A Working White Paper
Part 1: Defining Y2K and
Taking Action to Address the Problem
by Paula D. Gordon, Ph.D.
February 25, 1999

It was a lovely day to be out canoeing. The canoeists were making good time exploring the previously unexplored river....In fact the river current seemed to be speeding up quickening their progress to wherever their journey might lead them. Some wondered inwardly why the current seemed to be getting faster and faster. Some of those wondered what that "whooshing" sound was that apparently came from the distance....Strange that that sound seemed to be getting more and more noticeable. A very few thought, "Perhaps, we should stop for a  time and assess the situation before deciding whether or not to change our course." But then, it was such a lovely day...and they were all having such a good time...

(A variation of a metaphor that has found its way into contemporary discussions of Y2K.)


"Earth, we have a problem."

It is known as Y2K.

An increasing number of people are calling attention to this problem. Edward Yourdon and Jennifer Yourdon have written a national best seller on Y2K.  It is entitled:  Time Bomb 2000 ~ What the Year 2000 Computer Crisis Means to You!   On August 2, 1998, The New York Times even ran an editorial underscoring the seriousness of the problem and criticizing the President, the Vice President, and the head of the government's Y2K efforts.  The editorial noted the ineffectiveness of the government in addressing Y2K, including embedded systems, and urged that needed action be taken.

One might have expected that The New York Times editorial would have served as a call to arms.  It did not.  Not even The New York Times itself has been focusing the attention on this problem that their own editorial board said was needed.

On October 19, 1998 the U.S. Small Business Administration and the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion ran a full page ad in many  newspapers throughout the country announcing a Y2K Action Week focusing on small and medium size businesses.  In The Washington Post for that day, not one other allusion to the problem was apparent throughout the entire paper, not even in Dilbert, the cartoon strip in which the week before, one of the characters asked if Cobol was a kind of cabbage.

To some extent, the following White Paper is written with the Fourth Estate in mind in the hope that they may play an increasingly responsible role in helping both
the public and public officials understand the potential severity of the impacts of Y2K.  The Fourth Estate could make a valuable contribution by focusing as well
on what can be done to minimize Y2K impacts and on what can be done to prepare for the impacts that occur regardless of our efforts.  This White Paper, however, is written, first and foremost, with public officials in mind.  The White Paper is offered in the hope that it will increase the understanding of public officials concerning Y2K and what needs to be done about it.

Public officials have a responsibility to address problems that pose threat to society.  Indeed, they have an obligation to take steps to protect  the public and "preserve the Union".  Those in roles of publicresponsibility can most readily mobilize, redirect, and deploy resources to  address problems of extraordinary magnitude and complexity that pose a threat to society.  In addition, they have a bully pulpit.

What is preventing public officials from taking the necessary action?   What actions should they be taking to address the Y2K problem?   Why are their current actions falling far short?   This White Paper seeks to address these questions.

The White Paper is composed of four parts.  In Part 1,  the Y2K problem is defined and actions that need to be taken are outlined.   Most people think that Y2K is all about remediating computer code problems.  That in itself is a huge challenge, one that cannot be fully met given the late hour.  Remediating computer code problems, however, is only one aspect of the Y2K problem.

In this White Paper the problem is defined as a set of three interrelated problems. These involve the following:

Senator Bob Bennett of Utah appears to have been the first public official to speak in terms of these three parts of the problem in his nationally  televised speech on Y2K before the National Press Club on July 15, 1998.

While the information technology aspect of the problem has been given far more attention than the other two, the potential impacts of all three  aspects of the problem have not been addressed in a comprehensive way.  The nature and scope of these potential impacts are discussed in the White Paper.   While there was some increased awareness of these impacts during 1998,  there continues to be much too little visible attention being given them by persons in roles of public responsibility.

Reasons why the Y2K problem has not been well defined and reasons why it is not being fully addressed are discussed in Part 1.  Recommendations are made concerning specific initiatives that should be taken.  These include a recommendation to establish a Special Action Office for Year 2000 in the Executive Office of the President.

Part 2, formerly known as the "Summary",  includes a detailed analysis of one of the most overlooked aspects of Y2K:  non-Y2K compliant date-sensitive embedded systems.  The challenges and threats posed by malfunctioning non-compliant date-sensitive embedded systems is discussed at length.  Initiatives are proposed which could serve to minimize these threats.

Part 3 of the White Paper provides a fuller elaboration of the mission and functions of a Special Action Office for Year 2000.

A link to the embedded systems portion of the White Paper,  can be found at http://gwu.edu/~y2k/keypeople/gordon/.  It is posted in the archive at http://www.year2000.com/y2karchive.html  and at http://www.itpolicy.gsa.gov/mks/yr2000/y2kconf/papers/paper64.htm

A list of Y2K references and resources can also be found at http://gwu.edu/~y2k/keypeople/gordon/.

Part 4 will address a range of other initiatives not fully addressed in the previous parts of the paper.   Different scenarios will also be described.

The parts of the White Paper are written in such a way that each can stand alone.

Defining Y2K
Taking Action to Address the Problem

Defining Y2K

The way that a problem or a complex set of problems is defined is critical to the way it is addressed.  With Y2K, monumental errors have been made in the way the problem has been defined.  As a result, relatively few people appear to be approaching the set of problems, challenges, and threats posed by Y2K in a comprehensive way.  One way of arriving at a comprehensive definition of Y2K is to imagine three circles ~  with a small circle in the middle of a medium sized circle, which is in turn inside a larger circle (Figure 1).

Click the image go to enlarged.

These circles represent the following:

Typical Ways of Defining the Y2K Problem

Until relatively recently, the Y2K problem has often been defined in terms of the inner circle alone.   A clear indication of this in the United States  is that the major responsibilities for remediating Y2K have been given, both in government and in the private sector,  to "Chief Information Officers" or "Chief Technology Officers",   persons whose background is typically  in computer technology, information systems, and communications technology.  Persons with such a background are not necessarily equipped to address embedded systems aspects of the Y2K problem,  let alone the extraordinarily complicated and challenging connectivity and interdependency aspects of Y2K.

Also, until relatively recently,  the role of non-Y2K compliant date-sensitive embedded systems as a major element in the Y2K problem has  been nearly universally poorly understood in both the public and private sectors.

In June of 1998, the American Red Cross,  a participant in responses to national disasters and a participant in the Federal Response Plan,  established its own task group to look into the disasters and emergencies that could be triggered at Y2K.  This action indicated their increasing  awareness of the threats posed by all aspects of the Y2K problem, including the potential for technological disasters as a result of malfunctioning non-compliant date sensitive embedded systems.

During 1998, some agencies of the government that have major responsibilities for national security became increasingly concerned with  the various aspects of  Y2K problems.  In some quarters,  attention began to be paid to possible Y2K-related terrorist activities.  There has been a growing a concern that terrorist activities could occur owing to critical infrastructure vulnerabilities as a result of Y2K.  The concern for  terrorist activities has focused both on the IT and the embedded systems aspects of Y2K.  It has included a focus on cyberterrorism ~ the potential sabotage of information systems.

Potential infrastructure disruptions began to receive an increasing amount of attention in 1998. Emergency management efforts tended, however, to focus on contingency planning and crisis management, with far too little attention being give to mitigative actions that would diminish the likelihood of major infrastructure disruptions.   It is as if one major aspect of the emergency management cycle were being totally left out:  targeted mitigative actions aimed at minimizing the most harmful possible impacts.

Technological disasters that could be caused by malfunctioning embedded systems have yet to receive the focused attention they require.

To date, persons who have some comprehension of the connectivity and interdependency aspect of the Y2K problem have had little apparent  involvement in shaping national or global Y2K efforts.

The Potential Impacts of Each of the Three Aspects of the Problem

The malfunctioning of computer hardware and software can render systems inoperative.  The corruption or degradation of computer data can damage critical infrastructure.  The degradation of data could drastically affect the electric power industry; the banking industry; the financial services sector; telecommunications;  business and trade;  transportation and shipping; manufacturing; public health and safety; essential public services,  including emergency and fire services; the administration of justice; and food, water, and fuel supply and distribution.

While the inner circle definition of Y2K can be associated with infrastructure disruptions, the second circle ~ malfunctioning non-Y2K compliant date-sensitive embedded systems ~ can be associated with both infrastructure disruptions and technological disasters.  The latter could include Bhopal-type and Chernobyl-type disasters.  Technological disasters would also include the accidental release of radiation or other hazardous emissions or substances from high risk plants, refineries, sites and facilities.  They could include as well, oil or gas pipeline explosions or malfunctions, and the malfunctioning of tankers and off-shore oil rigs.

The inner circle, as well as the second circle, could give rise to disruptions and disasters that could have a cascading effect, resulting in the most complex form of emergencies, requiring a massive influx of humanitarian relief.  A mix of infrastructure disruptions and technological disasters would make undertaking humanitarian relief, emergency medical services, and emergency management efforts, including recovery and restoration efforts, the greatest of challenges.

The impacts associated with the third circle really amount to the cumulative impacts of the first and second circles.   These cumulative impacts could affect social stability and the cohesiveness of the body politic, the potential unraveling of the social fabric.  The cumulative impacts could make it impossible to conduct any but the simplest forms of business.  They could make it impossible for governments and for public and private institutions to carry out essential functions. Consequences could include economic instability and uncertainty, widespread unemployment, and civil unrest.

If disruptions impacted even a few isolated locales and if it is were not known how long the disruptions might continue, the social fabric of those areas could begin to unravel.  If this situation were to be compounded by shortages of food, water, fuel, and energy supplies, and if little or nothing had been done to prepare for the possibility of such shortages, then civil unrest could well follow.

Once there is an awareness that such scenarios could unfold,  those in roles of responsibility have an obligation to take action to address such challenges.

Figure 2 depicts the potential impacts that can be expected to accompany each of the three aspects of the problem.

In determining what actions to take to address the possible impacts of  Y2K, it would be helpful to arrive at some range of estimates concerning the nature and severity of the impacts that can be expected and the likely duration of those impacts.   Proactive, crisis-oriented actions should then be taken to minimize the anticipated impacts.

Click the image go to enlarged.

Estimating What the Impacts of Y2K Might Be

There is obviously much difference of opinion concerning what the impacts of Y2K might be. A major reason for this disparity of opinion is that people are basing their views on widely differing definitions of the problem.  In those nations considered to be at the forefront of global efforts to address the Y2K challenge, most are still focused on the inner circle definition of the Y2K problem:  the problem defined as a computer hardware and software/information technology and communications technology problem.  These nations are typically focusing to a much lesser extent on the second circle ~ the non-compliant, date-sensitive embedded systems problem. With few exceptions, the nations that are most advanced in their efforts to address the Y2K problem are paying even less attention to the impacts associated with the connectivity and
interdependency aspects of the problem.

Opinion surveys of persons who are most familiar with the Y2K problem might well be instructive concerning the issue of impacts.  It is important, however, to recognize when studying responses to surveys on Y2K that even respondents with first hand knowledge and experience of the problem may be basing their responses on vastly differing definitions of the problem.  Even those who have adopted similar definitions of the problem may have very different views concerning the nature, severity, and duration of the likely

There are many explanations for such differences in perspectives.   One explanation is that relatively few people have well developed synthetic  reasoning skills or systems analysis skills. These are exactly the skills that are needed in order to make assessments.  Copious amounts of logic and commonsense are similarly needed  in order to comprehend the nature and scope of the impacts associated with all aspects of the Y2K problem.   All of these skills and capacities are needed in understanding the connectivity and interdependency aspects of Y2K.  Persons who quickly "recognize connections" may be among the first to comprehend the potential severity of the impacts.

Much can be gleaned from studying the results of two surveys that focused on the likely severity of Y2K impacts.   A third is in process and should be completed by March 1999.  The surveys were conducted by an organization in Washington, D. C. known as the Washington D. C. Year 2000 Group (WDCY2K).  The group is composed of individuals from government, business and industry, and academia. It also includes vendors, contractors, consultants, and individuals from non-profit organizations and Y2K community preparedness groups.  The members of WDCY2K share a deep interest in Y2K.  Many are themselves involved in addressing aspects of the Y2K problem directly.

Members of the WDCY2K group took the survey in March of 1998 and again in May of 1998. Members were given a form that provided a range of possible impacts that Y2K could have.  They were asked to indicate their prediction of the level of impact that Y2K would likely have.  They were asked to use a scale of 0 (no impact) to 10.  A rating of 10 would involve the dissolution of government and the likelihood of famine.  The various levels of impact delineated in the survey are more fully detailed in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Impact of Year 2000 Technology Problems in the United States

   0           No real impact

   1           Local impact for some enterprises

   2           Significant impact for many enterprises

   3           Significant market adjustment (20%+ drop); some bankruptcies

   4           Economic slowdown; rise in unemployment; isolated social incidents

   5           Mild recession; isolated supply/infrastructure problems; runs on banks

   6           Strong recession; local social disruptions; many bankruptcies

   7           Political crises; regional supply/infrastructure problems, disruptions

   8           Depression; infrastructure crippled; markets collapse; local martial law

   9           Supply/infrastructure collapse; widespread disruptions, martial law

  10           Collapse of US government; possible famine

End of Survey Notes:

(Figure 1 is taken from http://www.wdcy2k.org.  See that Web site for the results of the WDCY2K surveys.)

The optional comments that accompany many of the WDCY2K survey responses are particularly illuminating in that they can further reveal the way in which respondents are defining the problem. The comments may also reveal how respondents are assessing current efforts to address the problem.  For instance, a person might hold the view that the impacts of the problem are at level 2 or 3 on the scale. Their further comments in their survey response might reveal that they defined the problem as a computer hardware and software problem involving information technology and communications technology, and that they did not take into consideration the potential impacts of the embedded systems aspect of the problem.

Some people in responding to the survey may caveat their ratings by explaining that their estimates of the impacts would be at a lower level if  certain actions were taken. For instance my own response to the survey in May of 1998 was along the following lines:

"Impacts will be at a level 8 unless the government assumes its proper leadership role and adopts a proactive, problem solving, crisis-oriented approach to addressing the threats and challenges of Y2K and the embedded systems crisis.  If Federal efforts were to be redesigned, provided the requisite action-oriented and crisis-oriented leadership, and provided the resources needed to respond to Y2K, the impacts could be reduced to a level 3 or 4.  If only meager attempts are made to minimize impacts and avert technological disasters, then the level can be expected to remain at 8.  If inadequate efforts are made to come up with and implement necessary emergency preparedness plans, and response and recovery plans, the duration of the impacts may be lengthy; indeed full recovery may not be possible.  If efforts at crisis management are muddled, the impacts could go higher than an 8."
It is critical when discussing Y2K with others to try to understand what their current level of understanding is, how they are defining the problem and how they are viewing the nature and the severity of the potential impacts.  If the discussion is to be productive, it is important that  participants recognize if they have different definitions of the problem and different perceptions of the nature, magnitude, and likely impacts of the problem.  If such basic differences are present, then participants may well find themselves using the same words and terminology in discussing the problem while intending very different meanings.  Such disparities in communications concerning Y2K can make it all the more challenging to arrive at a consensus concerning what actions need to be taken.

What is Involved in Addressinga Problem  as Complex as Y2K?

Adequate problem definition is of critical importance to effective efforts to address any complex societal problem.  Elements critical to the  effectiveness of addressing complex problems can be seen to include all of the following:

In order to be as effective as possible in addressing a complex societal problem, all of these five general categories of elements need to be in  evidence.

The Status of Federal Efforts as of February 16, 1999

As of February 16, 1999, adequate human and fiscal resources have not been made available to address the Y2K problem in a comprehensive way.   In addition, only eleven full time professionals were staffing the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion.

The Y2K problem is destined to have greater impacts nationally and globally than the drug problem that has plagued the nation since the 1960s.  The Y2K problem is destined to pose far greater threats to the economy and the nation's infrastructure and national security than did the energy crisis of the 1970s.  While these two complex societal problems have had special offices established within the Executive Office of the President, no similar viable, proactive, problem solving and crisis-oriented structure has been established to address the Y2K problem. Federal efforts, as they are currently structured, are not designed for quick, proactive, and decisive action.   Indeed Federal efforts, as described in the President's
Council Report, the Council states that "The Y2K problem is solvable".  The Report was released on January 7, 1999 and can be found at http://www.Y2K.gov/new/FINAL2.htm.  As described in the Report, Federal efforts  have focused on information gathering, creating awareness for the need for remediation efforts, monitoring progress, encouraging contingency planning, and promoting and coordinating related activities.  The fiscal resources,  human resources, expertise, and full time commitment of those addressing those involved in Federal efforts to date have been lacking.  But more importantly, the assumption that the problem is solvable indicates that the problem definition is focused on the IT aspect of the problem.  Adequate fiscal resources, human resources, and expertise to address all  aspects of the Y2K problem are all missing.

Inadequate funding can make it difficult, if not impossible, to enlist the assistance of professionals who have valuable expertise that should be
informing Federal efforts.  Even if all the 25 or more working groups established by the Council shared the same definition of the problem, even
if they were equally well informed concerned the nature and severity of the potential impacts of the problem,  their efforts would still be severely
constrained by the fact that they have inadequate resources. When there is a recognized need to bring in outside expertise, the working groups have to rely largely on volunteer participation by persons in other parts of the government or from outside the Federal government.  If they are themselves lacking in expertise and understanding of the problem, they may well be hardpressed to identify the expertise they need.  Even if they are able to identify persons with the expertise that is needed, such individuals may not be available to participate on a solely volunteer basis, surely not full time, unless they are truly dedicated and have independent means.

Indeed, there seem to be other reasons that the Council's efforts  lack the kind of focus that is needed.   The Council's efforts tend in large measure to emphasize information gathering, monitoring, and assessment activities, activities which do not, of course, constitute action.   With the primary exception of DOD,  and to some extent, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Chemical Safety and Hazards Investigation Board, there are few apparent steps being taken that would significantly minimize a wide array of extremely hazardous risks posed by Y2K and the malfunctioning of non-Y2K compliant date sensitive embedded systems.   Such actions need to be taken in the days remaining in order to reduce those risks to the lowest levels humanly possible.

There appears to be a growing emphasis on certain aspects of the emergency management cycle (preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery).  Mitigation in this instance can encompass both remediation of those things that need fixing, as well as the much greater task of taking extraordinary steps to ensure that the harm done by malfunctioning embedded systems is minimized to the extent possible.   Recommended steps for addressing this most challenging aspect of the Y2K problem are more fully discussed in the White Paper in Parts 2 and Part 3  (also known as the Summary).  While increasing attention is being given to preparedness and response, little attention has been given to that aspect of mitigation that would result in minimizing the harm resulting from malfunctioning non-Y2K compliant embedded systems in the vast array of hazardous sites, plants, systems, pipelines, etc., that put the public at highest risk. Little visible attention has been given to recovery.

Contingency Planning

While since the latter part of 1998 there has been a heightened sense of need for "contingency planning,"  the meaning given the words "contingency planning" can vary greatly.   In some persons' minds, "contingency planning" refers to a possible range of action that could be taken after a problem, emergency, or crisis occurs.  Contingency planning may not necessarily include action steps to minimize risks.   Contingency planning may simply be focused on considering different courses of actions that may need to be taken when and if the problem occurs.  It can be argued that waiting until  failures, malfunctions, and problems to occur to take action is indeed an extremely shortsighted way of addressing a time certain period of potential crisis. Actions aimed at mitigating the risks should be given the highest priority.   Waiting for this time certain period of crisis to occur when there are steps that can be taken now to minimize significantly likely impacts reflects a perspective bereft of commonsense and an absence of even ordinary self survival instincts.

It is difficult to ascertain what assumptions those at the forefront of visible Federal government planning efforts are making concerning the likely impacts of Y2K.  Visible efforts appear to address impacts at the 2 or 3 level at most.

Contingency planning efforts need to be undertaken that take into consideration the possibility of major infrastructure disruptions coupled with technological disasters. Contingency planning efforts are needed that are based on the assumption that such impacts could have either permanent consequences or consequences lasting years.  Scenarios describing different levels of severity of impacts need to be considered.  In considering different scenarios,  the consequences of failures to take immediate action should become more apparent.  Contingency planning must be joined with mitigation efforts aimed at averting and reducing the impacts that could occur ~ both the IT aspect of Y2K and the embedded systems aspect of Y2K.  Contingency planning efforts need to include disaster preparedness planning and actions and crisis response and recovery planning, along with the mitigation efforts.

Disaster preparedness planning and actions, mitigation efforts to minimize likely impacts, crisis response and recovery planning would appear to be at different beginning stages of consideration at the Federal level.  Indeed, some remarkably shortsighted thinking concerning contingency planning has been in evidence.  According to a Reuters account, on October 2, 1998, attention was given at a hearing of the Special Senate Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem to the so-called "seventeen hour early warning period".   Owing to the International Dateline, this is the period of "advance warning" that  the East coast of the United States will have in the hours before midnight on December 31, 1999.   Some persons present urged that heightened attention needed to be given to that "early warning" period.

Commonsense would dictate that heightened attention needs to be given now to making sure that there are a minimal number of disruptions and disasters occurring during that seventeen hour time period. The intelligence, ingenuity, and energies of persons in roles of public responsibility needs to focus now on identifying those sites, plants, facilities, systems, pipelines, refineries, etc., etc., which commonsense tells us pose a
potential risk to life, public health and safety, and to the environment. Having identified the potential risks, it behooves those in roles of public responsibility to take steps to assess, remediate, test, work around, or shut down those placing the public and the environment at great risk.  When such crucial actions have been taken, then focusing attention as well on this seventeen hour time period becomes reasonable.

If all possible actions are not taken in the over 7,000 thousand hours remaining between February 16 and December 31, 1999, then those seventeen hours of "advance notice" will take on a very different character.   If, during that seventeen hour period,  numerous Bhopal- and Chernobyl-type incidents occur around the world  ~  five, ten, fifteen, twenty, or more, what would persons in roles of public responsibility do, here or elsewhere? How would the public react when they realized at that late hour the potential danger that they were in?  Wouldn't the more reasonable and responsible approach be to identify all of those sites, plants, systems, etc., etc., which commonsense tells us constitute a significant threat should they malfunction, and take steps now to do all that can be done to prevent such disasters from occurring in the first place?

Contingency planning for various time frames and based on different possible scenarios can continue to be done at the same time such comprehensive actions are carried out.  Both activities can go on simultaneously to make sure that worst case scenarios do not occur and if they do occur, that there will be a clearer understanding of the alternative courses of action that we need to prepare for.

Why risk waiting until the last possible hour to take drastic steps that would not be necessary had preventive steps and mitigative actions been taken  months earlier?   There would be much too little time to make the decisions and take the actions needed.  There is precious little time to
make those decisions and take those actions now.

If multiple disasters occurred throughout the world during the seventeen hours of "advance notice,"  what would be the impact on the public's level of confidence in their leaders?   What level of confidence might the public have in those whose failures to take preventive actions had put them in such a vulnerable position?

Those experienced in emergency management planning need to help those at the forefront of Federal efforts understand the implications and the likely impact of adopting such a "wait and see" approach.  They need to urge the public officials promoting such an approach to adopt a more sober and thoughtful perspective.  What is needed is a perspective that leads to extensive early actions during the over 7000 remaining (as of February 16, 1999)  prior to that seventeen hour period.

The mindset of persons who would focus undue attention on this seventeen hour period is reminiscent of those who have waited for accidents to occur.  In the 1960's, major construction work was carried out on the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge.  In the pre-dawn hours, a newspaper photographer stationed himself near a marked construction hazard on the bridge, in order to photograph the accident that he expected to occur when a motorist failed to heed or see the warning signs and crashed.  He got his picture.  Wouldn't it be wiser, more sensible, and more human-hearted to have done all that could be done so that the tragic consequences would have been avoided and minimized?

The present fascination with information gathering and chronicling activities and progress may result in Y2K becoming the best documented
unfolding crisis in recorded history of mankind.  It is essential that we recognize that while we have an option to remove ourselves from the action like the photographer, we also have the option to take action ourselves and to urge our public officials to devote the needed resources and expertise to addressing the threats and challenges that face us, and to organizing efforts nationally and globally in a way that will minimize harmful impacts.

What Kind of Organization is Needed to Address Y2K Threats and Challenges?

In his writing in The Dynamics of Organizations,  Waino Suojanen talks about three types of organizations.  His typology of organizations can help shed light on the deficiencies that could be found in Federal Y2K efforts in 1998.  Suojanen talked of the following types of organizations:

Examples of routine-oriented organizations are the IRS and the Social Security Administration.

Examples of crisis-oriented organizations are the Department of Defense and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Examples of knowledge-utilizing, problem solving organizations include the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Institutes of Health, and to some extent the Environmental Protection Agency.  The Extension Service of the United States Department of Agriculture, the Federal Labs are other examples, as were the Marshall Plan, the Manhattan Project, the Research Applied to National Needs Program of the National Science Foundation, and the Federal Energy Office/Federal Energy Administration.

Some agencies and departments incorporate aspects of all three types of organizations.  The kind of organization that is needed to address Y2K would necessarily need to incorporate such a mix. The government's current Y2K efforts are more characteristic of a highly active routine-oriented organization striving to meet a deadline.   As is underscored in the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion: First Quarterly Summary of Assessment Information (January 7, 1999) [http://www.Y2K.gov/new/FINAL2.htm],  the Council "coordinates the Federal Government's efforts to address the Year 2000 problem" and "promotes action on the problem outside the Federal Government...."  The Council's  Working Groups  "form cooperative working relationships with (those in a wide range of sectors),"  "work to increase the level of awareness and action on the problem and to promote the sharing of information between entities".   These are not the efforts of an action-oriented, crisis-oriented, proactive, knowledge-utilizing, problem solving organization with adequate resources and charter to do all it can to take action to reduce the impacts of a time certain period of disruptions and disasters.  What the gravity of the situation calls for is just such a level of intense and concerted action.

There has been little public recognition on the part of those in the Executive Branch of the Federal government of the fact that there is no way that the time certain deadline of 1/1/2000 can be met.  An exception has been Deputy Secretary of Defense Hamre who has expressed his concern that there will be "some nasty surprises."  He was speaking about the level of readiness of the defense establishment and weapon

Speaking on behalf of a major private sector organization, a representative of the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) admitted at the close of a Press Conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on January 11, 1999 that there was not enough time remaining to fix everything.  (The Bloomberg Television Network and the Christian Broadcasting News Network were among the television networks covering the Press Conference.)

Were the implications of failing to meet the deadline fully grasped, commonsense would dictate that a crisis mode be adopted and that efforts be reorganized accordingly.  This would entail a major dedication of energies, and human and fiscal resources, all directed toward minimizing the potential impacts. It would also entail taking steps to help the public understand the problem and to encourage the public to take needed steps to prepare.  It would entail government involvement in providing the public, as need be, the guidance, information, and assistance to do so.

Examples of public officials who are taking just such a proactive, crisis-oriented approach to Y2K include  Governor William J. Janklow of
South Dakota.   In his State-of-the-State-Address delivered January 13, 1999, he expressed his deep concern regarding Y2K and the immediate need to take steps to minimize impacts and undertake preparedness measures.  (See http://www.state.sd.us/governor/FILES/sos99c/transcript.htm for the text of the Governor's remarks.)

A prime example of a local government that has also taken a proactive, crisis-oriented approach is that of the City of Norfolk, Nebraska.  The City Administrator, Michael Nolan, and the city government is doing a most impressive job focusing on needed mitigative and preparedness efforts to minimize to the extent possible the harmful impacts that Y2K-related infrastructure disruptions could have.  (See Norfolk's Y2K Main Page at http://www.ci.norfolk.ne.us/index1.htm.)

It is essential that the most be made of the time remaining. If the facts concerning Y2K do not become apparent to the public until late in 1999,
there will be no time to make adequate preparations for even level 2 or 3 impacts.

The Importance of a True Picture of the World

There is an obvious and often heard concern regarding the possible effect that exposure to information concerning potential threats posed by Y2K could have on the public.  Some feel that such exposure would precipitate panic.  Others feel that the sooner the public understands the threats, the more informed their actions will be and the better they will be able to prepare.

It can be argued that the approaches being taken by Governor Janklow and City Administrator Michael Nolan are the most helpful kinds of approaches that can be taken by public officials. These approaches inspire maximum trust and will significantly diminish the chances for people panicking at the last minute.

It can readily be argued that keeping the whole truth from the people amounts to being deceptive. The following quote addresses the effects that efforts to deceive can have:

"Do not deceive other people. By deceiving them, you are creating a false world for them."

from Ethics on the Job by Pfeiffer and Fosberg

When people feel that they are being or have been deceived, their trust is undermined and they may become so distrustful that even if they are told the full truth in the future, they will not believe what they are told. Elected and non-elected public officials need to be aware of the problems they are inviting and the long range repercussions that can result when they are less than candid with the people whom they serve.

In addition to candor,  there is a need for public officials to determine in their own minds what level of impacts ~ or range of impacts of Y2K might be. There is a need for public officials to make clear to those they serve ~what they think these impacts might be.  This includes public officials at the highest levels of government.    If they were clearer in their own minds where they stood, they would be better able to help advance the public's understanding and to help the public prepare.   If the public could be helped to prepare now for at least a level 2 or 3 impact, the chances of last minute panic could be averted.  Officials would be well advised to be ready to increase the requisite level of effort as soon as it becomes apparent to them that the level of impact will likely be higher.  While assessments continue, simultaneous attention should be given to implementing efforts designed to address impacts at least at the 2 or 3 level and to help the public prepare for at least that level of impact.   There needs to be at a minimum a bottom line recognition that not everything connected with the IT side of the problem
can be fixed in time.  It is also imperative for those in roles of public responsibility to recognize that according to the Gartner Group, there are a minimum of 20 million non-compliant date sensitive embedded systems in the world.  Even if a person believes that there are only a million of such date sensitive embedded systems that are destined to malfunction,  there is insufficient time and resources to identify, remediate,  test, or work around, all of those embedded systems. As the NERC spokesperson said at the January 11, 1999 Press Conference, everything will not be fixed in time.

Addressing the Deficiencies of Federal Y2K Efforts

If Federal efforts are based on a partial definition of the problem, there can be no full identification of the alternatives that need to be
considered.   If a realistic definition of the problem is lacking, then there is little reason to expect that needed resources will be sought in order to adequately address the problem.   There is no way that current low levels of resources can significantly reduce the impacts that can be expected, whether efforts are well orchestrated or not, adequately focused or not.

An organization is needed which incorporates a mix of all of the three types of organizations is needed (routine-oriented, crisis-oriented, and knowledge-utilizing, problem solving-oriented). Proactive, problem-oriented, crisis-oriented leadership is essential along with a significant
dedication of resources and reorganization of efforts if the impacts are to be reduced to a minimum.

The Skills and Competencies Needed by Administrators, Managers, and Other Professionals Addressing Y2K

Y2K is a time certain period of crisis. There are no administrators, managers, or leaders who are used to managing an organization which must operate in the face of time certain challenges and threats such as those posed by Y2K.  No one has experience dealing with a time certain global crisis of this potential magnitude.  Relatively few people have even had experience helping prevent, mitigate, or helping deal with local, regional, or national crises ~ time certain or not. Thus far, no public figure with high visibility who has such experience or who has demonstrated such a capacity for leadership appears to have recognized the gravity of the present challenges and threats and none has come forward with a full time
commitment to assume a responsible role.

In late 1998, former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn assumed a leadership role in a task force effort organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies to assess Y2K impacts.  He has demonstrated considerable comprehension of the nature and scope of the Y2K crisis.   He would certainly be a candidate for a role in the proposed reorganization of Federal Y2K efforts.

Managing a proactive, problem solving, crisis-oriented organization requires competencies that few people possess whether by training or natural proclivities.  Persons in the military or in emergency management, or with background in both,  have the greatest likelihood of acquiring and developing finely honed skills that the managing of such an organization requires.

Specific Actions That are Needed to Address the Y2K Problem ~ An Essential First Step

An essential first step is to establish a Special Action Office for Y2K  in the Executive Office of the President.  This Special Action Office needs to be top heavy with persons who have a military background and who are used to getting things done.

A group needs to be assembled of highly motivated individuals who have an in-depth understanding of the nature and scope of the problem or who can quickly acquire such understanding.  They need to adopt collaborative, knowledge-utilizing, approaches to problem solving similar to those that contributed to the success of mobilization efforts in World War II, the Manhattan Project, the implementation of the Marshall Plan, the NASA Mission to the moon, the rescue of the Apollo 13 astronauts, the Federal response to the energy crisis of the 1970s, and the execution of Desert Storm in the 1980s.  They must be able to plan and orchestrate the delivery of technical assistance and they must make provision for the dissemination of information and of needed education and training.  They must assemble and make available information concerning best practices, policies and approaches, while also facilitating the actual adoption and adaptation of such practices, policies,
and approaches.

They need to establish a clearinghouses of information including a clearinghouse which identifies vendors and vendor capabilities so that those who can fund their own remediation efforts have some idea of who is available to help them become compliant or address problems of non-compliance.  They also need to be able to identify people who can provide assistance with contingency planning, including emergency preparedness planning.

Similar clearinghouses need to be set up on a global level to facilitate the efforts of persons working on Y2K throughout the world.   The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has a Working Group on Chemical Accidents that has recently set up a clearinghouse "to facilitate progress towards (Y2K) compliance". (For further information, see an article in Chemistry and Industry Magazine, Issue No. 1, January 4, 1999 at http://www.CI.mond.org/current/990101.html.)  The OECD effort provides an excellent example of the kinds of efforts that need to be fostered nationally and globally in order to minimize the greatest threats posed by Y2K.

To the extent possible, those spearheading Federal efforts must play a focal role in the development and implementation of national as well as global policies, to help ensure both national and global security, and social and economic stability.  These efforts need to go far beyond assessment, monitoring, and coordination.

Above all, these individuals must possess the requisite leadership, vision, understanding, initiative, courage, sense of responsibility, commitment, common sense, ingenuity, and creativity needed to address the problem in as effective a way as possible. They must be able to motivate others, instill trust in others, communicate openly and effectively with them, and help educate them concerning
the scope of the problem and approaches to addressing it.

Owing to the highly complicated nature of the technical aspects of the Y2K, they must also have the generalist capabilities that enable them to work with persons who have backgrounds in a wide variety of disciplines and areas of expertise.  They need to be able to raise awareness concerning the problem while also raising awareness of specific actions that can be taken to address the
problem and while taking action.

The Focus of the Proposed Office

The proposed Special Action Office would be established in the Executive Office of the President and would focus on all aspects of Y2K. This Office should initially be organized along comparable lines to the Federal Energy Office and the Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention. The current eleven  person effort has no budgetary authority and focuses primarily on coordination; awareness raising within the Federal government and, increasingly, in elements of the private sector; coordination, assessment, and monitoring of Federal efforts to remediate the mission critical systems of the Federal government; and fact-finding concerning national infrastructure.  There are also some positive indications that educational and technical assistance efforts are being added, but a far more comprehensive approach is needed.

The greatly expanded mission and functions of Federal efforts being proposed here are described in detail in the Part III of this White Paper.  Federal efforts would be designed to do everything possible to minimize potential impacts and "preserve the Union" by doing what is possible to minimize economic uncertainties and the potential for civil unrest and to prevent to the extent possible the unraveling of the social fabric.

Some Other Major Initiatives Including FEMA's Project Impact Program

The Special Action Office would help the Federal Emergency Management Agency identify the full range of policies and approaches that are needed in order to ensure that all the nation's emergency response and management capabilities become fully focused on addressing the infrastructure disruptions, technological disasters, and complex, cascading emergencies that could comprise Y2K impacts.  The Special Action Office would assist FEMA in fulfilling its responsibility for helping State and local governments prepare for and respond to the impacts that
can be expected with Y2K.  FEMA needs to make relevant publications and guidance material widely available, including the material on their Project Impact approach.  (Project Impact model programs are aimed at helping communities plan, organize, and implement preparedness and response and recovery efforts associated with natural disasters.  117 such programs now exist throughout the country.)  Project Impact programs need to be expanded to incorporate Y2K preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery concerns. Their numbers need to be exponentially increased.   A task force of the President's Council's Working Group on Civic Preparedness is calling on the President's Council to help bring about such an expansion of FEMA's Project Impact program to incorporate Y2K preparedness.

Training and exercise efforts need to be expanded in significant ways. Predeployment of supplies, including food and water need to be considered. The use of public buildings such as schools need to be considered as possible shelters for those who may not be able to remain in their own homes owing to infrastructure disruptions and weather conditions.

The new Special Action Office must make sure that all of the agencies in the Federal government which have emergency management responsibilities fully comprehend all aspects of the Y2K problem, including the potential for infrastructure disruptions, technological disasters, and resultant complex emergencies.  When there is limited understanding of the nature and scope of the crisis in an agency, this deficiency needs to be addressed by those spearheading Federal efforts. Some divisions within some agencies and departments appear to be far ahead of others with regard to understanding the nature of the threats posed by Y2K and the potential impacts and varying levels of impacts that it could have.

An Initiative to Reduce Hazards Posed by Specific Sites, Plants, Systems, Facilities, etc.

There is as yet no visible effort in place at the highest levels of the Federal government that is focused  on identifying, remediating, testing, working around, or taking other necessary steps to ensure the safety and prevent the malfunctioning of the full range of sites, plants, facilities,
pipelines, and systems that pose a decided risk to the public.   The President's Council is apparently assuming that individual entities in the public and the private sector have responsibility for such remediation and will take actions accordingly to address such risks. This perspective appears to be based in the assumption that the nature of the problem, along with its solutions and its likely impacts if not effectively addressed ~ are all fully grasped by all of those in roles of responsibility in the public and private sectors.  Of course, this is not the case.

The Federal government's failure to assume its proper role of responsibility may well reflect an absence of understanding on the part of leaders at the highest level concerning the totality of Year 2000 technology threats and challenges. Particularly missing is attention to and understanding of the embedded systems problem.  (The embedded systems challenge is dealt with in detail in Part 2 (formerly the "Summary".  See http://www.gwu.edu/~y2k/keypeople/gordon/.  Also see http://www.year2000.com/y2karchive.html  or http://www.itpolicy.gsa.gov/mks/yr2000/y2kconf/papers/paper64.htm).

Connectivity and interdependency aspects of the problem are also little understood and there are inadequate resources being made available to bring in expertise which could be helpful in that regard.  The capacity to address these aspects of Y2K appears to be seriously lacking.

The political will to address Y2K also appears to be absent.   Perhaps, with the end of the Trial in the Senate, this will change.   The President's State of the Union Address on January 19, 1999 contained the following brief allusion to Y2K:

"We also must be ready for the 21st century, from its very first moment, by solving the so-called "Y2K" computer problem. Now, we had one member of Congress stand up and applaud  [Constance Morella]  and we may have about that ratio out there applauding at home in front of their television sets. But remember, this is a big, big problem. And we've been working hard on it. Already we've made sure that the Social Security checks will come on time.  And I -- but I want all the folks at home listening to this to know that we need every state and local government, every business, large and small, to work with us to make sure that this Y2K computer bug will be remembered as the last headache of the 20th century, not the first crisis of the 21st."

( See http://cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/stories/1999/01/19/sotu.transcript/.)

It is beyond understanding why so little attention was paid to a problem which could well prove to be the greatest threat ever to face mankind.

Efforts may be constrained by simple ignorance of the nature and scope of the problem.  There do not appear to be any persons on the staffs of the President, the Vice President, or the President's Council who have technical expertise in the area of embedded systems.  This fact alone could explain why Federal efforts have taken the form they have.  Unless this aspect of the problem is fully comprehended, the full scope of the threats posed by Y2K cannot be grasped.

Sources of expertise that the President's Council has turned to in January of 1999 had a background in information technology and not embedded systems and have apparently provided the Council with some questionable estimates concerning the scope of the embedded systems problem.  These questionable estimates are far more conservative than even the Gartner Group's revised (but nonetheless highly concerned) estimates.

Another constraint on action may be the full knowledge that fully funding efforts that could significantly minimize the threats posed by Y2K would have extraordinary impacts on the Federal budget. In fact, it is conceivable that the entire surplus may need to be used in order to address this problem in as comprehensive a way as it needs to be addressed.

Another constraint on action, particularly on the actions of those who may be engaging in political gamesmanship, may be the negative impact that public recognition of the nature and severity of problem could have on the economy. It is going to take statesmanship of the highest order to recognize that near term impacts on the economy may be the only way to lessen the inevitable long-term recovery costs that Y2K will have.

An additional concern and constraining influence might be the panic that could be generated in the public were officials at the highest levels to
acknowledge publicly their personal views concerning the severity of the threats posed by Y2K.   The statesmanship exhibited by Governor Janklow is what is needed at all levels of government and all areas of the private sector.

Another concern and constraining influence might be the public anger that might ensue before, during, or after Y2K when the public recognizes that those in roles of public responsibility shirked their responsibilities and failed, for whatever reasons, to address the Y2K problem  ~  that they have failed to take steps that could have significantly lessened the impacts, impacts that dramatically impacted every aspect of life.   Indeed there is evidence at this point in time of such anger on the part of some member of the public who have become aware of how poorly Y2K efforts have been handled at the highest level of the Executive Branch.

It has been said of at least one of the highest level political leaders that he feels that he is in a lose/lose situation ~ that he is damned if he does
get involved and damned if he doesn't ~ and that out of consideration for his short term political agenda, he has determined not to take a more
visible role at this time. This, if it proves to be true, is tantamount to playing games with people's lives, indeed with the future of the country and
the world.

The Need to Focus Resources and Technical Assistance on Keeping Large Metropolitan Areas Functional During Y2K

There has been an assumption on the part of the head of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion that major metropolitan areas such as Washington, D.C. and New York City are in a position to organize to take steps in the little time remaining to help ensure that these metropolitan areas will be functional during and following  the critical roll over period. Views to this effect were expressed in a public meeting of the
WDCY2K group in Washington, DC on September 24, 1998.  Those views seemed to based on assumptions that people in roles of responsibility in either of these metropolitan regions (or in any metropolitan area for that matter) understand the nature and scope of the threats and challenges posed by Y2K and that they understand what needs to be done to address those threats and challenges.

The views seemed to be based on the assumption that the actions needed can be taken without substantial additional resources being dedicated to all aspects of the problem, including embedded systems and community preparedness.   At a public meeting held October 5, 1998, the head of the Council publicly recognized (in response to another question concerning the potential dysfunctionality of the District of Columbia at Y2K) that it was possible that the Federal government might need to provide technical assistance to the District government to help ensure that it would remain functional.   Along similar lines, Senator Bennett, who heads the Senate's Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem, had acknowledged on September 24, 1998 at a national conference on Y2K held in Washington, DC, that he expected that the Congress would focus on the need to pour resources into the Washington, DC and other cities in order to help ensure that they remain functional at Y2K.  He thought that such action might be expected in the Spring of 1999.

The Washington Metropolitan Area could become dysfunctional, as could the Greater New York Metropolitan Area, as could all other major metropolitan areas in the United States.  Such dysfunctionality could be expected to result from infrastructure disruptions (black outs, brown outs, problems with telecommunications, transportation problems, fuel distribution problems for vehicles, buildings, and homes;  food and water distribution problems, water purity problems, wastewater disposal problems, etc.) possibly coupled with technological disasters, such as radiological disasters, hazardous emissions from plants, sites, or facilities, gas pipeline explosions, etc., etc.).  If either or both of the Washington Metropolitan Areas or the Greater New York City Metropolitan Area were to become dysfunctional, the Federal government
would not be able to function and the national and global economies will be in jeopardy.

Regional task group efforts designed to address a spectrum of infrastructure concerns,  begun in late 1998, do not provide a basis for a much more optimistic prognosis.  Those working on this problem in the region do not have the resources and the full-time, dedicated manpower with the competencies and expertise needed to implement viable action plans in a timely way.

Large amounts of funding and significant technical assistance need to be provided not only to these regions but to state and local governments and emergency management agencies throughout the country.

If indeed there is a consensus among those at the highest levels of government that the nation will experience impacts that are at least at a level 2 or 3, it is absolutely imperative that they lead the way in preparing the nation for that level of impact.  It is imperative that they lead the nation and the world in doing everything possible to identify and reduce known risks now and not wait until more assessments are completed later in the spring of 1999 or after that. The more time that is wasted in acting to address this time certain period of emergency,  the greater the losses to the nation and the world, the greater the costs and difficulties that will be associated with crisis response and recovery, the more costly recovery efforts, and the less likely the possibility of full recovery. The longer it takes to act decisively, the greater the threats to public health and safety, social and economic stability, and the environment. The future of the nation and the world are in the balance.


                                                       [ White Paper: Part 1 ]        [ White Paper: Part 2 ]       [ White Paper: Part 3 ]
                                                       [ Table Of Contents ]         [ Executive Summary ]        [ References and Resources ]

                                                                                                                                                                               Copyright © 1999, Paula Gordon
                                                                          Return to Paula Gordon's Y2K Web Page