The Weather Service gives early warning about hurricanes. And the military uses spies, satellites and outposts to give early warning about sneak attacks by enemies.
Now, Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, proposed Friday setting up a "Year 2000 First Alert" system to give Americans up to 17 hours of warning on New Year's Eve, 1999, about disruptions likely coming from the year 2000 computer bug.The idea is simple. Because of time zone differences, year 2000 disruptions should hit Asia and Europe hours before they hit the East Coast of America. Watching closely what happens there may buy time in America to avoid or lessen similar problems.
"Y2K problems that occur at the stroke of midnight, Dec. 31, 1999, in Wellington, New Zealand, won't occur in the U.S. until 17 hours later, when our own clock strikes 12 a.m. here on the East Coast," Bennett said.
Bennett added that he and many colleagues "feel it is absolutely foolish not to use this advance notice for the good of the nation."
He added, "Wouldn't it be useful to know that utility and transportation problems are likely to occur, based on information we received as a result of our Y2K First Alert System before everyone is already out and about celebrating New Year's Eve?"
Bennett, chairman of the Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000, said his committee will work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to set up such a system and push legislation to expand its powers to do so if necessary.
The year 2000 problem comes because older computer programs and chips store only two digits of the four-digit year. So when the year 2000 comes, the "00" will be interpreted as 1900, not 2000 - possibly causing computer crashes or malfunctions.
Bennett's announcement Friday came amid other year 2000 bug developments, including final passage of a bill he has pushed to make it easier for companies to share year 2000 data. A report by Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt said his state is as well prepared as possible to handle Y2K problems.
Bennett's Y2K bill, which passed in the House by a voice vote Thursday after passing the Senate Monday, makes it easier for companies to share data about Y2K problems without worrying that such statements could be used against them in lawsuits.
"Because of the late date in this session, and the complexity of the issue, we were all told there was no chance of passage of this legislation during this Congress," Bennett said. But quick passage "shows what can be done when the administration and the Congress work together in good faith."
He said it should encourage full disclosure of year 2000 computer problems, solutions, test results and general readiness. He said many firms thought if they shared what they believed to be correct data that later turned out to be wrong, it could bring lawsuits. The bill offers limited immunity to such problems.
Meanwhile, Leavitt testified before Bennett's committee about activities by the nation's governors to prevent year 2000 problems "Total costs for all Y2K efforts in Utah are expected to top $50 million," he said.
Leavitt added that 51 percent of the state government's computer systems are now year 2000 compliant. "The target date for all systems to be compliant is July 1999."
"It is the state of Utah's expectation that we will greet that dawn (of New Year's Day, 2000) informed, confident and ready," Leavitt said.
He said that similarly to Bennett's proposed early warning system, Utah officials will be watching world developments on New Year's Eve, 1999.
"Utah will not be the first location on the globe to roll over to 2000, and we will be monitoring other areas for electrical failures, infrastructure breakdowns and business disruption when the sun rises on the new millennium in our time zone," he said.