Y2K: UN centre director hopes for quiet rollover

Y2K: UN centre director hopes for quiet rollover

The United Nations-created International Y2K Cooperation Center (IY2KCC) is an online virtual centre that coordinates international efforts to combat the year 2000 computer problem by communicating with national year 2000 coordinators in over 150 countries. The centre was launched in February with funding from the World Bank's infoDev program and the volunteer Y2K Expert Service - known as the YES Corps - started in April. In an e-mail exchange with IDG's Margret Johnston, Bruce McConnell, director of the IY2KCC, described the mission of the centre as promoting cooperation and action among governments, peoples, and the private sector to minimise adverse effects of the problem on the global society and economy. Currently, he said, the centre is building a support system to help countries identify and resolve critical year 2000 issues affecting telecommunications, utilities (power and water), government systems, financial systems, medical services, and transportation.

IDG: What is your biggest challenge?

McConnell: My biggest challenge is to make sure January 1, 2000, is an unsensational day around the world when we are all able to say the Y2K problem wasn't so bad after all. It is interesting to have as your goal to have nothing happen. We are committed to doing whatever we can to facilitate cooperation and coordination of efforts around the world to minimise Y2K disruptions as much as possible, whether through remediation or contingency planning efforts. Critical to that will be to assure that decision-makers have the most accurate information available about Y2K tools and preparations. So we are encouraging disclosure and transparency by all affected parties, from vendors to nations.

After being named to head the International Y2K Cooperation Center, you launched a Web site. How should people involved in year 2000 projects use the site?

People should use this Web site as a resource centre and as a method to communicate with others working on the Y2K problem.

Y2K experts can volunteer their services with YES Corps by completing an expert skills form on the site and countries can request assistance through the site. We have links to every national government's Y2K Web site, as well as to contingency planning sites and various international organisations representing 11 sectors, including finance, telecommunications, energy, transportation, health care, government services, water, defence and security, manufacturing, food, and environment. The Web site is also multilingual.

What other outreach initiatives are planned?

We are sponsoring and participating in a variety of regional and global conferences to allow regional, national, and sector coordinators to work together and share information. We are also periodically releasing information about Y2K readiness to the public through our work with the news media. Additionally, we have established an electronic information network and database to facilitate communication with Y2K national and sector coordinators.

Which industry segment do you believe has the most risks associated with year 2000 globally? What can be done?

It is impossible to single out any single industry sector when it comes to addressing the Y2K bug. Y2K is a case study in the way industry sectors interact - aviation depends on shipping and vice versa. We are addressing the problem globally. First, we are providing national Y2K coordinators with expert advice from international sector organisations such as the International Telecommunications Union, the International Energy Agency, and the International Maritime Organization. Second, we are connecting these sector organisations with each other to address interdependencies in readiness and contingency planning.

There seem to be a lot of questions about how transportation systems will fare, particularly shipping and the effect of any year 2000 problems on supply chains, especially food. There's talk that ports globally will close around January 1 and not allow ships to leave. Can you update us on transportation overall, with emphasis on shipping and also address how transportation might affect other areas, such as food supplies?

A lot of work is being done in the transportation area, from air traffic control to shipping. Modern ships and ports are dependent on automated systems and do need some remediation.

If this work continues as planned, shipping should not be a serious problem, which is reassuring for both food and energy supplies.

Russia's year 2000 readiness has been a source of concern. What are your concerns regarding Russia? There are reports that Russia suspended its year 2000 remediation in protest of NATO's air strikes in Yugoslavia. What's being done about that?

Russia is continuing to cooperate with the US and other countries on Y2K remediation. The centre is working closely with the Russian Y2K coordinator and our YES Corps is working with the Russians. Additionally, the World Bank has provided very substantial loans to aid the Russian Y2K effort. Much work is being done in the energy sector in Russia to ensure the continued flow of natural gas and oil to Europe and elsewhere around the globe and to ensure continuity of electric power in the middle of winter. Great emphasis is being given to Russian nuclear power plants.

One thing we are not concerned about is the myth that somehow Y2K glitches might mistakenly launch nuclear missiles. Missiles do not launch themselves. Much human intervention is required to launch nuclear missiles. The US and Russia are also discussing a joint information system to share status information about defence preparations, as a confidence-building measure.

How would you evaluate the situation in Asia? South America? The Middle East? Are there any European countries of great concern?

At this point we are not providing evaluations of country readiness. While it is true that some countries started later than others, it is also the case that some countries have greater dependencies on information technology than others. As a general matter, all countries are actively working to address the problem.

What kind of shape is Africa in overall as a continent in terms of preparation and planning?

We now have national coordinators in every African nation and we have already sent YES Corps vol-unteers to assist in African projects. We just had an excellent all-Africa Y2K conference of national Y2K coordinators in Accra, Ghana, to address cross-border issues.

Can you give us a sense of what the status of militaries around the world will be on January 1? Will they be on alert?

As more and more attention and resources are being devoted to Y2K there is a decreasing likelihood of major disruptions. So, while an emergency response infrastructure will be ready in all countries, I do not expect that it will see much action.

There's a sense that things are changing rapidly. Do you agree? Can you provide a couple of examples of countries where things had been lagging, but the pace has picked up?

We have seen a great change in the past few months where nations around the world are now taking Y2K seriously. We now have Y2K national coordinators in over 160 countries. Public reports suggest that Japan and Korea have, for example, made great strides recently. Such public reports will become increasingly important as the end of the year approaches. The more evidence that organisations are able to provide as to their readiness, the more likely their stakeholders will have continued confidence in their viability.

Is there anything we failed to touch on that you would like to add?

I think it is interesting to ask whether the media can be a constructive part of the Y2K solution. This is a problem that affects all of us - no one is immune from the Y2K bug. Accurate reporting which focuses on what is really happening can be very helpful by assuring that decisions people make are made based on facts, not rumours. So I would say that the media has a responsibility to present a balanced story, and not to focus on what may be sensational, but isolated, incidents. To date I think that on the whole we have seen very responsible coverage, but sensationalism may become a greater temptation as we get closer to the end of the year.

International Y2K Cooperation Center

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