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Pentagon's Y2K Director Gives Green Light for Year 2000

By Paul Stone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 16, 1999 – Bill Curtis will be the first one to tell you that some of his friends thought he lost his senses in March 1998 when he took over as DoD's principal director for Y2K. With more than 7,000 systems that had to be examined, repaired and tested, approximately 350 separate computer domains all containing software, hardware and communications devices subject to Y2K glitches, and 637 military installations that needed to be brought into compliance - the sheer enormity of the task was enough to make even the brightest computer technician or software engineer's head spin.

But as the Y2K main event - Jan. 1, 2000 - gets closer every day, Curtis is also the first to tell you he doesn't regret for a minute having taken the job. Indeed, just the opposite is true. Curtis talks with pride of managing what he characterizes as "the largest single peacetime effort the defense department has undertaken," involving not only thousands of systems, but thousands of military and civilian personnel, contractors, and total budget exceeding $3.5 billion.

"When you think about this, this was an enormous challenge - as big as the Department of Defense itself and affecting every part of the information technology community within the department," Curtis said.

While quick to emphasize the scope of the effort, he is equally quick to give credit where he believes credit is due.

"I really want to thank all the men and women in uniform and all others who have done just a magnificent job," Curtis said. "It was difficult for everyone to invest all the time, energy and effort that went into this. I didn't fix a single line of code or test anything. But I went out there and saw the men and women who did; and they worked very hard - very long hours."

So after what has now been a four-year effort, requiring literally millions of man-hours and billions of dollars, is DoD ready for the Y2K main event.

Curtis' response is an unequivocal "yes."

He pointed out that 99.9 of all systems have been certified as Y2K compliant, and said that "workaround solutions" and contingency plans are place for the small number of systems that are still being worked. He also said the systems still being worked are not critical to either warfighting or routine operations.

In addition to fixing existing information systems or fielding new ones, Curtis said DoD undertook a massive effort to verify reliability through what is known in the Y2K world as "end-to-end" testing. Essentially, this means testing to ensure information systems will not only work on their own, but will not experience problems when they feed to or receive data from each other. During such testing, clocks on the information systems are turned ahead to key Y2K dates, such as Jan. 1, 2000 and Feb. 29, 2000, to further verify reliability. He cited the Navy's end-to-end testing with battle groups, Air Force live-fire testing and DoD's coast-to-coast testing of the logistics community as just a few examples of tests performed.

With systems certified as ready to go, Curtis said DoD is now concentrating on ensuring that all "Y2K cells" are ready for Jan. 1.

"The installations, services, major commands and agencies all have Y2K cells that will be reporting in during the rollover period," Curtis said. "And all those people are getting trained in how to provide reports and how to deal with any (Y2K) issues that arise." Additionally, communications systems and back-up systems are going through final checks.

"Our concern now is that we have the best possible flow of information between our technical people at all levels so they can resolve issues," he said. "Because there's a good chance that problems which do arise will not be Y2K-related. "A lot of things in the Defense Department don't work every day that have nothing to do with Y2K. That's why we have maintenance people and technicians at every level."

While confident Y2K will have an insignificant impact on life in the United States, Curtis said DoD is less certain about some foreign nations.

"The installation commanders overseas have done an excellent job taking care of everything on their bases," Curtis said. "And we have confidence that things like water, waste water, power and communications will be available for most locations. But we have a very large number of places around the world that require extensive support from host nations and we don't have the same level of information about their Y2K efforts as we do here."

He emphasized that efforts during the last six months by CINCS, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the State Department have given him high confidence that personnel stationed overseas should not be overly concerned about essential services, including medical care.

"Everybody will remain where they are," Curtis said. "We are not planning to move anybody. If we felt there was a danger to people, we would be taking other actions now."

Two areas still of concern to DoD during the Y2K rollover include responding to requests for assistance from civilian authorities and potential attacks on DoD's computer systems by hackers.

But Curtis emphasized the department is geared up and ready to handle any of these scenarios.

"We have what we call consequence management teams to handle requests for assistance," Curtis said. "If it's a domestic issue it will come through FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency], just as requests do after tornadoes or hurricanes. If it's overseas, requests will come to our teams through the State Department."

While saying DoD is prepared to assist, he stressed that DoD's primary mission during the Y2K period remains to defend the nation.

"We do not have endless resources, so our consequence management teams will be important in helping determine when and where support should be provided," he said. "But the decision to provide support will be made at the highest levels. We don't want to overreact early on," he added, again pointing out that problems may not necessarily be the result of Y2K.

As for those who try to use the Y2K rollover to attempt hacking in to DoD systems, Curtis has a few words of caution: "Let me assure you we have our best people working to maintain the strongest defense possible against information attacks during this timeframe. Y2K is the first real battle of the information war. We know the time, the place and we know what should happen."

Curtis also has some words of advice for individuals concerned about the Y2K rollover: "Be prudent...don't hoard...and don't do anything unsafe."

He recommends everyone prepare for Y2K as they would any winter storm by having a few days supply of food and water on hand, keeping the gas tank at least half full, and refilling any prescription medicines before the end of the year.

"I heard of someone the other day who had stored propane tanks in the basement and they exploded," he said. "We're very concerned people don't do unnecessary and unsafe things like that. I think we've done everything possible for our military families, and I think we're ready for Y2K."

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