The nation will have unsolved computer problems in 2000, causing frustration at best and chaos at worst, George A. Lahey, former Carroll County attorney, recently told Taneytown business leaders.
Predictions about what will happen Jan. 1, 2000, vary greatly, said Lahey, who addressed a crowd of about 70 business leaders on the subject of the "millennium bug" -- a computer glitch that could cause many programs to fail after midnight Dec. 31, 1999.
"On the one hand are people who say,'The sky is falling,' " Lahey said. "They predict planes will drop out of the sky, that the government won't be able to function and that there will be a run on the banks. On the other hand are the people who say, 'They'll take care of it -- Mr. [Bill] Gates [president of Microsoft] will solve it.' "
The truth "lies somewhere in the middle," Lahey said. "I'm not sure we're completely out of the woods."
The federal government is not likely to meet the Dec. 31, 1999, deadline for changing date codes from six to eight digits on many essential computer programs, Lahey said. Without those changes, programs will fail.
Altering 30 million lines of code in the nation's computerized Social Security programs has been one of the federal government's top priority, Lahey said, "but they're only 60 to 90 percent ready and that's the No. 1 agency."
Although the Social Security agency started work on the project in 1991, only 6 million lines of code had been altered five years later, Lahey said.
The agency advised Congress it would have the problem "whipped" in time for the millennium, he said, "but plans to issue January  checks on the last day of December  just in case."
People who depend on welfare checks, food stamp programs and Medicaid are likely to suffer because of computer programming flaws, he predicted.
"You can be ready," he told the business leaders, "but if your supplier is not ready, you could be in trouble. Train cars [loaded with equipment] could be lost" and overnight delivery companies might lose track of their operations, he said.
"Big business is not talking about it," he said.
Banks face the biggest problem if the so-called Y2K bug is not fixed, but the power industry runs a close second, Lahey said.
"Every one of these computers depends on the power industry," he said. "All the experts I've read predict widespread power outages lasting from a few hours to a few days."
The best thing business people can do to get ready for the year 2000 is to be prepared, Lahey said.
"Talk to your bankers. Talk to your suppliers. Look at alternatives. Think of what happens if these things fail," he said.
Pub Date: 11/12/98