9-9-’99 will be a test for Y2K | TahoeDailyTribune.com

9-9-’99 will be a test for Y2K

Rick Chandler

Call it a dress rehearsal for Y2K, or perhaps technology’s version of an

exhibition game.

Or simply call it 9-9-99. Business and government agencies will have a chance to rehearse their year 2000 strategies on Thursday, when the date Sept. 9, 1999 arrives.

The fear is that some computers may translate Sept. 9, 1999, as “9999” – which is a stop-program command in computer lingo. Although few expect major problems because of this, experts cannot rule out the possibility of smaller disruptions. Government agencies, banks, electric utilities and other companies around the United States will be watching closely for Y2K-like computer trouble Thursday. Other countries will have teams in place as well.

“Nobody can definitely guarantee you that there will be no glitches,” said John Koskinen, President Clinton’s Y2K czar. “We’re going to monitor it.”

Y2K planners and some industries are taking advantage of the situation to test their readiness and backup systems for New Year’s Day, when the real 2000 bug may hit.

“It’s good to run through any complicated exercise like that so people

aren’t seeing this kind of deployment for the first time in December,” said Gerry Cauley, Year 2000 program manager for the North American Electric Reliability Council.

Up to now, most of the attention has been on Jan. 1, when computer programs recognizing only the last two digits of a year might read “00” as 1900. But several other problems could occur before then, Sept. 9 among them.

The electric industry will conduct a major drill, beginning Wednesday night, to make sure its thousands of workers understand procedures for Dec. 31.

Some banks will spend Thursday testing techniques to spot and report Y2K trouble, while President Clinton’s Y2K advisory council will collect status reports. An international Y2K group will monitor other nations.

Just in case problems do occur, the Coast Guard will add supervisors to keep navigation reliable, and the Transportation Department is assembling a team normally mobilized only during natural disasters.

Airlines decided against setting up a command center, concluding that failure is unlikely, and will simply keep watch, said Thomas Browne, executive director for the Aviation Millennium Project in Washington.

The September date was picked partly out of confidence that nothing will go wrong. The electric industry went through a smaller drill on April 9 – a date that was problematic because it was the 99th day of the 99th year. That day passed with no reported troubles in electric and other industries.

One reason for the confidence this time is that 9999 is not a widely used

end-of-file or end-of-program marker. Also, dates are more likely to appear in computers as 090999. And a 9999 problem is relatively easy to spot and fix within the millions of lines of programming code.

Using two digits for the year, on the other hand, is a more common technique.

So the new year could disrupt financial transactions, airline schedules and power grids. Another potential problem is Feb. 29, 2000; some computers might not recognize that it is a leap year.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report

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