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Installations on Track to Protect Personnel, Families from Y2K

By Paul Stone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 19, 1999 – You've heard the horror stories: Elevators suddenly stuck between floors, building security systems lock you in or keep you out, power supplies suddenly go dead -- all because of the Y2K computer bug.

Now hear the good news.

If you work or live on a DoD installation, or work in a DoD-operated building, odds are good you won't even experience anything more than just a hiccup in services as Dec. 31, 1999, becomes Jan. 1, 2000.

"Our progress is excellent," said Doug Hansen, director of installations requirements and management for the Office of the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Installations. Hansen is monitoring Y2K efforts on DoD's 637 installations and buildings both in the United States and overseas. "As of the end of April, 96 percent of installations have completed their fixes and the other 2 percent will be done in June."

Hansen said his office's efforts are focused on five key areas:

  • Energy, including electricity, natural gas and oil.
  • Water supply.
  • Waste water.
  • Safety services, such as 911, fire protection and traffic lights.
  • Security services for buildings and personnel.

The major push, he said, has been on finding and replacing embedded microchips that might malfunction. Everything from security and fire alarms to 911 emergency systems often function with information technology. But embedded microchips are not nearly the problem once predicted.

"In general, we found that only about 3 percent of the microchips we've been looking at had to be replaced," Hansen said. "It's not a big problem. It's been more of an exercise in determining if there was a problem. And what we found out is, we're doing all right."

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. Almost any computer system may be vulnerable and needs to be checked and then, if necessary, fixed to handle the year change or replaced. Microchips are also vulnerable and need to be tested or replaced. A computer system that recognizes the year 2000 date and processes data correctly is called "compliant."

Hansen said once all repairs have been made, installations will test systems throughout the remainder of this year to make sure they function. This is especially important in such systems as power, water and emergency services, which rely on a number of systems to operate properly. Installations can fix everything on the base, but if the fix is not compatible with systems outside the installation, services could be interrupted, he explained.

He said local commanders, as well as representatives from the Defense Logistics Agency, are working closely with local suppliers of electricity, natural gas and oil to ensure uninterrupted supplies during the Year 2000 date change.

"We have a tremendous outreach program and cooperation in this country to ensure the nation's power grid operates properly and there's great confidence that there will be no interruption in services," Hansen said.

Water supplies are being handled nationally by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in cooperation with the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Hansen said. Even if a water supply system shuts down, he explained, most can be operated manually.

As for gasoline, Hansen said there are no indications at this time supplies will be a problem. He said commanders will be monitoring their stocks and coordinating with local suppliers as the year progresses to ensure adequate supplies are on hand.

While Hansen is confident about power, water and fuel supplies for U.S. installations, the outlook for overseas installations is less certain.

Rosanne Hynes, director for Y2K Outreach for the assistant secretary of defense, command, control and communications, has been visiting overseas installations, and said the issues there are much more complex.

"Overseas you're dealing with a foreign nation as your supplier for electricity and water, and Y2K progress varies greatly from country to country," Hynes said.

In addition, systems that supply power and fuel often cross national borders. For example, Hynes pointed out that Germany gets 30 percent of its natural gas from Russia, and Italy receives some of its electricity from Switzerland.

"It's not like the United States, where you have a national effort going on that reaches down from the federal government all the way to states, cities and towns," she said. "You have to work with everyone individually."

She said a strong push is under way to ensure overseas installations experience no interruptions in power and energy supply in the Year 2000. Several groups are working with host nations to resolve any existing concerns before the end of the year.

These include:

  • The International Inter-Agency Working Group, co-chaired by DoD and the U.S. State Department.
  • The NATO Consultation and Control Board.
  • The Allied Year 2000 Cooperation Committee, a group formed to detail procedures host nations need to take and ensure countries meet all Y2K standards.

"It's been very challenging," she said, but added that as the year has progressed, DoD has seen increased cooperation and a better understanding by host nations of how important it is for U.S. forces stationed overseas to have uninterrupted flow of services.

In the meantime, installations both in the United States and overseas are developing strong contingency plans for any problems that may occur.

For example, Hansen said, generators would be used to provide critical electrical needs if temporary power outages occurred. And military police could be used if traffic signal systems failed, just as they often do during power outages that occur from time to time.

The key to Y2K, Hansen said, is not to panic, but to treat Y2K just as a typical winter storm that might cause minor inconveniences.

"Installations have been working the Y2K issue for more than two years," Hansen said. "Progress is excellent and we are not expecting any glitches beyond spotty, temporary problems. Commanders have spent their entire careers taking care of troops and families, and they're going to do it through Y2K."

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