People in the year 2000 will suffer anything from mild to catastrophic disruptions from computer problems, depending upon who's talking.
If, in the end, the glithces are only minor, it will be because a lot of people do a lot of work between now and then to reduce the risks. They will be catastrophic if action isn't taken now to diffuse the situation.The potential for disaster is significant enough that the Senate recently created the Senate Select Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem to deal with the situation.
Utah Sen. Bob Bennett is heading the committee, which is appropriate since he has long been leading calls for action and has held a number of hearings on it in a Senate banking subcommittee that he heads. Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., is the top Democrat on the committee.
Bennett and the committee merit wholehearted support. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle are calling for quick bipartisan support on what they say is a nonpartisan issue, which it is.
The year 2000 problem - also called the "millennium bug" - comes because older computer programs and chips were designed to store only two digits of the four-digit year. So, when the year 2000 comes, the "00" will be interpreted as 1900, not 2000.
While that seems like a small problem, Senate leaders and others state that resulting computer crashes and malfunctions could be truly apocalyptic - possibly bringing power outages, shutting down worldwide communication and crashing financial markets.
Bennett has already stated there is not enough time to fix all the problems before the year 2000 so he and his committee are wisely going to concentrate on those areas that are the most critical to keeping the United States functioning.
Those include public utilities, which would have a crippling effect if not fixed. That includes the power grid. Another major concern is telecommunications.
"There's already a major national telecommunications firm that has announced to its customers that it will not guarantee a dial tone on any of its telephones outside the United States and certain parts of Europe after Jan. 1, 2000," Bennett said. Transportation, including air travel, rail travel and trucking is also a big concern, as are financial services.
Estimates to fix the problem nationally are as high as $277 billion and $1.635 trillion globally. While that is a lot of money, it is not near-ly as costly as what will happen if the Y2K matter is not resolved.