Don't Panic

Feburary 28, 2000:

Looking back, I feel chagrined that I was worried about year-2000 bugs even to the limited extent that I was. My personal view is that it was worth spending some money and attention on the problem, but obviously it wasn't as big a problem as we feared. As to other worries regarding dates and computers (today, a one-in-400-years century leap day, is supposed to be one such), in a word, don't.

December 17, 1998: original version

I recently got a forwarded email letter predicting a general collapse of society due to the year-2000 bug. I'm far less worried about computer systems than I am about the effects of people yelling "Fire!" in this crowded theater of a world. I think the effects of hysteria will be far greater than the problems generated by computers.

Whether 1/1/2000 brings inconvenience or temporary disaster, you can prepare and cope. It's good to ask questions of those you do business with how they are prepared. Ask your bank, grocer, and local agencies. Ask your employer, or if your run a business, those you do business with. And by all means get your own house in order.

I. Disaster preparedness - of course!

Earthquakes, tornadoes, fires, and floods will continue to happen in ANY year. It's only common sense to have emergency supplies on hand. Follow the recommendations of agencies such as the Red Cross, or just look in the front of your phone book.

II. Getting your own computer prepared

If you use a Macintosh, your house is almost certainly already in order. Macs have been year-2000 compliant since the first one built, and very few Mac programs (something like 2%) are themselves noncompliant. You can run your own year-2000 test to make sure you're ok. For more info, see:

If you don't use a Mac, your compliance depends mostly on when you bought your system and software. There's an article from The Internet Tourbus (a newsletter I highly recommend) on dealing with this:

(Get on the bus! Go to their main address,, for subscription information. The Tourbus authors also have the skinny on all those urban legends and virus hoaxes that have been going around lately.)

BACKUP! Many people and businesses still don't back up important computer files. Figure out a backup system and use it - even if you're just copying individual files to floppy disks. A small business network of many computers can be backed up to a digital tape drive using software such as Retrospect (

Once your data is backed up, no bug, virus, or single mistake can delete your data. Multiple copies are best, with one being rotated off site every week or month. (That's why I like tape: the tapes are cheap, so I can make lots of copies).

A current article on small business concerns is here:

(This link will probably be out of date shortly, but a back-issue search of their 1998 archives for "Replacement may be needed" will turn it up.)

III. Getting your community prepared

It's likely that your local government is already dealing with year-2000 issues. People who are worried about this issue have pressured many agencies to get moving on this, and I'm glad they have. Here in Ashland, a series of meetings are taking place; see if similar ones are scheduled in your area. Believe it or not, government agencies do often plan for the future.

IV. Getting national agencies prepared

Certainly national agencies bear watching, and there will be some problems. I only checked out one example in the North letter, but it showed me there's more than one side to this. The letter uses the FAA as it's first example:

> For example, as 1998 began, the press picked up the story of the U.S.
> Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which relies on aging IBM
> mainframe computers that are not 2000-compliant, and which IBM says
> cannot be made 2000-compliant.
> ...
> This means that a drastic cut in airline travel will take place in 2000.

That's a bit of a leap. In fact, the FAA repair and certification process is well underway, and scheduled to be finished June 30 '99 (dead link deleted). They are also working with the airlines to ensure that all parts of the air travel system keep working.

Here's an excerpt of FAA Administrator Jane Garvey's testimony to Congress on September 29, 1998:

> Our teams in the field have already assessed every system in the FAA –
> not just mission-critical systems that are absolutely necessary to the
> FAA's commitment to aviation safety, but every single system. We are now
> completing our renovation phase, where we actually make modifications to
> the systems that need them. By tomorrow, September 30, the OMB deadline
> for renovations, the FAA is scheduled to complete renovations of 99% of
> all required systems, subject to review by the Department of
> Transportation's (DOT) Office of the Inspector General.
> With respect to the HOST computer system, one of our core air traffic
> control systems, with the help of our vendors we have developed a
> well-defined strategy for the successful transition of the HOST computer
> into the next century. The existing system is scheduled to be completely
> replaced by the year 2000. However, as a contingency to HOST
> replacement, we have already completed renovations of the existing HOST
> as of July 31, two months ahead of OMB's September 30th renovation
> deadline. If there is a need for the HOST to be operational in the year
> 2000, we are assured that it will transition to the new millenium in a
> routine manner.

For more FAA year-2000 information, see There are still questions here, but it looks like the FAA has responded well to its earlier problems.

So, put off that flight to Tunisia till after Feb 2000, but don't be unduly concerned about flying to Los Angeles.

V. Closing thoughts...

Year-2000 panic scenarios assume that complex, interdependent systems (such as computer networks) can't be fixed by the people who built them. NASA proves that theory wrong with every successful flight. With millions of components, there are unexpected problems. While these sometimes lead to tragic results, NASA learns from mistakes and makes their systems work.

Will society crash and burn in fear and panic? Or will people pull together and show once again the power and resilience of the human spirit? I prefer to believe the latter. And, I'll keep my eyes open, preparing for emergencies of any nature, and helping my neighbors and co-workers be prepared as well.

Best regards,

Paul Collins

P.S. If you've forwarded the North letter to your friends, you might want to send this along too IF you feel it's enlightening. But please do not forward this letter after March 1, 1999. Information passed along in email quickly gets out of date. ALWAYS assume any forwarded message you receive in email to be unproven until you get outside corroboration (usually available on the web).

For any updates to this information, see this web page: