Y2K appears to be more bore than bug for U.S. monitors

Round-the-clock days preparing for worst seem to pay off

January 01, 2000|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- In a makeshift office inside a nondescript commercial building a block from the White House, the U.S. government last night monitored the world's technological leap into 2000 -- and found that Y2K was more a bore than a bug.

Huddled over computer terminals on the eighth floor of 18th and G streets, scores of government experts were wading through dispatches, everything from oil production in Marsden Point, New Zealand, to downed power lines south of The Dalles in Oregon.

They are something of a U.S. government 911 force, two dozen federal agencies taking in calls about possible computer glitches and other Y2K-related shenanigans, ready to send out help if necessary. For days they have worked around the clock and will continue to watch for problems through this month.

The Defense Department is here, as is the U.S. Postal Service. Over there is the Small Business Administration, and at nearby desks are the FBI, the Department of Transportation and the Social Security Administration.

Commanding this motley army is John A. Koskinen, chairman of the President's Council on Y2K Conversion, formerly a top federal budget official.

"Much of the world has entered the new century without evidence thus far of significant Y2K-related problems," Koskinen said in a statement last night. "In light of the fact that millennium celebrations throughout the eastern U.S. have proceeded with out any apparent Y2K difficulties, we continue to have confidence that our major national infrastructure systems will make a successful transition to the year 2000."

Koskinen noted earlier that one of the frequent questions is whether Y2K has been more national anxiety attack than possible high-tech nightmare. "Has this all been hype?" he asked. "You know, have we wasted a lot of time and money?"

But he termed Y2K "the biggest management challenge the world has had in 50 years" and said the United States and other countries were prudent to be prepared.

Early yesterday in Washington, as midnight crept across the International Date Line in the Pacific, Koskinen's nonrevelers received a surge of reports at the command center.

The Energy Department noted the Russian nuclear reactor plant in Bilibino, the first of many plants in that nation to see the turn of the century, passed into the year 2000 without a hint of the Y2K computer bug.

By late last night, officials said there were no Y2K-related problems in Russia or the other former Soviet states in Europe.

Beginning yesterday, every few hours, status reports were culled from worldwide dispatches, from U.S. embassies and businessmen to the governors' offices in all 50 states. The reports were sent to the White House and shared with reporters.

No tidbit of information seemed insignificant. The Bonneville Power Co. in Oregon said one of its 500 kilovolt-intertie lines was down because of a toppled tower, though power has been rerouted and no customers lost electricity. The FBI was notified, and Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said last night that it was sabotage.

And in the first Y2K event in the United States, about 150 slot machines at three Delaware race tracks malfunctioned. "They just stopped," one official said.

Officials also said a Y2K "minor glitch" at a Wisconsin electric power plant left some clocks there to fail, but no customers lost power.

Many of these federal workers toiled in 12-hour shifts and roamed the halls with special credentials or blue cardigan sweaters with a Y2K crest.

The workers at the command center have been through two dry runs of their system. On Dec. 8 and 9, the night shift and then the day shift received U.S. government-created "fictitious information" from official sources around the world. It was to test the communications system and the staff's ability to collect, analyze and issue reports on what was happening.

But when the real new year arrived, the staff had few international problems to worry about.

"How's it going?" a reporter asked one of the operation room's workers, a Federal Reserve employee. "How do I answer that?" he replied. "It's like sitzkrieg."

Yesterday afternoon, Koskinen said: "The preliminary indications are that throughout the Asia and Pacific region there are basically no significant problems. While we are encouraged by the positive reports thus far, we should all remember that we have many miles to go before we sleep."

Koskinen cautioned that not all computerized problems will be noticed immediately, particularly with basic infrastructure, such as telecommunications and power in developing countries.

"These problems may manifest themselves over the passage of two or three days in the gradual degradation of services, rather than an abrupt cessation of those services," Koskinen said.

Financial and information systems may not be fully tested until the world opens for business Monday morning.

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