The Year 2000 (Y2K) Technology Problem

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What is "Y2K" and why are people concerned?
The Year 2000 technology problem, or bug, as it is sometimes called, was created in the early days of computers, when memory in computers was scarce and expensive. Programmers took shortcuts whenever possible to save space. Instead of using a four-digit code for year dates, a two-digit entry was used. This practice persisted, long after the need for saving space was eliminated. The two-digit code also was used in embedded chips, which existed in many devices that control processors, functions, machines (like cars), building ventilation systems, elevators, and fire and security alarm systems, which are part of our everyday lives.
     When the year 2000 arrives, programs that have been coded with two-digit year codes will not distinguish between the years 2000 and 1900. If the program includes time-sensitive calculations or comparisons, results are unpredictable. No one knows what problems may occur, how widespread they may be, or how long they will last. The good news is that federal, state, and local governments; banks and other financial institutions; retail businesses, and every other group affected by this problem have been working to resolve it, and a great deal of progress has been made.

When could Y2K problems occur?
Most people anticipate Y2K problems may happen December 31, 1999, at midnight. Many experts predict that the problem is more likely to be a persistent one over a few years rather than a single "crash."
     For example, there may be a computer-based problem with other dates, such as April 7, 1999, which is the 99th day of the year, or on 9/9/99. In the past, a series of nines was used to indicate termination of a computer program, and some experts believe that when all nines show up in a date sequence, some computer systems could read it as a program termination command.
     There also is some concern regarding fiscal year 2000 dates in those organizations with fiscal years that start earlier than December 31, 1999. Also, the year 2000 is a leap year, and the leap year date 02/29/00 may be a problem for some computer programs as well.

What kinds of things could happen as a result of Y2K problems?
The President's Council on Y2K Conversion, established by the White House, as well as a special Senate Committee, have focused their attention on defining the scope of the Y2K problem. Hearings have been conducted by the United States Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem and have focused on the following eight areas:
  • Utilities and the national power grid
  • International banking and finance
  • Health care
  • Transportation
  • Telecommunications
  • Pension and mutual funds
  • Emergency plannning
  • General business
     The potential effect of the Y2K technology problem on any of these areas is unknown, and the situation continues to change as federal, state, and local governments; industries; businesses; and organizations, as well as the general public, take actions to reduce the problem. Experts who spoke at the Senate hearings believe that there may be localized disruptions. For example, in some areas, electrical power may be unavailable for some time. Manufacturing and production industries may be disrupted. Roads may be closed or gridlocked if traffic signals are disrupted. Electronic credit card transactions may not be processed. Telephone systems may not work.
     For more information on the Year 2000 problem please visit our Y2K checklist.