The saying, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" certainly applies to the year 2000 computer problem.

The extent of the dire predictions for what will happen on Jan. 1, 2000 depends on who's talking. Some experienced computer programmers are forecasting catastrophes brought about by the collapse of financial markets, transportation systems and power grids. Others in the field think there will only be minor disruptions.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 heads the committee and has been calling for action to prevent chaos.

The good news locally is that Utah state government appears to be taking the threat of potential disaster seriously. State officials are working on 600 computer systems. Many, if not most of the "mission critical" systems are well on their way to being replaced and/or reprogrammed.

The projection of $7 million to fix the various systems is likely to be considerably lower than what the actual cost will be. Even if the expenditures are three to four times as much as projected, work needs to go forward to contain what is called the "millennium bug" or the "Y2K" problem.

The concern is about aging computer programs and chips that 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.

That may seem like a trivial piece of information, but Senate leaders and others contend that resulting computer crashes and malfunctions could cause serious problems with power systems, communications networks and financial markets.

Bennett has already said there is not enough time to fix all the problems before the year 2000, so he and his committee are wisely concentrating on those areas that are the most critical to keeping the United States functioning.

That same philosophy needs to be enacted locally. Based on what Utah's legislative leaders were told during their meetings earlier this month, that's what's taking place. Managers in both the private and public sectors need to make the Y2K problem a serious top priority.

In some cases technology officials will just have to wait until Jan. 1, 2000 to see what happens. Though it's safe to say that those departments and corporations that have been working on the problem will be a lot better off than those that haven't.