Y2K bug cause
for concern, not
see greater chances for
Islanders not making special plansBy Christine Donnelly
Nearly three-quarters of people who know about the "Y2K computer bug" believe it will disrupt life in Hawaii, but most expect inconveniences, not catastrophes.
"I think it's going to be a problem, but it's awfully hard to predict. I'd say the effects would be somewhere in between" minor and major, said poll respondent William Hays, 71, a retired Sears Roebuck executive who lives in Kailua.
Eighty-nine percent of those polled had heard of the bug. Of them, 55 percent expected computer failures to cause minor disruptions in Hawaii, 19 percent expected major disruptions, 12 percent expected no disruptions and 14 percent were not sure.
Respondents foresaw greater consequences for the United States as a whole, with 22 percent predicting major U.S. disruptions. The rest of the world was considered to be at even greater risk, with 42 percent of respondents predicting major disruptions internationally.
"I think China is going to have a very big problem," Hays said.
He and several others said Hawaii's geographic isolation and experience in dealing with natural disasters could work to its advantage.
"We're pretty much self-contained here," said Hays, citing how Hawaii is not part of an interdependent regional electric power grid common among mainland states. "We've been alerted with tsunamis and hurricanes. I think the people will take this as just as another event that you have to be prepared for."
The Y2K bug, also commonly known as the millennium bug, refers to the trouble some computer hardware, software and microchips may have deciphering data dated 2000 and beyond. Governments and corporations worldwide are spending billions of dollars to prevent malfunctions in everything from computerized air traffic control systems to sewage pumping stations.
In Hawaii, pocketbook issues generated the most concern, with 60 percent of all those surveyed either somewhat worried or very worried about Y2K-related disruptions to banks and financial institutions. Fifty-six percent were somewhat worried or very worried about medical establishments and 911 emergency services; 54 percent had the same level of concern about the airline industry; 52 percent about electric companies and other utilities; and 49 percent about Y2K-related problems in the U.S. military.
Between 30 percent and 40 percent -- depending on the industry -- were not worried at all. The rest were not sure.
The U.S. government has sought to allay fears by periodically publicizing Y2K-remediation efforts. Last week , the Federal Emergency Management Agency reported that the banking, air transport and electric-power industries, as well as the federal government, were on track to avoid most interruptions in service.
Hays has heard similar assurances and mainly believes them. Still "just to be safe," he said he would not fly the first few days of 2000 and would get extra cash, food, water and other essentials later this year. His financial records are already in order, so "no worries there."
One thing that does vex Hays, however, is his car. "I know it has embedded (computer) chips. I know it. I asked my car dealership and they have no idea (what will happen). I hope it runs."
Overall, women were generally more concerned than men about the potential impact in Hawaii. Sixteen percent of the men surveyed expected no disruptions, compared to 7 percent of the women. And 40 percent of women expected major trouble, compared to 34 percent of men.
Rosemary Allen, a housewife and volunteer who lives in Kailua, counts herself among the unconcerned.
At age 72, "I've lived long enough to have been through times that were supposed to be big crises ... people getting really excited about things ... building bomb shelters (during the Cold War) and everything turned out OK," she said. "Maybe I don't know enough about this to be worried as I should be. We'll just have to wait and see."
Among ethnic groups, native Hawaiians had the most definite feelings about the Y2K bug. Eighty percent expected either minor or major disruptions, while 16 percent were at the other extreme, expecting no disruptions at all.
Among the most prevailing myths surrounding the Y2K bug is that the bulk of computer equipment failures will occur on Jan. 1, 2000.
When to worry
Actually, disruptions could begin long before, and continue long after. The GartnerGroup, a worldwide business and information technology company, lays out this pattern:
5 percent of all failures prior to 1999.
25 percent in the second half of 1999. (Two dates to watch: July 1, when 46 states begin their fiscal year 2000, and Oct. 1, when the federal government begins its fiscal year 2000).
55 percent in the Year 2000, including 8 percent the first two weeks.
15 percent in 2001.
Most have no plans
Hawaii residents don't seemBy Christine Donnelly
concerned enough to address
the millennium bug directly
Although just about everybody has heard of the Y2K computer bug, they're not doing much to prepare for it -- and most don't plan to do more as the year rolls on, according to the latest Star-Bulletin poll.
"About the only thing I've done about it is to think," said Floyd Cammack, a 66-year-old retired community college librarian who runs a piano and harpsichord repair business.
Cammack, who lives in Kaneohe, knows the 10-year-old software on his home computer will get the date wrong on Jan. 1, 2000, "so it may drive me to buy a new computer."
He was among the 80 percent of people polled who had done nothing to prepare for the so-called millennium bug, which could cause computer hardware, software or microchips to fail when faced with data dated the Year 2000.
And 68 percent of all respondents said they did not plan to do anything more as the New Year draws closer.
The lack of action does not stem from lack of awareness, since nearly 90 percent of those polled had heard of the bug, the subject of widespread coverage in the local and national media. Cammack for one thinks the risk "has been overblown ... no one knows the true extent of what will happen."
MaryKaye Grieder, a nurse's assistant and nursing student who lives in Red Hill, is among the minority already stocking up on food, water and other supplies.
"If you sit down and think about what's connected to a computer, it's just about everything in our lives," said Grieder, a 47-year-old mother of five, including three children living at home. "It's just better to be prepared, especially when you have a family to take care of."
Grieder said it's her nature to have essentials laid in, citing her Mormon upbringing on a West Virginia farm.
"We had to prepare for winter in the summer ... My grandma churned butter from her own cow, my mom always canned and I do, too," said Grieder, adding that her church also teaches members to have money saved and supplies stored in good times and bad.
Several U.S. government agencies have urged Americans to prepare for, but not panic over, Y2K. Most recently, the Federal Emergency Management Agency issued a consumers' guide which suggested stocking up a week's worth of food, water and other essentials.
Copies of the FEMA guide can be ordered by calling 1-800-480-2520 or via the agency's Web site at http://www.fema.gov/y2k.