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Will Y2K spell disaster in 2000? Sick computers: Time-telling glitch has raised millennium fears of the end of the world as we know it.


THE PROBLEM with various assurances about the so-called Y2K problem is that they all include caveats. Jack Gribben, spokesman for President Clinton's Council on Year 2000 Conversion, recently said, "There's no evidence at this point that people should be disrupting their lives in any significant way." But what does he mean by "at this point"?

Similarly, Connecticut technology firm GartnerGroup may have excited nerves when it sought to reassure American consumers that Y2K won't seriously disrupt their lives. Comparing the expected computer glitch with a major storm rather than an asteroid hit,the company said families need only store "five days" of supplies.

Such suggestions have sparked a flurry of survivalist activity. People like Michael and Dana O'Sullivan of Columbia are storing a year's worth of supplies for their family in case they can't get money from a bank or groceries from a store. Gun sales are picking up as some Y2K-wary families prepare to protect themselves from looters.

The possibility of disaster cannot be discounted since no one knows "at this point" how many systems will fail when some computers mistake the year 2000 for the year 1900.

This weekend the United Nations begins considering the global fallout of Y2K when representatives from more than 80 nations meet in New York.

The United States is better positioned than many countries. It is one of the 24 nations actively addressing the problem, according to GartnerGroup analyses. But with Y2K paranoia growing, President Clinton must step up efforts to inform the American public about what government agencies and businesses are doing to prepare for the millennium bug.

An analysis in October by the General Accounting Office was pessimistic. It cited a survey of 1,650 cities that showed fewer than half had addressed Y2K.

Local governments and essential services such as hospitals also have a responsibility to inform people now about potential problems and what they're doing to rectify them.

Not every device vulnerable to Y2K problems will be fixed before the millennium. People need to know what contingencies are being taken to minimize disruptions and disasters. The truth cannot be more shocking than what some people already fear.

Pub Date: 12/11/98

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