Tuesday, January 12, 1999

Photo illustration by Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
In the state computer center, the millennium
appears to be rushing toward us.

‘The End Of
The World As
We Know It’

Preparation in Hawaii to
avert a potentially disastrous
computer problem appears
to be on track. Still,
there are concerns

By Richard Borreca


Start counting the days.

Art There is something for everyone to worry about as we travel on to the year 2000.

Fretting about the next year has become an industry of its own in the booming computer and information technology business.

The problem is dubbed Y2K, or the millennium bug, and it is likely to be one of the most talked-about pests of 1999.

Because of the way computer software programmers wrote the early code for computers, only the last two digits of a year were used because the first two digits were automatically 19.

That old programming shortcut resulted in computers and software unable to recognize the date change of the new century. If left uncorrected, some computers could view the year 2000 as 1900, generating errors or system crashes.

Databases and spreadsheets now include four spaces for the year, but the number of devices with embedded computer chips -- the programs thinking that 00 means 1900 and the older personal computers with problems telling 1905 from 2005 -- can cause tremendous problems.

As the joke goes, if the movie theaters don't cure the millennium bug, next year they will be showing "1901: A Space Odyssey."

Talk of a global computer crash has taken on doomsday proportions. Computer geeks even have an acronym for it: TEOTWAWKI: The End of the World as We Know It.

Is that a likely event? How sure is the electric company that the current will flow?

Stanley Hong, Hawaii Chamber of Commerce president, reports that Hawaii's major businesses have been working for several years on the problem.

"I think everyone seems to be OK," he said.

State and county officials also say they are on schedule.

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Computer operator Craig Shiroma selects a tape
cartridge to manually load into the computer drive
at the state's computer center.

The nagging worry, however, is that someone down the line, who supplies your company or organization with a vital product, may not be up to date.

"We have held a number of workshops and seminars. We have brought in a number of experts to discuss it, but there is still that concern," Hong said.

To help allay those fears, Gov. Ben Cayetano has named Roy Price, vice director of state civil defense, as coordinator for the state's emergency response to Y2K problems.

Price has started to survey all state emergency management plans and check with county civil defense operations.

First, he wants to make sure that come the new year:

bullet Everybody will be able to use the 911 emergency telephone system.

bullet Counties can get help from the state Civil Defense Agency.

bullet Links are established with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"My personal feeling is there will be some things that won't work," he said.

But he added that many state agencies and businesses have been working for several years on solving their Y2K problems, so a lot has already been done.

The power grid

Barry Hubbard, manager of information service at Kauai Electric and Gas Co., says they figure to have all systems in order by June 30.

An outside audit and a team of outside consultants found no major problems, he said.

Electricity is provided to the other counties by Hawaiian Electric and its subsidiaries, and they also are moving toward compliance.

But even Heco won't promise.

"We can't guarantee uninterrupted electric service on any given day," said Charles Freedman, Hawaiian Electric vice president for communications.

There are, however, several options available to Heco to first generate and then move the power.

First, the electric company can switch the power without the help of computers. Freedman said Hawaiian Electric keeps its manual backup system updated and well-

practiced, just in case something happens to the computers that route and manage the power.

Also because Hawaiian Electric operates away from mainland power grids, the system has built-

in strengths and redundancy.

"We are doing what we think is appropriate planning and will be ready for any situation," Freedman said.

Private industry has been reluctant to go on record about their own Y2K problems because of fear that promising a normal switch-over may attract lawsuits if services aren't delivered.

State government

But the state government last year exempted itself from Y2K liability, something the Legislature is thinking about extending to local private businesses.

Still, government has thousands of essential services that rely on computers or computer information: payroll and welfare checks, court records and police operations, to name a few.

The state has been at the project since October 1996 and estimates it will have completed its year 2000 work by September this year.

Melvin Morris, state acting director of information and communications service, has cleared about half of the state's computer systems.

Of the 12 mission-critical systems, including welfare, child-support payment, criminal history, payroll and tax revenues, seven have been fixed.

Since first starting work on its systems in 1996, Morris estimated, the state has spent about $20 million in payroll and expenses.

In the event state systems should fail, contingency plans are being prepared for operating government services either without or despite computers.

"A lot of it would have to be done manually," Morris said.

The city

When the city started work on Y2K problems in 1995, officials discovered 60 computer systems that needed fixing. So far, 53 of of them have been changed, all big ones.

According to James Remedios, director of the city Information Technology Department, the payroll-personnel system, police dispatch system, computers used to do general equipment maintenance and portions of the real property appraisal systems need help from the vendors who sold the systems and should all be in compliance by March.

Three other city computer systems will be fixed by city staff, including the one that reports to the National Crime Information Center, one that prepares prosecuting attorney subpoenas, and one that prepares building permits.

The city's other machinery that may have computer chips -- such as elevators, traffic signals, fire alarms, air-conditioning systems, smoke detectors, wastewater plant equipment -- is being checked, Remedios said.

"Departments were instructed to meet with their staff, at all levels, to identify any area of operation that could possibly rely upon a computer chip to control the operation of equipment, devices or functions," he said.

The city has spent $2 million in the past three years preparing and fixing Y2K problems.

FEMA's concern

FEMA also is concerned about how states and cities are preparing to handle Y2K problems, noting that while the large units of government may be prepared, the smallest branches may not even have started work on it.

In February and March, FEMA will hold Y2K Consequence Management workshops around the nation to spotlight the most serious issues and vulnerabilities.

Most major corporations and business operations that are publicly traded are required by the federal Securities and Exchange Commission to report to stockholders what exposure they have to Y2K problems and how they will deal with them.

But small businesses appear to be neither interested nor concerned about the problems.

State Sen. Sam Slom, president of the Small Business Association of Hawaii, said he has been publicizing the problems for two years, but is getting little interest from his members.

"I would call the interest level among small businesses to be fair to moderate at best," he said.

"I think it isn't on their list of priorities. It is something they can't see or they figure someone else will handle it."

While existing companies don't appear concerned, Slom noted that one of the fastest-growing areas of new business starts in Hawaii is in companies designed to help track down Y2K bugs in business software.

Kauai uses 2000
bug as source for
community unity

By Richard Borreca


On Kauai, there is great worry that things won't be the same when the century ends.

Recently a group on Kauai met to plan for Y2K as if it were a tsunami and Hurricane Iniki rolled into one.

It started, as Kauai Electric's Barry Hubbard said, with "beans and bullets."

"It was a survivalist idea, but it really changed for the good," he said.

A citizens group appealed to the county government for help in preparing for Y2K, and they were surprised when the mayor agreed.

"We want to be prepared so the community will not panic and that we won't have interruptions to food sources or power," Kauai Mayor Maryanne Kusaka said.

"We are begining a community-mapping project to identify all the sources of expertise in each community, how many doctors, nurses, engineers there are."

Karlos deTreaux, a founding member of the community initiatives group, recalls that after Iniki swept across the island, he waited two months before getting power restored.

"Kauai has been disaster-tested," he said.

In a holistic approach to a single-minded technological problem, Kauai, with a total population of 68,000, is thinking about community gardens as one solution if the power doesn't come on on the next New Year's.

deTreaux praised Kusaka for listening to his group's concerns and then endorsing the proposal, which has become a community model.

"We are going to push gardening throughout the island. It won't be able to feed everyone, but it will be a cohesive force. We are going to do first-aid classes and mainly we are going to have a community that takes pride in being self-sufficient and self-reliant," he said.

Kusaka said at the committee's urging, the county has hired two computer technicians to start checking its computers.

Few county or city governments across the country have used the year 2000 bug as a new source for community unity, deTreaux said, but Kauai, with its close-knit community, is probably in the top 5 percent in the country.


Make sure you ...

The financial industry, banks, security firms and the credit industry appear to be in the best shape, but still to be safe make sure you:

bullet Get a credit report in case false bad credit reports start showing up.

bullet Organize and get a printed copy of your personal records, statements of earnings and bank accounts.

bullet Withdraw a one- to two-week supply of cash. The Federal Reserve plans to print an extra $50 billion to meet this expected demand.


The public says

A survey of 1,032 adults polled by the Gallup organization Dec. 9-13 shows:

bullet Forty-six percent of those surveyed said they would avoid traveling by plane on or around Jan. 1, 2000, because they expected some air traffic control systems to fail.

bullet Nearly two-thirds said banking and accounting systems would fail, possibly causing errors in employee paychecks, government payments or other automated financial transactions.

bullet Forty-nine percent said they plan to take steps to make sure their personal computers are programmed correctly, but an equal number said they would wait and see what happened.


News on the 'Net

If you are puzzled over where to go for information about the potential problems of the year 2000, or just want to check out the scope of the problem, the Internet has some good sources of information:

bullet http://www.zdnet.com/zdy2k/ The world's largest computer publication empire, Ziff-Davis, publishes this daily look at the issues and news surrounding Y2K problems.

bullet http://www.y2knews.com/ This is another wide-ranging selection of news articles on the year 2000 problem.

bullet http://www.hawaii.edu/y2k/ This is the University of Hawaii site for updates and advice.

bullet http://cchnl.oceanic.com/y2000/ The city runs this new, easy-to-read site. It also has a link to the state's Y2K information.

bullet http://www.supplies4y2k.com/ Finally, if you just don't believe any of this is going to work you can stock up on generators, dehydrated food and water purifiers at this site.


More help

One good place to turn for advice is Hawaiian Electric Co., which has a handbook for emergency preparedness available for the asking by calling 543-7511.

Charles Freedman, Heco spokesman, said that while no problems are anticipated, "it is good for people to be aware and plan reasonably" to meet their own needs.

Small businesses should start giving consideration to precisely where and how their supplies come to them.

Now is the time for small-business managers to meet with their suppliers to discuss everyone's Y2K progress and make contingency plans with alternate suppliers if needed.

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