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Monday, October 18, 1999 Published at 06:13 GMT 07:13 UK


Firms 'already hit' by Y2K bug

Many large companies are preparing for power cuts

Almost one in three large companies has already experienced millennium bug problems, says a survey.

The campaigning group Taskforce 2000 says 90% of big firms are preparing for power cuts and disruption to phone systems and computers as a result of the bug. And 31% have already experienced millennium-related failures that had already begun to occur.

Bugtown UK
It is the third survey of big businesses carried out in the last year by Taskforce 2000.

The report, published on Monday, paints a picture of growing unease about disruptions to essential services such as electricity, water and telecommunications.

Government reports due out later this week are expected to say the UK will not face any serious disruption as a result of the bug.

But this latest survey - of Britain's top 1,000 companies - shows many companies remain unconvinced by official reassurances.

'More information needed'

Of those questioned, 98% are taking action to prevent possible disruptions affecting their businesses.

Eighty-four per cent are preparing for possible power failures, 86% for loss of telecommunications links and 97% for systems failures.

Taskforce 2000 says the government should encourage the major utility companies to provide more information about their preparations rather than issuing banal reassurances.

Robin Guenier, chief executive of Taskforce 2000, said: "This is a clear indication that the possibility of infrastructure failure is a major concern, and that companies are taking action to offset it.

"The truth is that we are all in the dark and it is time that the government made full information available, not just the discredited traffic light system."

The millennium bug is expected to affect tens of thousands of PCs, mainframe computers and other electrical equipment. Worst affected will be older computers.

The main problem is that computer programmers in the 1960s and 1970s, short of storage space and oblivious to the long term, started shortening years, eg 1965 became 65.

This practice of using abbreviated dates has continued until very recently.

Witching hour

While many of the original mainframe computers have been replaced, much of the original software is still in operation.

The trouble will come at midnight on 31 December 1999. Many systems could get confused by the transition from 1999, or 99, to 2000, or 00.

They might interpret 00 as 1900, leading to all manner of chaos.

Apocalypse theorists say planes could drop out of the sky, trains could shut down, power could cut out and computerised records could be deleted.

Most computer experts say accidents and breakdowns are unlikely because systems have moved on greatly in recent years and much work has been done to prevent the millennium bug being a problem.

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