Y2K Update (as of April 2000)
Summary: Thousands of Y2K bugs have triggered since New Year's, most minor and quickly repaired or worked around. Nuclear power plants across the globe had Y2K problems, raising concern.
Y2K News Since February 19, 2000
On February 19, 2000, the U.S. government officially declared victory against the Y2K bug. The following are news-making bugs and other Y2K news since then:
March 30, 2000: an Atlanta firm discovers a latent Y2K bug when some workers are paid twice.
March 17, 2000: a fire at an apocalyptic cult in Uganda kills nearly 500 people; investigators eventually find nearly 1000 bodies in the worst-ever cult mass murder.
March 2000: A Nevada man registering his car was sent a bill for $378,426.25 in late fees, accrued since 1900; officials blamed conversion to a new computer system.
Ongoing work: a survey of large U.S. technology companies released in early March reveals that 12% still have Y2K repairs in progress, costing an average of almost 9% of yearly technology budgets. A survey released in late March found 12% of Japanese companies in infrastructure industries reported Y2K bugs, with 3% reporting bugs affecting the public.
February 29, 2000 Leap Day serious bugs: the Jakarta (Indonesia) Stock Exchange was intentionally shut down for the day to prevent expected problems; Japanese nuclear plants had yet more trouble, this time with a system that monitors employee work hours shutting down; also in Japan, weather computers reported double-digit rainfall on a day with no rain, the postal service had problems printing receipts, and 1,200 ATM machines at post offices shut down; a Netherlands weather computer failed to transmit weather to the media; New Zealand merchants had trouble verifying banking transactions on as many as 4,000 money transfer terminals; Singapore's subway system rejected some riders' cards; Microsoft Excel 2000 incorrectly computes financial bonds unless patched with a new fix from Microsoft; a Wisconsin trucking company was unable to access any information about Feb. 29 transactions; Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska had trouble tracking aircraft parts and vehicles; a Coast Guard system had trouble archiving electronic messages; some check-in computers at Washington, D.C.'s Reagan National Airport failed; the Air Force reported twenty Leap Year-related incident reports, half quickly resolved.
February 29, 2000 Y2K bugs: The city of Montreal, Canada, had to shut down its tax system, which thought the year was 1900; the problem was not detected until Leap Day, because 2000 is a leap year but 1900 was not. Taxpayers were unable to get information about their tax bills or property evaluations for the day.
February 29, 2000 Leap Day display bugs: equipment showing the day as March 1 instead of February 29 included: computers at Japan's Meteorological Agency, some Sony video cameras and word processors, some Bell Atlantic caller ID devices, passports issued in Greece and Bulgaria.
February 20, 2000: The city of Saginaw, Michigan, is still dealing with problems with a new Y2K-compliant system. In two months, hundreds of water customers received incorrect late charges, some even receiving erroneous shutoff notices, and police officers are spending extra time writing reports by hand rather than by laptop computer. Had the city not installed the system, even worse problems would have occurred.
February 19, 2000: a Y2K bug delayed petitions to the Texas Supreme Court.
Y2K Bugs Reported Between December 30, 1999 and February 19, 2000
Below are some of the more interesting Y2K-related bugs reported.
Defense: The U.S. military reported Y2K-fix-related problems with a sophisticated spy satellite system, which cut off the flow of data for somewhere between several hours and several days. Oak Ridge National Labs reported a problem at its nuclear weapons plant with a system that keeps track of nuclear material; staff are working around the problem manually. The Pentagon accidentally sent out over 200 checks to vendors dated in the year 1900 due to a Y2K bug. Vehicle maintenance schedules at some U.S. military bases failed and are being done by hand. One of France's defense satellite systems lost the ability to detect equipment failures.
Nuclear Power: At least four Japanese, two Spanish, eleven U.S., and some Russian nuclear power plants had problems around the Y2K rollover, most Y2K-related. Most were minor, like access cards that failed to open doors. However, problems at Japanese plants raise concern, especially considering Japan's deadly September 1999 nuclear accident, blamed on lax safety practices. Among the ten problems that occurred at Japanese plants: technicians at the Tokyo reactor switched to emergency backup procedures while they corrected a Y2K problem in fuel rod positioning monitors; another plant neglected to apply Y2K fixes to some of its radiation monitors, which failed; at another reactor, a radiation alarm went off, but officials didn't think it was important because it had already gone off several times in November and December. The European Commission and the World Bank are supporting "ongoing work in the Russian nuclear energy industry" in order "to avoid future degradation of service."
Electricity: A hydroelectric plant in Kazakhstan is manually working around failed computer systems. A Japanese electric company reported 22 minor failures in monitoring equipment. 8 U.S utilities experienced trivial date-resetting problems.
Communications: Y2K bugs shut down phone service in South Australia, satellite television in Malaysia, and phone service between Zambia and Malawi, and affected television transmission in Tanzania and phone service in Vietnam.
Ground Transportation: Y2K failures affected: the African country of Mali's system for tracking goods on its train system; traffic lights in Jamaica; toll roads in Brazil; and Amtrak's U.S. control center.
Air Transportation: Links between air traffic control systems failed in New Zealand on January 3, grounding planes and stranding thousands of passengers; the cause has not yet been reported. The Federal Aviation Administration reported at least six confirmed Y2K-related problems in aviation-related systems, including transoceanic air traffic control and windshear alerting. On January 5 and 6, computer malfunctions caused flight delays across the Eastern U.S.; the cause is under investigation, but technicians believe it to be related to a last-minute Y2K fix that may have not been fully tested.
Water Transportation: Computers at a port in Uganda stopped working due to Y2K bugs; port workers are calculating billing amounts by hand.
Oil: A massive oil spill off the coast of Brazil was blamed on "faulty software" in monitoring equipment.
Health Care: Y2K bugs affected hundreds of medical devices, including dialysis machines, ECG heart-monitoring devices, blood pressure monitors, X-ray machines, ultrasound, and clinic analysis equipment, in many countries including Bolivia, Egypt, Iran, Malaysia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Taiwan, and Turkey.
Financial Industry: Thousands of U.S. credit card transactions were charged more than once due to year-ending-in-zero bugs in one vendor's credit card software. The Hong Kong Futures Exchange had Y2K problems January 4 affecting accuracy and reference prices used in trading. Denmark's second-largest bank lost some customer data due to Y2K problems in its payment system. A German bank reported customer balance errors. Two banks in Sudan delayed interbank communications for two days. The U.S. Federal Reserve reported a Y2K-related "minor glitch" which caused $700,000 in tax payments from customers of 60 financial institutions to be posted a day late. Some online banking customers in Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, and the U.S. found inaccurate information displayed; the actual accounts were not affected. Six U.S. banks reported Y2K problems with online banking using Quicken 99 and Quicken 2000.
Public Safety: One Kansas county is looking for a new police dispatch system after their current one failed due to Y2K bugs; in the meantime, they are tracking officers' whereabouts manually. Emergency phones along New York's sixty-mile Adirondack Northway have been nonfunctional since January 1, and police do not know when they will be fixed; police usually get 30 to 50 calls a month from the phones. Y2K bugs shut down some of Hong Kong police's alcohol breath-testers.
Government Services: 22 counties in Arkansas lost a key system due to Y2K bugs, causing problems issuing child support checks among others; they hope to have the problem corrected before the first payroll. Guam has reverted to manual processing of food stamp benefits due to non-Y2K-compliant computer systems. Washington state's Liquor Control Board system malfunctioned, causing some liquor stores to be unable to ring up sales for up to a day. A Y2K bug at a Chicago bank caused delays of up to one day in Medicare payments to hospitals in at least eight states. A new Y2K-compliant system in Atlanta is causing hours-long delays for building permits that took less than half an hour before the fix. Livingston, California's accounting system is barely functional due to Y2K bugs; their supplier stopped returning their phone calls, so they are looking for a completely new system, which could cost as much as $100,000. Y2K bugs have also hit: driver's license systems in New Mexico and Indiana; personal property assessments and other minor functions in Norfolk, Virginia; British birth certificate printers; Internet verification of registered mail delivery from 146 Japanese post offices; unemployment insurance benefit systems in Florida and Kentucky; Toronto's regional police blotter listing suspects' ages; customs services in Latvia, Grenada, Bolivia, and Rwanda; Portuguese ministerial databases and government processing.
Paychecks: Berlin's German Opera accidentally removed child allowances from workers' paychecks due to a Y2K bug which thought children were born in 1900; the company reset their clock to December 1999 and hopes to fix the problem soon. A Michigan county experienced problems switching to a new Y2K-compliant package, causing some paychecks with incorrect amounts; the county plans to fix the problem soon and make corrections to the next paycheck.
Time Travel: Many displays of dates are incorrect due to Y2K bugs. Some of the most commonly displayed incorrect years are 1900 (computers that put "19" before the last two digits of the current year), 100 (computers that track the number of years since 1900), 19100 (computers that put "19" before the number of years since 1900), and 1972 (the last year that had days falling on the same day of the week as 2000; some organizations with problems reset their clocks to 1972). Items affected include numerous web sites; central telephone equipment in two Vietnamese provinces; telephone bill balance inquiries in Ireland; a South Korean court's notices to appear for trial; a South Korean hospital's newborn records; four small airports near Chicago; a New York telephone service for the blind; several utilities' bills; a computer that runs traffic lights in Columbia, South Carolina; one U.S. government building's security system; and cash registers in Minneapolis, Greece and elsewhere. (My first personal encounter with the Y2K bug was the top of a box of crackers which read, "Best if used by May 1900.")
Misc.: Post Office workers in Frankfurt, Germany, couldn't use their electronic cafeteria cards. One electronics company generated faulty orders because of a Y2K bug; it caught the problem before any shipments were sent out, but will need several days to clean out the database. Audio Box's Amps Pro MP3 player, invented about a year ago, had a Y2K bug, and requires a fix from the company. The Progressive insurance company sent 100 employees home on January 3 due to Y2K bugs in their software; the employees were back to work the next day. 800 slot machines at Delaware race tracks shut down after displaying a date of January 1, 1900.
What happened with the warning of a huge terrorist bomb plot for New Year's Eve? On December 29, 1999, police in over a dozen countries worldwide including the F.B.I. in the U.S. conducted a massive roundup of suspected terrorists, detaining several hundred people in Europe, the U.S. and the Middle East. In January 2000, the U.S. indicted two more men linked to an Algerian terrorist group, prosecutors released evidence hinting at the involvement of Osama bin Laden, and the U.S. State Department called the late December roundup "one of the largest counter-terrorism operations in modern history."
And what about the warnings of domestic extremist terrorism? On January 6, the F.B.I. reported that it had thwarted around twenty Y2K threats, including around a dozen threats to blow up equipment such as power plants. Actual violence during the millennium rollover was minor, including a bomb detonated at an Illinois electric transmission tower, and a transformer that was shot out in Englewood, Texas.
An expected surge in virus and hacking activity did not materialize at the rollover, but hacking did increase later. Three major cases of hackers obtaining credit card information surfaced recently. Beginning in late January, unidentified hackers (possibly from China) began attacking large numbers of Japanese government web sites.
On December 29, 1999, the New York Times reported, "With four days until the year 2000, government officials, company managers and computer experts are waiting anxiously to see if the public will remain calm . . . Repair work has lagged behind in many countries and some domestic sectors . . . Year 2000 readiness advocates contend that it is reckless for individuals not to prepare for major disruptions just as the government and major companies have done . . . For all the work that has been done, tough challenges are still ahead . . . Government and company officials will be struggling to separate fact from rumor . . . No one thinks Americans will stay relaxed if major disruptions unexpectedly develop. Indeed, for most of this year, many of the biggest debates have swirled around how to encourage some preparations without inciting unusual behavior or panic."