DoD's Mover Revs-Up to Keep on Trucking Past Y2K
By Rudi Williams
National Guard Bureau
FALLS CHURCH, Va., May 7, 1999 The Military Traffic Management Command cranked its engines in April 1996 and started revving-up to squash the millennium computer bug long before it infected the public's imagination.
Forward-thinking MTMC officials devised Year 2000, or Y2K, solutions they hope will keep DoD's well-greased transportation system running smoothly into the next century. So, after midnight on Dec. 31, 1999, troops won't have to worry about food in the chow hall, losing their unaccompanied baggage shipments or being supported in the field. And, if circumstances dictate, MTMC will get them and their equipment to the war on time, according to John Vessenmeyer, chief of the plans and requirements branch in MTMC's Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Information management.
MTMC, a jointly staffed major Army command, is responsible for moving everything that supports DoD's war fighters during peacetime and wartime. That, said Elizabeth M. Imhof, makes MTMC's Y2K problem more complex than for most organizations.
"That's because we move everything, from troops to ammunition, equipment, food and medical supplies to household goods and unaccompanied baggage -- everything," said Imhof, MTMC's Y2K project manager. "With all the things going on in the world today, if that stops or slows down, we'd have a significant problem supporting the war fighters."
With 22 Army port and four terminal and outfits in 51 locations worldwide, MTMC loads and unloads more than 11.5 million tons of cargo, delivers more than 110,000 military vehicle shipments and makes more than 650,000 personal property and unaccompanied baggage shipments and about 96,000 privately owned vehicle shipments annually.
Preparing for uninterrupted handling of such an enormous task in the Year 2000 isn't an easy or inexpensive undertaking, Vessenmeyer said.
"Y2K is a very simple problem -- it's just taking an enormous amount time and money to fix it," he said. There wouldn't be a problem had those who developed computer systems and applications over the past few decades used four digits to designate the year, he noted.
The Year 2000 problem, nicknamed "Y2K," refers to the past computer industry practice of writing years with just two digits -- 1999 would be "99." Because of this digital shorthand, some computer systems on Jan. 1, 2000, might treat "00" as "1900" or just shut down all together.
"So you see dates with two-digit fields can cause enormous problems with calculating anything," Vessenmeyer noted. "That's the big problem with Y2K."
Almost any computer system may be vulnerable and needs to be checked and then, if necessary, fixed to handle the year change or replaced. A computer system that recognizes the year 2000 date and processes data correctly is called "compliant."
Fixing the two-digit problem in personal computers is easy -- if they are not compliant, scrap them and buy new ones, Vessenmeyer noted. That's what the command did with nearly 1,200 of them at its headquarters and 51 locations worldwide.
It was also easy to fix what's called "information technology infrastructure," such as file servers, communications devices, router, hubs and other network components. About 95 percent of it has been checked out and replaced, he said. "We're confident we'll be finished in June."
Vessenmeyer and his staff also worked closely with engineers to prepare facilities for the millennium. "A lot of people don't know that elevators work on dates and times," he noted. "If maintenance isn't performed on an elevator within, say, six months, the elevator is programmed to go to the bottom floor and stay there until the maintenance is performed. It's a safety thing."
Many elevator manufacturers say their products will not experience any Year 2000-related date change problems because they're not "date-dependent in any way." The potential problem concerning Vessenmeyer is the elevators tied into larger building-control systems. Elevators could be affected if the control system isn't Y2K compliant.
All elevators in DoD buildings have been checked for Y2K compliance to ensure no one gets trapped in one on Jan. 1, 2000. They've also checked to ensure the security system, water, air conditioning, heating -- everything that runs a building will work properly in the Year 2000, Imhof said.
"It's just like in your home. You might be concerned about whether you're going to have electricity, gas and water that day. If it's on an installation, it's the traffic lights. At the port, it's things like folk lifts and cranes," she said. "Everything has to be checked, including getting in contact with the power, gas and water companies and owners of leased buildings."
With the "easy fixes" completed, top information management officials turned their attention to ensuring that MTMC's mission-critical systems for DoD function properly. All the software and systems used to run command's worldwide transportation network have been checked for Y2K compliance, Imhof said.
"We did all the changes and went through extensive testing and had a contractor verify that the testing we'd done was correct," she said. "We're now in the process of doing functional tests to ensure everything works properly under conditions replicating a Year 2000 environment."
The tests include all the military services, the Coast Guard, the National Guard and Reserve and DoD agencies.
Even in a worst-case scenario, MTMC wouldn't shut down because of an automated Y2K failure, Imhof noted. "There are contingency plans that will allow us to continue our mission, just a little slower," she said. "The troops and equipment would move, but instead of taking eight hours to load a ship, it might take 24 hours."
"We're 100 percent comfortable that MTMC will be ready well before Dec. 31, 1999, from systems to PCs, infrastructure facilities -- everything, " Vessenmeyer said.
The general perception in past media reports is that airplanes may fall out of the sky or trains may stop in the middle of nowhere, Imhof said. "But there are groups like us in the military and in industry who are doing things to ensure those things don't happen."
But she doesn't rule out the possibility of a few "annoyances," like a traffic light out of sync. She advises against taking all of one's money out of the bank, buying a generator or "running to the grocery store and buying five gallons of milk and 10 loaves of bread.
"I don't anticipate any major problems, because the commercial world and the military have done a good job preparing for Y2K."