Beat The Clock

Beat The Clock

Slow burn. The primary danger from the year 2000 rollover is not temporary power or telephone outages but lingering economic dislocations, said former Office of Management and Budget information policy chief Bruce W. McConnell. He now heads the International Y2K Cooperation Center in Washington.

The expectation of local service outages stems from thinking in terms of technology, McConnell said. The greater risk, he said, is degradation of the connected relationships among electronic devices, people and organizations.

People worry, he said, when they hear that power companies will not guarantee electrical power in the new year. But of course power is not guaranteed on any other day, either. In the United States about 2 percent of automated teller machines are out of service each day for maintenance or because of breakdowns. To the extent year 2000 failures can be put into such an everyday context, he said, calm coping will be more likely.

Honesty is the best policy. McConnell predicts that tracking down the reasons for outages will prove to be time-consuming, as well as annoying to citizens. More worrisome are the possibilities of a slowdown in commerce, a degradation of infrastructure performance and shaky consumer confidence. Planners, McConnell said, must be ready for broader disruptions of daily life.

He advises each government jurisdiction to tell its public how well its systems will function and describe contingency plans. Military command and control systems and fire and police emergency systems will have the most immediate impact. Manual operation of vital public services will lead to delays and backlogs, requiring further human management.

'Undiscovered date code problems in supposedly fixed systems, mistakes in the fixes, viruses that mimic year 2000 effects and untested contingency plans are likely to make getting life back to normal slower than expected,' McConnell said.

But daily life is already fraught with such events as toxic environmental releases, industrial accidents, dam failures, political unrest and wars, he said.

The isolation booth. Besides being honest about expected service levels and staffing during early 2000, McConnell advised, governments 'should be ready to interrupt the propagation of failure across infrastructures through selective, temporary isolation of disrupted areas.'

Agencies' year 2000 crisis management centers should plan to operate for weeks, not days, he said, and public affairs offices should plan for a variety of scenarios. More information appears on the Web, at

'Susan M. Menke

Internet: [email protected]


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