Battling the bug - www.PopSci.com | Y2K
Though only one-third of the FAA's critical computer systems - air traffic control, for example - had been fixed as of press time, administrator Jane Garvey, insisting the organization will be ready, recently announced plans to fly across the country shortly after midnight January 1, 2000. Boeing and Airbus say their aircraft have no Year 2000 safety issues.
Missiles will not fire without warning, says Army consultant Rich Hoffman. Though these and other weapons have embedded chips, Hoffman says a malfunction would disable the weapon, not deploy it. The bigger issue, he says, is the possibility of a mistaken offensive. Recently, the Clinton administration appointed a commission to raise awareness in the international community about this issue.
Billing systems are more at risk than operations, says Steve Rosenstock of the Edison Electric Institute, which represents America's publicly owned utilities. Even if an embedded chip detected a maintenance problem, Rosenstock says, the chances are slim that it would shut down the system.
Only 30 percent of U.S. hospitals have formal remediation plans, yet the effects of Year 2000 could be dire: Not only could medical records be lost, but IV feeders could malfunction and dialysis machines could shut down. On the positive side, pacemakers and other medical implant devices are not affected, contrary to popular belief, says leading manufacturer Medtronic.
The Year 2000 problem could show up in two places: the internal clock or the operating system. All Macintosh computers and operating systems are compliant, but IBM-compatible PCs built before 1996 with Pentium or older chips could face millennium bug issues, depending on which version of the chip you have. As far as operating systems, Windows 98 has no problems, but Windows 3.1 and older versions of Windows 95 will need software patches. Software to test and fix these older machines and systems is available on the Internet. Also, a few software programs, such as Intuit's online banking software, have Year 2000 problems.
The major U.S. banks are well along. Small banks, however, are lagging, prompting experts to warn that some of them could be bought out as a result of Year 2000. Even so, they say, your money should be safe. But if you're looking for another layer of security, keep copies of old financial statements - along with copies of credit card, investment, loan, and tax records - just in case.
The Social Security Administration began its efforts seven years ago and, as such, is the government's poster child on how to fix the problem correctly. It is also working with related agencies - the Treasury Department, Federal Reserve, and Postal Service - to ensure checks are delivered on time.
Though the major U.S. long-distance carriers - AT&T, Sprint, and MCI - expect to be ready, their transmission systems depend on the nation's 1,400 regional carriers to work properly. The Federal Communications Commission says 98 percent of U.S. coverage areas will be compliant by mid-1999. Calling international? Experts warn that some developing countries will likely not make the deadline.
With most aspects of the securities industry reliant on computers, Year 2000 is a top priority. In July, the Securities Industry Association sponsored a two-week test - the first example of an industry coming together to test for the bug - involving major stock exchanges and 29 brokerage firms, among others. Results are encouraging; no major glitches were uncovered.