Prepare now for Y2K problems

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 4/21/99.

The adage "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" even applies to the millennium bug, known commonly as Y2K.

The problem started years ago when computers were just being developed. Computer memory was limited then and extremely valuable. To compensate, programmers took short cuts, when recording dates, to save memory space. The year 1980 was entered as just "80". When the year 2000 arrives, its two-digit code will be "00", which computers may mistake for 1900.

"The original computer programmers never figured their work would last until the turn of the century. They thought their machines would be replaced. Instead, those who came after them wrote more computer code on top of the original code, making the problem even worse as time went on. Literally, billions of lines of computer code were written in this way," explained a Christian Broadcast News (CBN) report available on the Internet.

What originated as a short cut to save memory has evolved into a considerable problem. "What is the real problem?" asked the CBN report. "Time. Experts believe there simply isn't enough time left before the unmovable deadline to get everything everywhere fixed. The problem is just far too big."

Exactly what will happen when the year 2000 arrives is unknown. Expectations range from no problems at all to fatalistic end-of-the-world scenarios.

One computer expert believes that the awareness and repair efforts currently being undertaken will manage the problem. In an article titled "Doomsday Avoided," Peter de Jager writes, "Overcoming denial was always a larger, more complicated, difficult and frustrating task, than actually fixing broken code."

"Have we ‘solved' Y2K?" de Jager concluded. "No, not entirely. But, we have avoided the doomsday scenarios."

The United States is considered a world leader in remedying Y2K problems.

One worry is that problems may have a chain reaction. Another is that in today's global market failures in other regions may affect us, too.

"We're not suggesting the sky is going to fall," explained Marvin Klug, Stearns County Emergency Management Director, "but we're suggesting that people prepare for Y2K like they would for a three-day ice storm."

Stearns County and the city of Paynesville are distributing Red Cross pamphlets which offer suggestions for being prepared.

Red Cross checklist
*Check with manufacturers of any essential computer-controlled electronic equipment in your home. This includes fire alarms, programmable thermostats, appliances, and consumer electronics.
*Stock disaster supplies to last several days to a week for yourself and those who live with you. This includes nonperishable foods and stored water.
*Have some extra cash in case electronic transactions are affected. Withdraw money from the banks in small amounts well in advance.
*Keep you gas tank above half full.
*Plan to use alternative cooking devices in case power fails.
*Have extra blankets, coats, hats, and gloves to keep warm.
*Have plenty of flashlights and extra batteries on hand.
*Check to see if your smoke alarm has a battery back-up.
*Be prepared to relocate to a shelter for warmth and protection during a prolonged power outage. Have a battery-operated radio or television so you can listen to emergency information.
*If you plan to use a portable generator, connect electrical appliances directly to the generator. Be sure to use the generator in a well-ventilated area. Do not put a generator in your basement or anywhere inside your home.
*Check with emergency service providers in your community to see if there is more information available about how your community is preparing for any potential problems.

(The Press will be running a series of articles about Y2K throughout the remainder of 1999. If you have a story idea or general advice, call Mike at 320-243-3772.)

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