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Tuesday, May 18, 1999 Published at 15:47 GMT 16:47 UK


Controlling the Y2K bug

The clock is ticking ... but are we ready?

Although the technology-dependent world at large is no longer in millennium bug denial, organisations that have the problem well and truly licked are pretty thin on the ground.

Most, however, estimate that they will have the problem under control before disaster strikes, and it is generally accepted that the end of the world as we know is not just around the corner.

[ image: Organisations are no longer in millennium bug denial]
Organisations are no longer in millennium bug denial
But as recently as this spring, a government-backed study revealed that areas of the NHS, the police, and the fire and rescue service were poorly prepared for the problems older computers may encounter when the date clicks over from 1999 to 2000.

And on Monday, millennium bug watchdog Taskforce 2000 said that eight police forces and a number of fire and rescue services were not adequately prepared for the millennium.

The government-sponsored group Action 2000 has drawn up a colour-coded rating scheme to indicate an organisation's readiness to deal with the problem.

Red illustrates a risk which may not be able to be addressed before the turn of the century. Amber means some risk exists, but plans are in hand to deal with it. Blue means all systems are checked and clear of problems. White indicates a system which has not even been checked.

Each sector reports back on a three-monthly basis - the last time a report was made was on 21 April.

Fire and Rescue


The NHS was coded 91% amber and 9% red.

Millennium problems facing the NHS do not necessarily come from problems within its own computer systems. Some trusts have drawn up suggestions for staff to be accommodated at hospitals overnight so that they are not prevented from getting to work by transport-related bug problems.

[ image: Some health trusts are considering putting staff up overnight]
Some health trusts are considering putting staff up overnight
Health officials are also drawing attention to the fact that many revellers over the festive period will not be in their home town, and through lack of local knowledge, may take less serious health problems to accident and emergency rather than to a GP.

The largest problem facing ambulance trusts is in the running of their control centres. London Ambulance Service has built a £2.5m duplicate control centre specifically to use in the event that the original crashes over the New Year.

Alasdair Liddell, director of planning for the NHS Executive, said: "All NHS organisations are required to be fully prepared by September 1999 with compliant equipment or effective contingency plans in place. NHS organisations currently in the red category will be visited and we will closely monitor action plans and require chief executives personally to ensure full compliance."

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The UK's police forces were rated 39% amber and 9% red. The rest had yet to be assessed. The Home Office and the Scottish and Northern Ireland Offices have set a deadline of 13 July for reports to be completed.

[ image: The systems at eight police forces are cause for
The systems at eight police forces are cause for "serious concern" says Taskforce 2000
In March, the Leader of the House of Commons Margaret Beckett MP, told colleagues that the progress of police forces in tackling the problem was "disappointing".

A report by Taskforce 2000 on Monday named the Metropolitan Police Force, Avon and Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, Cheshire, Hampshire and Warwickshire as being a "cause of great concern".

David Gilbertson, Assistant Inspector of Constabulary, said: "In many areas forces have developed action plans and a timetable and are getting to grips with the problem. It is crucial that forces that are currently coded as red address the problem urgently."

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Fire and Rescue

UK fire brigades were rated 38% blue, 38% amber and 2% red.

[ image: Brigades should be blue by September]
Brigades should be blue by September
However, Monday's report from Taskforce 2000 suggested that some individual fire brigades could be "in very poor shape".

The service aims to have all brigades graded blue by September, with all red grades eliminated by the beginning of June.

Millennium issues facing the fire and rescue service include the operation of computerised firefighting and rescue equipment and control centres.

HM Inspector of Fire Services Keith Phillips said: "A good proportion of brigades are already blue and I am confident that the remaining brigades will be blue by September."

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Electricity companies say it will be "business as usual" over New Year 2000. This does not mean a guarantee of no problems, rather that their service will not be any less efficient than normal because of Y2K problems. The UK's electricity companies were rated 71% blue and 29% amber.

[ image: Electricity companies say it will be
Electricity companies say it will be "business as usual"
A report by the companies for the National Infrastructure 2000 Forum on 21 April said that the production and distribution of electricity depends very little on electronic devices, and that therefore the millennium bug was not a huge issue for them.

However, the Electricity Association has initiatives underway to limit or eliminate any possible problems, and the industry in total is estimated to have spent more than £200m addressing problems posed by the Millennium Bug.

The water industry also promises no Y2K disruption to normal services, but is concerned that heavy industry's lack of year 2000 compliance in some areas may lead to unacceptable levels of pollution in water courses. It was rated 100% amber.

While the telecommunications industry expects "little or no disruption" to its services, it is noticeably not chancing its arm with a "business as usual" forecast. It was graded 90% blue and 10% amber.

The three areas which are the cause of greatest concern to the industry are the ability to make international calls, congestion of services on New Year's night - and the tardiness of some companies in bringing their telephone exchange systems up to standard.

[ image: Most components in the gas supply system are not electronic]
Most components in the gas supply system are not electronic
In its report to the forum, the industry said it had collectively spent more than £500m "addressing the Year 2000 Challenge". It says that all key suppliers of telecommunications services are "on track" for millennium compliance.

Gas suppliers Transco are graded 87% blue and 13% amber. The industry says that the nation's gas supply will not be affected by the year 2000.

Again, it underlines that the critical components of its system are not electronic, and therefore not susceptible to bug problems. It says 88% of all gas meters are purely mechanical and that "rigorous testing" of all ultrasonic and electronic token meters has been carried out.

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Local government generally has been criticised for dragging its feet in preparing for the possible effects of the bug, although standards vary from one authority to the next.

[ image: Road traffic control equipment is already 98% compliant]
Road traffic control equipment is already 98% compliant
Road traffic control systems, which come under the control of local authorities or the Highways Agency, were graded 98% blue, 2% amber.

UK Government departments say they have "broken the back" of the problem, but are not being complacent.

Taskforce 2000's report states, however, that there are serious shortcomings with the programmes of the Ministry of Defence, Inland Revenue, Highways Agency, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Northern Ireland Office.

Defence Secretary George Robinson reassured the commons in March that the nuclear deterrent had been thoroughly checked and posed no Y2K safety risk.

[ image: The nuclear deterrent is Millennium Bug-free]
The nuclear deterrent is Millennium Bug-free
He also outlined that RAF aircraft were certified safe to fly in January, and are scheduled to be mission capable by 31 May.

Royal Navy ships and submarines were to have been assessed by August, and all mission-critical systems in the Army are scheduled to be ready by September.

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Travelling over the New Year concerns more people perhaps than any other Y2K-related issue - especially in planes.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the UK National Air Traffic Services Ltd (NATS) have been working to minimize the threat posed by the millennium bug in three key areas: the equipment in aircraft, air traffic control systems and business administration. The national air traffic control system was graded 100% blue in April.

[ image: Even offered a free flight on 31 December, most people would refuse to fly]
Even offered a free flight on 31 December, most people would refuse to fly
The CAA says it is also working with overseas systems to maximise Y2K compliance in time for the change of dates.

The International Air Transport Association said in an interview with the Independent newspaper on 4 May that airlines which had concerns simply would not fly - out of fear of being sued if things went wrong.

The organisation - which represents 260 airlines worldwide and is spending £12m surveying them - declined to provide information about red companies.

Qantas said in its Y2K report to the Australian stock exchange in March that its services might be disrupted over the New Year if it considered flying to be unsafe over that period.

In a survey recently carried out by information provider OAG, only 60 out of 300 people said they would accept a free flight if it meant travelling on 31 December.

Rail safety systems were rated 100% blue - but there may be hiccups with business and operational systems, which were graded 100% amber. The key findings of the April report on the industry said that contingency plans were being developed.

[ image: Safety systems on trains are 100% compliant]
Safety systems on trains are 100% compliant
The London Underground is graded 100% amber, but officials say that operational systems will be "well prepared" for the year 2000, with a deadline of the end of September set for a 100% blue rating.

The Channel Tunnel is rated amber overall, "moving to blue" with most safety systems already compliant. However, services through the tunnel will be suspended for a short time over the New Year period.

Ports and shipping were graded 100% amber, with issues ranging from on-board equipment to port security being addressed.

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