Not the end of the world
Experts say there will be problems, but not a disaster

By Ralph B. Davis
Associate Editor

Predictions concerning the impact of Y2K glitch range from the inconvenient to the apocolyptic. But while no one can be absolutely sure how far-reaching the millennium bug will be, new evidence is starting to give the impression that results will fall somewhere between the two extremes.

New governmental reports are showing that, while the U.S. should experience some problems associated with the software glitch, other countries are lagging even further behind, and that could play havoc with the world economy.

Jacquelyn Williams-Bridgers, inspector general for the U.S. State Department, told Congress on July 21 that her department's assessment of Y2K preparations in 161 countries has revealed that in about half "there is a clear risk that electricity, telecommunications and other key systems will fail, perhaps creating economic havoc and social unrest."

"Our assessments suggest that the global community is likely to experience varying degrees of Y2K-related failures in every sector, in every region and at every economic level," Williams-Bridgers testified.

Economic turmoil in a large number of countries would ripple throughout the world and could pose problems for the U.S. economy.

"Y2K-related disruptions in the international flow of goods and services are likely," Williams-Bridg-ers said. "A breakdown in any part of the supply chain would have a serious impact on the U.S. and world econ-omies."

John Koskinen, chairman of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conver-sion, echoed that sentiment, telling the Associated Press, "Many more countries are going to have problems than not."

However, Koskinen said that there will likely be problems closer to home.

One potential problem Koskinen raised was the possibility that consumers, frightened by the uncertainty around Y2K, could begin hording supplies and making runs on banks. That, he said, could cause localized shortages and financial turmoil.

"If we get a couple hundred million Americans doing anything differently, we're going to create economic problems," Koskinen said.

The potential for such problems has officials with some of the nation's largest corporations worried. Executives from Ford Motor Company, Phillip Morris, Prax-air and other companies told the Senate's special committee on Y2K that they see a possibility for financial problems in their companies by any extended utility failures around the world.

"The interdependency of the entire supply chain does represent the greatest risk to Ford," said George Surdu, director of technical services at Ford.

What will all of this mean? Economists are not certain, though many are predicting that the U.S. economy, which is currently in its longest peacetime expansion, could fall flat or even take a downturn during the first three months of 2000.

But what will Y2K mean on the personal level? While most experts on the subject do not see the U.S. falling into darkness with widespread power outages, some believe there could be local problems.

"In the United States, many, if not most, will go through the year 2000 without knowing it, without noticing it. The basic infrastructure issues now are pretty much under control," U.S. Senator Robert Bennett (R-Utah) told CBN News. "That having been said, however, there is still the possibility that individual citizens in individual places can be hurt, and hurt quite badly. We just don't know where that will hit. It will be a random kind of thing that will spring up, statistically, just about anywhere and in just about any situation, so it behooves everybody to still be a little bit nervous about it and to be prepared."

But perhaps the most widespread, random and chaotic trouble will not in-volve problems with utilities, banks or communications, but with individual de-vices controlled by embedded chips.

Embedded chips are the tiny computer chips seemingly found in everything these days. They are found in various objects from your wristwatch and television, to your car and home thermostat.

Current estimates are that five to 10 percent of these chips will fail following the new year, causing electronic devices to either behave unpredictably or shut down altogether.

The major problem with embedded chips is that it is impossible to test them. The only way to find out whether a chip will fail is to wait until the new year.