Take your pick of Y2K bug millennial disasters
by Herschel Pollard
The end is soon upon us. Double zeros will roll over on the millennial odometer and the engines that drive our world will seize up. What the hell are we talking about??? We're talking about the apocalypseaffectionately renamed Y2K. We compiled a checklist of the doomsayers' rumors and predictions of what the Y2K computer bug will do to our pathetic techno-dependent behinds when the year 2000 kicks into effect. Then we asked Vince DeHart, senior information systems auditor for the University of Tennessee, what he thinks seems likely and what doesn't. DeHart is involved with coordinating the Y2K fix for UT campuses. Remember: These are just the opinions of one person!
The Prediction: The engines of all airplanes flying when the clock strikes midnight on Dec. 31, 1999 will stop because the embedded systems will believe that the plane has been flying for 99 years. If you're flying at the wrong time, put your head between your knees and hope the six-mile drop to the ground doesn't hurt as much as you think it will. The best way to protect yourself here is to book your flight after the New Year starts. If planes do drop like flies from the friendly skies, then you have the opportunity to back out. Other plane news is that the FAA is nowhere near getting its mainframe computers Y2K-compliant and will not have enough money and staff to do so before the New Year's first bell toll.
DeHart: The likelihood of planes dropping out of the sky is "not high." But there is "some truth to the FAA not being prepared" for the Year 2000.
New Year's Nuclear Winter
The Prediction: Being on the ground may not be so safe either. One rumor has it that the outdated computer systems in the former Soviet states will accidentally launch all of their nuclear weapons to predetermined targets.
DeHart: "The possibility of weapons launching themselves is of some concern." Groups that monitor nuclear arsenals have asked both the U.S. and Russia to change the nuclear alert status so that missiles cannot launch automatically by computers.
More Devilish Detonation
The Prediction: Other date sensitive weapons like conventional missiles and land mines may go feverish. This could cause launches and detonations. The bug could also force the Defense Department to shut down, leaving the U.S. open to both terrorist and conventional assault.
DeHart: "This is also a possibility."
Powerless Power Grid
The Prediction: Expect a return to the literal dark ages. The power grid in the U.S. and other computer-dependent countries will go down, causing mass havoc. The problem is that even if companies that sell power to consumers (like KUB) are compliant, but the companies that supply them with power (like TVA) are not, then the smaller companies still get knocked out.
DeHart: "This is a very real possibility." However, DeHart has heard that KUB will be Y2K compliant. TVA, which supplies power to KUB, has been working on the problem since 1996 and will have spent $38 million getting its computers ready. Changes will be completed by the end of this year, and testing and contingency plans developed through June '99, says spokesman Gil Francis.
Banks Get the Runs
The Prediction: Two problems may occur with financial institutions. Since most money in banks exists exclusively in the computer world and not in hard currency, there is the possibility that public fear of losing accounts to the Y2K problem will cause a run on banks similar to the runs that occurred during The Great Depression. Rumor has it that the Treasury Department is printing billions of dollars in extra currency. Of course, that assumes that the Treasury Department is stupid enough to risk crippling inflation, similar to modern day Russia's, just to prove that the country has enough money. The second rumor is that bank systems will go whacko on Jan. 1, 2000 and give saving accounts 99 years of bonus interest while accruing 99 years worth of interest on loans or wiping computerized accounts completely out.
DeHart: "This is something to plan for." He said that he is personally going to withdraw ready cash, just in case accounts get knocked down and he cannot access his money. "There is the possibility of banks making a lot of mistakes. Some banks are good (about compliance), some are bad." While every bank is likely dealing with the problem differently, a SunTrust spokesman says his company started working on it in the mid-'90s and is replacing all its computers.
The Prediction: Your date-dependent VCR will roll over to 1900. Gosh, think of the hours of Beverly Hills 90210 that won't be recorded.
DeHart: "This will probably affect older machines. It won't change the machine's ability to record, it will only affect programming the VCR to record automatically." Y2K isn't really a problem with VCRs since most people leave their VCR clocks blinking on 12:00.
No Credit? No Worries
The Prediction: Credit cards with a post-1999 expiration date may not work. There has already been some trouble since most new cards are set to expire after 2000. This probably isn't such a bad thing though; after all, it's just money.
DeHart: Since some credit cards have already had trouble, then chances are there will still be some hassles. From what he understands, "credit card companies are doing a good job getting the problem in order."
The Prediction: One rumor states that cameras that stamp the date on photos won't date pictures after 1999. Chances are the cameras will still stamp the date but you will have to explain to grandma that the photo wasn't actually taken in 1900.
DeHart: "There is a possibility of this. It is reliant on the age of the equipment." It shouldn't affect the camera's ability to take photos.
The Prediction: Some elevators shut down if scheduled maintenance is not performed in a timely manner, like within 99 years. That could mean hours of waiting in a darkened elevator car for a maintenance crew to show up and rescue you and the stinky person you got stuck with.
DeHart: "There is no danger of elevators plunging to the bottom of the shaft if this happens, but there is a real possibility of them loosing power." If this happens all you can do is wait for a repair person from the elevator company.
Hell Freezes Over
The Prediction: The IRS, a stickler about dates, may shut down. We can only pray that the millennial Gods grant this wish.
DeHart: "The IRS is having some real problems." He believes the Y2K problem may be the just the thing to force the Fed to reform the tax system as a whole.
The Prediction: The security system that lets you into work may shut down. That will mean a couple of extra days of vacation.
DeHart: This is another problem that relies on the age of the equipment involved.
Free VacationWeek Two
The Prediction: Production plants will shut down indefinitely because of embedded dates within machinery. Woo-hoo, more vacation.
DeHart: "There is possibility of this in some places." Small to medium suppliers that are not compliant will have problems producing and shipping. A ripple effect may shut down larger plants.
Global positioning systems will be knocked down. That means that you and your Cadillac will still get lost, you just won't realize how lost.
Don't expect your fancy-dancy coffee/espresso maker to wake you with the smell of java on New Year's day. Many of them use a two-digit date code. Don't worry, it will still make coffee, but not without some begging from the owner first.