The Y2K Bug Is Upon Us
"The only thing we know for sure is that something will happen," says William M. Ulrich, president of Tactical Strategy Group and a strategic Y2K advisor to major corporations and government agencies. "There's been a lot of misinformation, and that misinformation continues to be thrust upon us. We hear, 'Don't worry, everything's fine,' and months later we find out that is not the case."
A formal introduction to the popular insect is in order. Many computer programs feature a date function using six digits for month, day and year (as in 02/20/99) rather than eight digit dates (02/20/1999). With the former, the year mode may read the subsequent year as 1900 instead of 2000. For example, in tracking a credit card debt, an account opened on 12/20/99 that is carried into 01/01/00 may cause the program application to calculate interest over a 99-year span instead of a 30-day period. COBOL, still a widely used programming language, can generate preprinted forms from programs written with four-digit dates. The year 1900 is subtracted from the date to produce the stock form, which begins with 19.
On the Case
Ulrich has been in the thick of the Y2K problem since the computer industry began working on it in the early 1990s. Prior to last November, he notes, there had been no safety-related concerns reported by the power industry in regards to nuclear reactors in the United States. At that time, however, an audit uncovered 12 Y2K bugs in safety-related equipment and software in a Seabrook, NH, nuclear plant, in addition to several dozen other problems in critical support systems.
"Lo and behold, information provided stating that safety-related systems were immune to the Year 2000 problem were untrue. Indeed, there are safety-related problems in nuclear reactors," Ulrich says. "If they don't get fixed, that plant is going to get shut down sometime later [this year]."