seriously," Eddy said. "The citizenry wants to be told that everything is OK, so that is what is being said."

In the months leading up to Jan. 1, 2000, the Globe will periodically check the status of regional Y2K preparedness.

This story ran on page D2 of the Boston Globe on 07/15/99.
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.


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