Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Much Ado About Nothing: The Y2K Scare

Y2K. The Year 2000 Problem. The Millennium Bug. No matter what it was called, most of us can remember the rigmarole surrounding this potential disaster almost 15 years ago.

A brief refresher: There were major concerns that as the calendar changed from 1999 to 2000, computer systems around the world would crash. Why? Well, when computers were first created, memory was expensive—so space was saved by using two digits instead of four for the year (i.e. "84" instead "1984"). So the fear was that when the year turned to "00" (for 2000), the computers would instead think it was 1900, and everything as we knew it would crumble.

Predictions included worldwide power failures, a total breakdown of the transportation infrastructure (meaning food could not get to stores), and planes falling out of the sky. The most concerned of citizens stockpiled gas, water, food, and even firewood just in case electrical grids went down, running water ceased, and heating systems failed.

There were legitimate concerns at the local level, as well. Among the worries for cities:
-Would the pagers used by the city’s firefighters notify them of an emergency?
-Does the city have a planned response if water or wastewater pumps cease to operate?
-Would the city’s dispatch system malfunction when the century changed?

In addition, cities were distressed by the potential for liability and Y2K-related claims:  
-What if there is a car accident because a traffic signal doesn’t work due to a Y2K problem?
-What if someone gets sick because the city’s water system malfunctions?

So to help prepare our members, in 1998 the League released a binder full of information entitled Cities Aware, Cities Prepared: A Year 2000 Action Guide.

Among its many recommendations, LMC suggested cities:
  • assign key staff as a Y2K team to prepare an emergency management plan;
  • inventory all software and hardware to see where there might be vulnerabilities;
  • work with vendors, if possible, to test and/or fix noncompliant systems;
  • partner with their LMCIT underwriter to make sure they had some level of Y2K coverage;
  • earmark 5-10 percent of its operating budget as a Y2K contingency, should systems fail; and
  • provide an information resource for the community—via city newsletters, direct mailings, and websites, or even a “Y2K Awareness Day.”

The League even had an employee designated as its Y2K coordinator.

Luckily, when the clock struck midnight and the world leapt into the 21st century—so too did our computers. Systems barely registered a blip on January 1, 2000, and life went on for both cities and concerned citizens as usual.

Ultimately, though, Y2K is a great example of how both cities and the League must always be prepared...even when the result is much ado about nothing!

What do you remember about the Y2K scare? Tell us in the comments below…

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