Part 4
          The Y2K and Embedded Systems Crisis ~
          Why Isn't the Crisis Being Treated as a Crisis as Yet,
          Nationally or Globally?

          by Paula D. Gordon, Ph.D.
          August 18, 1999



        The Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) sent an
        Open Letter to Congress on June 9, 1999 expressing the perspective of that
        organization concerning the seriousness of Y2K. The letter includes a description 
        of Y2K and the embedded systems crisis as "non-solvable" and
        as a "crisis". It also states that the crisis has not begun to get the
        attention it deserves. (A copy of the Open Letter can be seen at

        The IEEE's admonitions seem to have fallen on deaf ears, particularly when it comes 
        to the President and the  present Administration.

        The letter may not have come to the President's attention. Copies
        have been sent to the head of the President's Council. The letter does not
        appear to have changed the perspective of either the President or the head
        of the President's Council.

        What accounts for the current approach that Administration has been
        taking concerning Y2K? It may be that the President has not taken to heart
        the concerns that have been expressed to him regarding the seriousness of
        the problem. On the other hand, he may have some recognition of the
        seriousness of the problem, but he may have determined that substantially
        increasing Federal efforts to address the problem now is not the best policy.

        Could it be that the President has purposely decided to wait until
        around the time of the December 31st rollover to bring substantial resources
        to bear on the problem? If so, why would he have made such a decision?
        and could it be that he has made such a determination based out of
        concerns for the economy and political concerns?

        In June 1999, someone told me off the record that the President told
        some acquaintances of hers that he is indeed waiting for the December 31st
        rollover and the aftermath before committing more substantial resources to
        the Y2K. On July 28, at the Y2K Conference at George Washington
        University, Congressman Dennis Kucinich revealed that he viewed the
        President's actions in just this way. (See the Appendix of Part 4 for the
        transcript of the excerpted exchange between Congressman Kucinich and
        Paula Gordon. The excerpted exchange is also available at

        From my vantage point, by delaying action that would help safeguard
        the public good, the President is abrogating his responsibilities as President. 
        Waiting until the rollover to act will be too late and will result in untold
        hardship and suffering for many. Waiting will also mean substantially
        adding to the long term costs of recovery.

        If the President were to exercise real leadership on this issue, he
        would persuade the public to begin to begin to make necessary preparations

        Impacts could be substantially minimized if concerted actions were
        also taken now to avert numerous technological disasters that can be
        expected. This includes disasters of the magnitude of Chernobyl and
        Bhopal. The U.S. and the U.N. (and related global institutions) simply have
        not treated the Y2K and embedded systems crisis as a crisis and, with
        extremely limited exceptions have not organized efforts and brought
        necessary resources to bear in minimizing technological disasters. Part of
        the reason that international organizations have failed to treat Y2K as a
        crisis may well be the absence of US leadership and dedicated resources.

        If the President continues to pursue his present course of restrained
        activity and if he fails to engage in crisis-oriented action and
        problem-solving, the Y2K crisis could well go down in history as the worst
        instance of malfeasance in public office in the history of the nation.

        One thing is clear: the President's failure to take adequate actions
        now to encourage the public to take adequate preparations and to minimize
        the impacts of Y2K and the embedded systems crisis will cost the nation
        and the world dearly. For whatever reason or set of reasons, he is in
        effect failing to place the public good first. It is my hope that the
        President will realize his errors in judgment and depart immediately from
        his current plan which from all indications is to wait to act until the
        rollover before bringing needed resources to bear. The Y2K and embedded
        systems crisis is most assuredly an instance where "an ounce of prevention" is 
        worth far,far more than "a pound of cure".

        A Perspective Concerning the Y2K and Embedded Systems Crisis

        As of August 18, I provisionally estimate the impacts of the Y2K and
        embedded systems crisis to be between 4.5 and 9.5 on the impact scale. This is 
        slightly changed from the previous month when my estimate was between 4 and 9.5.

        The 9.5 figure assumes that the Federal government continues on its
        present course of relative inaction and

        1) fails to engage in broader and accelerated remediation efforts to prevent
        or minimize serious and potentially catastrophic problems with the highest
        risk systems, plants, sites, pipelines, etc. that are otherwise likely to occur
        nationally and globally and

        2) fails to engage in concerted emergency preparedness actions, including
        urging and assisting the populations here and abroad to begin now to store
        adequate supplies of non-perishable food and water and

        3) fails to make other preparations that could help ensure social stability
        during and after the rollover. This includes encouraging the postponement
        of celebrations for several weeks, if not a full year to 2001 in order to
        minimize a set of totally preventable problems that can otherwise be
        anticipated at the time of the rollover.

        The Likely Outcome

        In June of 1999, I had estimated that impacts could be as low as a 4 if
        the Federal government determined that the Y2K and embedded systems
        crisis was indeed a crisis and took responsible action to address the threats
        and challenges posed and minimize the expected harmful impacts. This
        would include creating a Special Action Office for Y2K in the Executive
        Office of the President and establishing a similar effort at the UN. These
        efforts would treat the situation as the crisis that it is and engage in
        proactive steps to ensure that everything is done that can be done to
        minimize harmful impacts, particularly technological disasters, both here
        and abroad. Extraordinary resources and talent needs to be devoted to
        such efforts now.

        As of August 1999, my lower level estimate increased to 4.5. This is owing to
         failure of the government to move decisively to implement a
        crisis-oriented and action-oriented approach to addressing Y2K. Failure to
        act has left less time to take actions that are yet needed to minimize
        impacts. My lower level estimate has also moved up from a 4 owing to the
        fact that so many of those I know about who have first hand knowledge of
        remediation efforts are reporting serious discrepancies between the
        progress that has been reported and the reality.

        My estimate of the maximum level of impacts has moved up from an 8
        since the first of the year owing to my increased awareness of the serious
        problems associated with weapons systems (because of human, as well as
        computer interfaces), nuclear power plants, chemical plants, hazardous
        materials sites and facilities, refineries, and pipelines.

        I am also at a provisional 9.5 level as a maximum prediction because
        of the apparent reluctance on the part of the Clinton Administration to initiate
        the kinds of actions that are needed.

        Where Does the President Stand on Y2K?

        Since learning of Y2K, I have been trying to solve a mystery
        concerning what could possibly account for the apparent reluctance of the
        Clinton Administration to declare Y2K a crisis and act accordingly. In my
        first conversation with the head of the President's Council in June of 1998, I
        asked what steps were being taking to minimize the wide range of disasters
        that could be expected. The response was that the Council would be
        making assessments and would determine what actions needed to be taken
        in Spring of 1999. No definitive determinations seem to have been reached 
        as of the Summer of 1999.

        In June of 1999, on receiving some new information concerning
        statements that the President had reportedly made in private, I developed a
        working hypothesis that the President has made a political calculation not to
        substantially increase efforts to address Y2K now, but to instead wait until
        the December 31 rollover. Has the President made a calculated judgment
        that it is best for the economy and that it is best for political reasons to
        wait to act until after the rollover and then step in and focus Federal
        efforts on the recovery period?

        I shared much of this hypothesis with Congressman Kucinich in a
        public forum on July 28 at the Y2K Conference held at George Washington
        University in Washington, DC July 26 - 30. I asked the Congressman what
        his views were. To my surprise, he said that the President has indeed
        made a decision not to focus on addressing Y2K now owing to the negative
        impact that raising the public's awareness of the seriousness of the problem
        would likely have on the economy and hence the next election. Congressman 
        Kucinich also noted that the President may be reluctant to acknowledge the
         seriousness of Y2K and take "ownership" and responsibility now because doing 
        so would be unnecessarily assuming too great a "political" risk. By acknowledging the 
        problem now and taking appropriate steps to address it now, he would be more likely to
         receive the blame for the negative outcomes that nonetheless occur.
         (See Appendix A or )

        Assuming that this is an apt assessment of the President's strategy, it
        seems to me that by failing to take responsible action now, the President is
        acting in a way that jeopardizes the futures and the quality of life of many
        millions, if not billions of people around the world. His failure to act now is
        jeopardizing the very future of the country and the world.

        In talking with someone who has spoken with the President and the
        Vice President about Y2K on several occasions over the past several years, I 
        have concluded that the President has a better overall comprehension of
        the seriousness of Y2K than has the Vice President. It is not clear that
        either of them comprehend the full seriousness of the problem. It is my
        sense that the President never would have opted for such a strategy had
        anyone been able to convince him how serious the impacts of Y2K and the
        embedded systems crisis could be. On the other hand, there would be
        little potential "political payoff" for opting for such a strategy if he
        did not expect that the impacts of Y2K would be at least in the 3 to 5 range
        on the impact scale.

        From all indications, both the President and the Vice President
        appear to have an inadequate understanding of the embedded systems
        aspect of Y2K. Neither do they appear to comprehend fully the daunting
        character of the information technology/communications technology aspects
        of the Y2K problem. If they were more informed concerning the embedded
        systems challenges facing nuclear power plants, chemical plants, refineries,
        hazardous materials sites and facilities, and oil and gas pipelines, surely
        they would not hesitate to take action to ensure that such hazards were
        minimized to the extent possible both here and abroad.

        Apparently no one has been successful in both getting access to the
        President and the Vice President and convincing them of the special threats
        and challenges posed by the malfunctioning of embedded systems in the
        highest risk systems, plants, sites, facilities and pipelines. Indeed, even
        top officials at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) do not seem to
        comprehend fully the direct as well as indirect impacts that malfunctioning
        embedded systems can have on "safety critical" systems.

        No one in the immediate circle of the President or the Vice President,
        including officials who have roles on the President's Council on Y2K, seems
        to comprehend fully the importance of the embedded systems aspect of the
        problem. There are no technical experts on staff with backgrounds that
        included a knowledge of embedded systems. As of late Spring of 1999, the head 
        of the President's Council asked the National Institute of Standards
        and Technology to provide him an assessment of the seriousness of threats
        posed by embedded systems. That assessment should be forthcoming in
        August of 1999.

        The June 9, 1999 Open Letter to
        Congress from the Institute of
        Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE)

        I am not at all convinced that anyone at the top of the Administration,
        through and including the President's Council, comprehends the
        seriousness of our present crisis as it is described so succinctly and so well
        in the June 9, 1999 open letter to Members of Congress from The Institute
        of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE). In their letter, the IEEE
        provides an excellent overview of the complexities of issues relating to the
        Y2K and embedded systems "crisis" (and indeed the word "crisis" is used in
        the letter). (For a copy of this letter, see

        The head of the President's Council has repeatedly referred to Y2K as
        a solvable problem. According to the IEEE letter, neither the informational
        technology aspect of the crisis, not the embedded systems aspect of the
        crisis can be solved in time.

        The President told a mutual acquaintance in June that he has
        delegated sole responsibility for Y2K to the head of the President's Council
        for Year 2000 Conversion. Mr. Koskinen has indicated little natural
        inclination to transform Federal activities into crisis-oriented and
        action-oriented efforts. It can be argued that such a transformation is
        necessary in order for there to be the best possible chance of minimizing
        technological disasters here and abroad. I have repeatedly challenged him
        to address such matters, beginning as early as June 1998. The head of the
        President's Council has to date failed to ask for adequate resources to take
        action to minimize even the infrastructure disruptions that can be expected
        in the United States, let along the catastrophic events that can be expected
        both here and abroad.

        According to a column by Stephen Barr on Y2K in the August 10,
        1999 Washington Post, a spokesman for the President's Council said that
        they were "currently looking at the chemical sector and other areas to see
        how we can best collect more information and have a positive impact on
        activity with the (chemical) industry".

        Barr also noted that Senators Robert Bennett and Christopher Dodd
        have urged the President to "convene a special summit to assess the Y2K
        readiness of the nation's chemical industry".

        While these are steps in the right direction, information gathering and
        assessment efforts need to be translated immediately to action. The focus
        on action is still missing. The proposed summit could be a means of
        making up for such a deficiency if it were to focus on development of an
        action plan and implementation strategies that could be adopted as soon as

        The Information Coordination Center (ICC)

        Some might argue that the newly formed Information Coordination
        Center (ICC) has been set up to address the need for action. Close
        scrutiny of the materials that have been made public concerning this new
        enterprise reveals that the ICC is not focused on taking preventive actions 
        between now and the December 31st rollover. The ICC appears to be
        focused instead on making sure that information is gathered which will
        enable the government to best address the rollover and the post rollover
        period. The ICC in no way addresses the need for a crisis-oriented and
        action-oriented effort that can take action to minimize harmful impacts
        between now and the rollover.

        An amendment to Executive Order 13073 (the Executive Order that
        established the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion) provides for
        the establishment of this major "information coordination" effort focusing on
        Y2K-related information gathering and assessment efforts. These efforts
        are geared to response, recovery, and continuity planning and
        implementation, not to actions that could be taken before the problems

        The establishment of the ICC was at first in many ways a mystery, but
        its establishment becomes much less of a mystery when viewed in light of the 
        President's evident strategy not to take decisive action until the rollover
        and post rollover period. Evidently some 40 people are soon to be involved
        in the ICC effort (around four times the size of the present full time staff of
        the President's Y2K Council that is housed in the Old Executive Office
        Building). Over 200 will be new hirers or detailees from other agencies are
        to swell the ranks of the ICC by the time of the rollover.

        The Metaphor of a Room Filled with Time Bombs

        There is a metaphor that aptly describes the evolution of Federal Y2K
        efforts, including the establishment of the ICC. Imagine that you are in a
        roomful of people. In that room are numerous time bombs of all sizes. One 
        might expect that the people in the room would determine that it is in
        their best interest to organize and take action. One possibility is that they
        would decide to defuse the largest time bombs first and then move on to
        defusing the smaller time bombs that are apt to cause less damage. In
        applying the metaphor in our current situation, what we find instead is that most 
        are apparently content to sit around and simply plan what to do if and
        when the time bombs go off, and put in place plans for such eventualities. One 
        does not have to have the IQ of a genius to realize that there is
        something wrong with such a picture. Planning for future actions is not the
        same as taking action now that could make future actions unnecessary.

        For whatever reasons, the people in the room seemed to be inclined
        to focus attention on contingency planning and planning for what actions
        would be needed after the "bombs" go off. They seem reluctant to take
        actions now that would minimize the danger. What could account for such
        inaction? There are many possible answers:

        ~ They may not be used to assuming a responsible role in a high risk

        ~ They may lack the necessary courage;

        ~ They may lack the initiative. leadership, understanding, and vision;

        ~ They may believe that someone else will take the action that is needed;

        ~ Inaction can also be rooted at times in ignorance of the threats, denial,
        and wishful thinking;

        ~ Inaction may be based in blind hope that surely the problem could not be
        that as serious as some contend it is; or

        ~ They may simply not be using commonsense!

        Indeed, all of these may help account for the absence of meaningful action.

        However, the reason that any or all of these natural proclivities could
        continue to account for the relative inaction that characterizes present efforts
        is that those at the highest level of government, including the President, are
        failing to acknowledge the seriousness of the problem and are themselves
        failing to lead the way by taking appropriate action. They are failing in their
        responsibility to take action that would protect and safeguard the best
        interests of the nation. It appears that for whatever reason the President is
        not intending to take action until the rollover. He may be assuming that the
        time bombs are relatively innocuous and will not have a catastrophic
        impacts when they go off. No one as yet has apparently successfully
        informed him or convinced him otherwise.

        The engineers who tried to convince the powers that be not to go
        ahead with the Challenger's launch were not listened to either. In this case,
        the engineers have apparently not even met with the President to make sure
        he understands the seriousness of the situation.

        It is very likely that because the President has failed to take action,
        that others in roles of public responsibility are also disinclined to take
        action. The President's inaction can give the impression to other ~
        public officials as well as the general public ~ that there is no need
        to treat this matter with any sense of urgency. After all, by his own
        example, he is obviously not treating it with any sense of urgency.

        There are others who do have a sense of urgency, but these
        individuals are often not able to get the support that they need to act,
        because the seriousness of the problem has not been officially recognized
        by the President, the Vice President, and the Council that he has authorized
        to assume the lead role.

        The Consequences of
       Failing to Act Now

        One must recognize that when and as reality takes hold concerning
        the seriousness of the situation that we are in because of the Y2K and
        embedded systems crisis, the economy will likely be shaken to the core. 
        Prolonging the onset of likely economic dislocations in effect helps to
        perpetuate the status quo, but in this instance, it can readily be argued,
        delaying action until the December 31 rollover, could well create an even
        greater crisis, in all ways, including economically.

        Failure to take responsible action that could minimize impacts later
        can also be seen as being in total contradiction to the principles and
        foundations of American government. This happens when public officials
        fail to take responsible action. It occurs when public officials neglect the
        obligation that take upon themselves when they enter public office or a role
        of public responsibility to act in such a way that their actions safeguard the
        public interest.

        Waiting until the rollover to act is not acting in the public interest. Waiting until the 
        rollover to act will result in untold additional costs,
        and not just in terms of impacts on the lives and livelihoods of individuals and
        families. It will have extraordinary impacts on communities, businesses,
        industry, the disadvantaged, the aged, the disabled, and the infirm. It will
        affect all sectors of society. There will be untold additional costs associated
        with public health and safety consequences and restoring environmental
        viability in areas affected by technological disasters. Even more important,
        the long term consequences regarding the possible destruction of an
        already fragile social fabric might not be readily mendable ~ if indeed it can
        be mended at all.

        What must be remembered concerning the threats and challenges
        posed by the Y2K and embedded systems crisis, is that a person's psyche
        can also be shaken to the core when the seriousness of the crisis is fully
        faced. It may take weeks, if not months, for an individual to achieve a some
        sense of equilibrium in his or her life after beginning to grasp the
        seriousness of the crisis. If the seriousness of the situation does not dawn
        on an individual until soon before rollover or until the time of the rollover,
        there will not be adequate time for those individuals to take preparedness
        steps. Such preparedness steps could help give them and their families at
        least a minimum sense of security confronting the unknowns associated
        with Y2K.

        The sooner that people comprehend the seriousness of Y2K, the
        better able they will be to take preparedness steps and to establish some
        sense of psychological equilibrium. Such equilibrium may well be crucial to
        getting through the post-rollover period, a time which is apt to be filled with
        many intermittent surprises and problems.

        A Similar Absence of
       a Sense of Crisis at the Global Level

        In attending some of the open portions of the UN and International
        Y2K Cooperation Center programs in New York held June 21 through 23, 
        I became increasingly concerned that national and global efforts are not
        designed in a way that will help ensure a minimum of either technological
        disasters or infrastructure disruptions, nationally or globally. Hardly any
        mention was made during the two days that I attended of possible Bhopal-
        and Chernobyl-type disasters that could occur in the US and around the
        world. There seems to be a great deal of denial concerning such very real

        Part of the focus of these meetings was on contingency planning and
        emergency preparedness planning, but both contingency planning efforts
        and emergency preparedness efforts tended to be based on a superficial
        understanding of the likely impacts that will be experienced, an
        understanding that focuses practically exclusively on the possibility of
        infrastructure disruptions. The majority of those speaking at the open
        sessions during these meetings seem to be basing their remarks on least
        case scenarios (level 1 - 4 on the impact scale). There were only a two 
        presenters at the UN whom I heard who mentioned elements that would be
        a part of a level 6 or 7 scenario. They were definitely in the minority. Indeed, 
        the head of the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency
        (FEMA) appeared to be gauging the impact of Y2K at a 1 or 2 on the impact
        scale in the presentation he gave. Here again, maybe this is a case where
        very few in the upper echelons of the governmental organizations
        comprehend the threats posed by embedded systems. Perhaps very few
        recognize that there could be numerous disasters and catastrophic events
        that could occur as a result of malfunctioning embedded systems in this
        country, not to mention the rest of the world. The assumption is made
        instead that there may be mild infrastructure disruptions in various regions
        of the United States, but nothing of long term duration and nothing of a
        catastrophic character and that there will likely be more serious
        infrastructure disruptions and the greater likelihood of catastrophic events in
        other parts of the world.

        If there were an understanding that technological disasters were at the
        very least a possibility, there would be talk of the need for evacuation
        planning in areas near chemical plants, refineries, nuclear power plants,
        etc., and the need for planning large scale humanitarian relief efforts and
        prepositioning supplies would be uppermost in the minds of elected, as well
        as non-elected public officials. Information concerning such efforts, if they
        are in process, is being kept from the public. Of equal importance however
        is the fact that the public, as well as public officials at other levels of
        government are being deprived of information that they need in order to take
        reasonable actions to prepare.

        An especially disquieting trend pertaining to the withholding of vital
        information was echoed by several panelists and presenters at the meetings
        for national Y2K coordinators in New York in June. Two representatives of
        the national media organizations in their panel presentations in one of the
        open sessions appeared to have acquiesced to what seems to have
        become a widespread policy of encouraging the media to "accentuate the
        positive" and ignore the negative or sensational. In doing so the media
        would in effective be withholding news that may be jarring to some greater
        or lesser degree to the public. The media would also not be reporting news
        that could have a decidedly negative affect on the economy.

        There seems to be an increasing "agreement" not to report the
        "sensational". The problem with such a policy is that information concerning
        the real threats and challenges may be classified by some as being
        "sensational". When this happens, such information may thereby be kept
        not only from the public, but it may also be kept from persons in roles of
        responsibility in both the public and private sectors, persons who need to
        know the information. How can anyone be expected to act in an informed
        way if important information regarding threats and challenges to their
        immediate future and the future stability of the nation and the world is kept
        from them?

        Robin Guenier, head of the U.K.'s Taskforce 2000 stated the following
        in a BBC Radio Scotland broadcast on 2/18/99:

        "Nobody knows how this is going to play out...It is very difficult to be
        optimistic, particularly if you look at the global situation...But we
        are much more likely to have panic amongst an uniformed populace than
        an informed one."

        The tendency to want to manage and "dumb down" the news so as
        not to risk engendering panic in the public is making alot of knowing people
        very angry and frustrated. It also confuses people and keeps many in the
        dark. It can perpetuate an erroneous view of reality, which can have
        decidedly negative psychological and social psychological affects.

        Withholding the truth is a misguided policy and is a certain recipe for
        panic in the days immediately preceding and following the rollover. Adopting 
        such a policy of withholding critical information is one thing in a
        parent-child relationship; it is quite another when the principals include
        public officials and the adult population of a free nation. The policy will
        leave the public largely unprepared psychologically or in any other way. The
        public will be ill-prepared to meet the challenges that are likely with the
        rollover. A major reason to raise awareness now and encourage
        constructive actions now, is that in the anxiety of the moment, there will be
        no time for individuals to go through the long process of getting used to the
        fact that we are in the midst of a crisis. Time is needed to work through this
        process and to adjust to a decidedly different view of what the future might

        Recapping Developments Since February 1999

        Spring of 1999 could have marked a turning point in the way that
        those in roles of public responsibility approached the challenges of Y2K. 
        There is very little evidence that it did indeed constitute a turning point.

        The noteworthy assessments and reports that have been released
        between end of February and beginning of August, and events that have
        occurred in recent months have yet to result in the implementation of a
        significant set of action-oriented and crisis-oriented initiatives on the
        part of the Federal government or world organizations. Occasionally there
        have been initiatives which are action-oriented and crisis-oriented. These, 
        however, have been the exception, rather than the rule. Two such initiatives
        in the United States include

        ~ actions taken by the U.S. Coast Guard in spearheading national and
        international Y2K efforts bearing on shipping, ports, and tankers, and

        ~ actions taken by the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board in
        helping to raise awareness in that sector of the extraordinary challenges
        faced by the chemical industry as a result of Y2K and the embedded
        systems crisis. (See

        Some Reports

        Since February of 1999, several noteworthy analyses of the status of
        the threats and challenges posed by Y2K and embedded systems have
        become available. These include the following:

        ~ The Report of the Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 released
        on March 3, 1999 (

        ~ March 5, 1999 testimony by Lawrence Gershwin, National Intelligence
        Officer for Science and Technology of the Central Intelligence Agency
        ( ;

        ~ March 5, 1999 and July 22, 1999 testimony by Jacqueline
        Williams-Bridgers, the Inspector General of the State Department at and

        ~ A March 1999 Report to the Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000
        Technology Problem entitled 
        "Year 2000 Issues: Technology Problems Industrial Chemical Safety",
         submitted by the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board
         ( A hearing on this topic was
        held on May 10 in New Jersey.

        ~ Subsequent guidance material released in July and prepared jointly by the
        Environmental Protection Agency, the Chemical Safety and Hazards
        Investigation Board and Trade Associations of the chemical industry.

        ~ "Second Summary of Assessment Information" released April 21, 1999
        and the Third Summary of Assessment Information" released August 5,
        1999 by the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion 
        Thesereports are noteworthy for what they don't say as much as for what they do.

        ~ The April 9, 1999 Report by the U.S. Department of Commerce,
        International Trade Administration, Trade Development, Office of
        Computers and Business Equipment entitled "The Year 2000 Problem and
        the Global Trading System" is an extraordinarily important paper in that it
        provides an overview of the multiple problem threads that are apt to
        converge globally, as well as nationally owing to the Y2K and embedded
        systems crisis. This report is of particular significance since it effectively
        constitutes such an concise and thoughtful analysis concerning the
        seriousness of the Y2K and embedded systems crisis. As many have
        pointed out, this report "connects the dots" thereby creating a clear picture of
        the various problem threads that could converge and impact global trade
        and the global economy, and therefore the national economy. This
        document is easily accessed by going to
        and clicking on the report.

        ~ Testimony by a city administrator, leaders in community preparedness
        efforts, and representatives from the media before the Senate Special
        Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem on May 25, 1999. The
        topic of the hearing was "Community Y2K Preparedness: Is There News
        They Can Use?" The hearing involved two panels: a panel on community
        preparedness and a media panel.

        These official documents provide a far more comprehensive overview
        than had previously existed concerning the status of Y2K and assessments
        of its likely impacts both nationally and globally. With the exception of the
        reports issued by the President's Council, in April and August, there has
        been remarkable concurrence in most of these reports and testimony
        concerning the nature and scope of the problem, both nationally and
        globally. (The President's Council reports reflect a view of the impacts of
        Y2K, several points lower on the scale than other materials noted here.)

        Some Domestic and Global Efforts in 1999

        During the spring of 1999, a wide range of new efforts were launched. 
        These included the Center for Y2K and Society, the International Y2K
        Cooperation Center, the Yes Volunteer Corps, and the Information
        Coordination Center.

        The efforts of the Infodev Program of the World Bank also continued. 
        Grants available to underdeveloped countries through this program cannot,
        however, be used for hands-on remediation, posing a serious handicap to
        developing countries in need of just such help.

        Beginning in Spring of 1999, meetings were convened of national Y2K
        coordinators, including meetings of coordinators from Eastern Europe,
        Asia, Africa, and South America. With the exception of the latter all were
        held in their respective regions. The South American coordinators met in
        Washington, D.C in May.

        A meeting of over 170 national Y2K coordinators was held at the UN
        June 21 - 22. The International Y2K Cooperation Center sponsored a
        program for the national Y2K coordinators on June 23.

        The UN - and IY2KCC - sponsored meetings have tended to focus on
        information sharing and awareness raising, and more recently, emergency
        preparedness and contingency planning.

        The Information Coordination Center (ICC) of the 
         President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion

        A new center, the Information Coordination Center (ICC), was
        established in the spring. The ICC is to have responsibility for domestic and
        global assessments. This center has been established under the aegis of
        the President's Council and with the Lt. General Peter Kind (ret.) overseeing
        the assessment efforts.

        At first the ICC was intended to focus on tracking pre- and
        post-rollover phenomena connected directly with Y2K. The assessments
        were to be used to inform response efforts on the one hand and actions
        focusing on "continuity" on the other.

        Subsequently the full scope of the mission of the ICC has come into question. 
        Questions have arisen concerning the eventual role that the
        Center has or may have in quelling cyberterrorism.

        Senate hearings on July 29 revealed that the near term as well as long
        term mission of the ICC are still not clear in the minds of a growing number
        of stakeholders.

        The IEEE's Open Letter to Congress

        As noted earlier, on June 9, 1999, the Institute of Electrical and
        Electronic Engineers issued an Open Letter of Members of Congress. This
        Open Letter was the most succinct and compelling statement to date made
        by a professional association and pointing out the seriousness of the crisis
        facing the world as a result of Y2K and embedded systems.

        NIST Clarification of the Embedded Problem

        In late spring, the National Institute of Standards and Technology was
        called upon by the President's Council to provide a paper on embedded
        systems, outlining state of the art understanding of the embedded problem. 
        This report could be ready as early as August 1999.

        "Community Conversations" and Community Preparedness

        "Community Conversations", a community awareness building
        campaign, was launched in May by the President's Council. The head of
        the Council is playing a role in these events which are being held at
        numerous sites around the country.

        A explicitly stated purpose of the campaign (as underscored in the
        literature developed for the campaign) is to enhance the public's sense of
        security concerning the capacity of the public and private sector to meet the
        challenges posed by Y2K. The possibility of technological disasters are
        not discussed.

        In July, Global Action Plan, an organization based in New York and
        headed by David Gershon, began working with FEMA to introduce into the
        mix an action-oriented emergency preparedness program focusing on
        families, neighborhoods, and communities. Apparently the approach being
        promoted does not emphasize the use of a specific number of days as a
        guideline for setting aside food, water, and medicine. The fact that this
        approach is action-oriented and not focused on awareness raising alone,
        constitutes a notable shift in emphasis. This new thrust, if widely adapted,
        could make a decided difference in the relevance and effectiveness of
        Federal efforts.

        What Has Been the Impact?

        In the wake of all of these "developments", there is a question of how
        much of what has been accomplished has led to or is leading to action that
        will result in minimizing the impacts of Y2K.

        A conference on Y2K was held at George Washington University in
        Washington, D.C. for July 26 - 30, 1999 that assessed actions taken to date
        and focused attention on recommendations concerning actions that still
        need to be taken to address the Y2K and embedded systems crisis on the
        local, national, and global levels.

        Selected materials relating to the conference are posted at

        The conference was videotaped and will be digitized for viewing on the
        World Wide Web. A program of highlights is being prepared. An
        announcement concerning its posting to the World Wide Web will be posted
        on the announcements page at

        The videotaped highlights and proceedings of the conference will be posted

        Insights were shared concerning the current status of efforts to
        address the Y2K and embedded systems crisis, actions that are needed, 
        barriers standing in the way ofneeded action, and ways of overcoming
        those barriers to action. Some of the initiatives that were recommended will
        be noted in Part 5 of the White Paper in which a status quo scenario is
        compared with two versions of a best case scenario. One of those best
        case scenarios assumes that government accepts its obligation to act to
        protect the public interest; the other assumes that non-governmental
        entities step in to fill the void left by government's failure to assume
        responsibility and take action.


        Considerable assessment of the challenges posed by the Y2K
        technology crisis has been done during 1999. Few of these assessments,
        however, have led to the acceleration of actions that could have a major
        impact on minimizing the impacts of the crisis.

        If those in roles of public and private sector responsibility do not
        significantly increase their efforts to act to minimize the harmful and
        disastrous impacts of Y2K and the embedded systems crisis, Y2K may
        turn out to be the largest, best studied, most assessed, monitored, talked
        about, and planned for, and, yes, even best understood catastrophic event in
        the recorded history of humankind. It may teach the lesson that knowledge
        and understanding are worthless if we do not act in accordance with what we
        know and


Appendix A
        An Exchange Between Congressman Dennis Kucinich and Paula Gordon,
        July 28th Panel on "Y2K and Emergency Preparedness",
        George Washington University Conference on Y2K July 26 - 30, 1999

PAULA GORDON: I brought up in the last panel.... the hypothesis that
        perhaps the reason the President and the Administration have not moved
        forward on (Y2K) before (now is that they have made) a conscious decision
        (not to do so). (They may have decided that) it is possible that increasing
        the awareness of the public concerning this issue could be very disruptive
        with respect to the economy for instance, and perhaps a conscious decision
        has been made not to risk that kind of upset. (Perhaps they have) instead
        (decided to) wait until after the (rollover) and then come in and respond in
        the recovery. The (establishment of the) ICC ~ the Information Coordination
        Center.... (is compatible with) that hypothesis because that's what it's
        focusing on. It's focusing on gathering information, assessing things.....
        focusing on continuity planning, (response) and recovery in the aftermath.

        I(Do you think that that is the case? And,) if that is the case, do you think
        that there is any way to move the Administration from that position so they
        could see that we would have to pay more.... if we were to wait to (act).......

        It's more economically reasonable and wise, I think, to put resources into
        preventing and mitigating the infrastructure disruptions and technological
        disasters that we could expect in this county as well as abroad ~ than to
        wait until the rollover and come in and pick up (in the aftermath).

        CONGRESSMAN KUCINICH: I think that the answer to your question is
        "Yes" and it's "Yes" because it becomes self evident. I'm concerned that the
        moment for national leadership has been passed over. If you go forward
        right now and call (Y2K) to the public's attention, the person who does that 
        whether it's the President, the Vice President or some other leader 
         takes ownership and then if something goes wrong, you know ~ it's still
        politics: "You did it ~ You're Mr. Y2K". And, you know, there is an
        election in the Year 2000. (And) you can bet there's been some
        discussion about what happens if there is a failure in voting machines.

        I would say that it is unfortunate that the decision has been made to take a
        rather low profile approach.

        PAULA GORDON: Do you understand why that's (the case)?

        CONGRESSMAN KUCINICH: I would doesn't get too
        complicated: there's an election in 2000 and I don't think that anyone wants
        to risk having this issue to carry on their back if something goes wrong. 
        What they do is to say enough about it so that they can go back through
        newsreels and say something about it: "...We got together at the National
        Academy of Science (which they did ~ I was there.) "We were part of a
        United Nations effort." (They were...I was there.) "You know we did all
        these things through what John Koskinen has done. We did everything we
        (could). We weren't on the stage all the time..."
        But I think that that belies a greater challenge here which is to step up to
        responsibility and claim leadership of a nation and say what we have to do
        as a country and rally (the) country around it and (that's) not being done, as you say, 
        (it's) purposefully (not being done). And I think that the
        consequences can only be adverse. By the way, and I say this with only
        the greatest respect for the Administration and having been a supporter of
        the Administration in many things: I think they're missing an opportunity
        here and I think the consequences for the country will not be happy.

        However, almost four billion dollars in resources have been devoted to Y2K
        at the Federal level, most of it to make sure that all of the systems are being
        reworked. More money will be dedicated, but down the line, out of
        Washington, across the country, there will be system failures, people will
        not understand it. There will be a lot of confusion.

        In fact, the Small Business (Administration) does have a system set up to
        tell people what they can do to run a routine...analysis of their small

        We had a Year 2000 preparedness Act which would have helped raise the
        public awareness of the implications of Y2K and solutions to Y2K problems.

        You know, we need to do more though, and that more has to come out of
        the White House, plain and simple.

        So we'll still see. Is there still time? Yes, even now, even at this late
        moment, there's still time. (But).... just like anything else, the less time
        you have the greater the intensity goes and sometimes you don't get it done. 
        I would say the Administration would do well to check with some of those
        who are working (in) emergency preparedness... at local community (level)
        and just talk about the massive effort that goes into just the community. 
        But communities need help and we need some direction;
        we're not just thousands of different communities. We're an American
        community. That's what my concern is.

        So more can be done, but you are absolutely right, there was a decision
        made not to do it and with all due respect to John Koskinen who's probably
        pulling his hair out.....

        PAULA GORDON: Congressman, I have written a White Paper on
        Y2K.....It proposes the establishment of a Special Action Office for Y2K
        along the lines of the Federal Energy Office (at the time of ) the Federal
        energy crisis. It would be crisis-oriented and action-oriented ~ unlike the
        present effort (that) is just (focused on) information sharing, coordination,
        monitoring, and assessment, and (that) does not have anything to do with
        taking action to get communities prepared (and minimizing impacts). One of
        the things (the Office) would focus on (would be) making sure that there
        are as few technological disasters as possible.....I've confronted Mr.
        Koskinen at every opportunity I've gotten for the past year.....and brought it
        up again in May. That is, I think that there has to be an effort by the
        government to identify those most hazardous sites, plants, facilities,
        pipelines, refineries, etc., and make sure......that everything humanly
        possible has been done (so) that there's (will) be a minimum of Bhopal's
        and Chernobyl's here and abroad. "I (also) have real concerns about
        nuclear power plants.......
        The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Nuclear Energy Institute are
        not adequately attending to these issues: the embedded systems issues,
        particularly; the safety issues; the back up diesel generation capacity
        issues and all of that. It's very much in question.

        (Does) the idea (of a Special Action Office for Y2K)...... appeal to you
        or....... the other initiative of trying to focus in on....technological
        and making sure that we don't have technological disasters on top of
        infrastructure disruptions?

        CONGRESSMAN KUCINICH: I would say we have an existing structure, if
        John Koskinen was empowered to reach into that level, he could do it.

        PAULA GORDON: He doesn't want to. I've talked to him personally. He
        finds it totally anathema to his view of the role of the Federal government.

        CONGRESSMAN KUCINICH: Yeah, I would say, he could do it, but he

        I'm congenial to advancing that again in more of a legislative venue. I would
        welcome, by the way, any participation from this panel or others who are
        working on this so that within the next month, we could craft some
        legislation to have it ready closer (to the rollover)... As they get to
        November, they might be even more interested.......

        When it comes to the American community beyond those things which are
        directly related to the Federal government, supporting the communities.....
        has not been done and I'd be willing to give it another try....


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