The Y2k scare

January 1, 2000, that is the day that was to change all of our lives. That was the day that the computers on which we all depended would fail us. That was the day that all of our “luxuries” of daily life would crumble, and we would be once again forced to live without electricity, running water, heat. The great Y2K scare is what it was called. The scare was that all of our computer systems around the world would cease to function on December 31, 1999. Computer memory space was expensive early on, and space was saved by using two digits for the date rather than four. Hence, when the year turned “00” the fear was that most computers would be unable to distinguish between 2000 and 1900. In fact, problems had already begun occurring in situations that involved future dates later than 2000. So, the assumption was that all the world’s computers would crash.

On December 11, 1998, delegates from 120 countries met at the National Y2K Coordinators Meeting to discuss the crisis. They discussed computer testing, crisis planning, communication between countries, and they pointed out countries that had not done their part to that point in preparing for the concern. Government systems prepared themselves for the date change. The American College of Physicians website provided physicians with a site to prepare them for readiness. Some businesses took a stand such as Northwest Airlines in saying that they would refuse to resume their daily routine unless the “bug” were fixed. Virtually all business had someone to turn on the Internet to help him or her “fix” his or her problem before it started…for a price.

Even before the clock struck midnight it was apparent who may benefit most from the Y2K scare. Naturally computer programmers, data recovery software designers, technicians, and anyone who knew anything about computers were in demand. The work was plentiful; the pay demand could be high. Software companies who had developed programs to “fix” the Y2K problem or replace an out-of-date program, could sell their product quickly. Journalists had bold headlines, fantastic feature articles, an array of angles to pursue. Newspapers, magazines, flew off the shelves.

And we cannot ignore the boom that it created for the retailer. Even FEMA released a consumers guide to prepare for Y2K. FEMA pointed out that we should at any time be prepared for a disaster, but likened the year 2000 to such disasters as hurricanes, tornados, or floods. Consumers could request a free copy of their recommendations. Decision Analyst, a research system, conducted a survey as to how Americans were preparing for the Y2K disaster and found that most were filling their cars up with extra gas and buy extra water, and many were likely to buy extra food and firewood. Some were even willing to buy an electric generator for fear that the nation’s electrical computer center would crash.

When the clocks turned to January 1, 2000, the computers barely registered a blip. Oh, of course there were minor inconveniences to be sure. Hong Kong reported in first as it was the first to bring in the new millennium. Three government agencies were affected, and in a very small way, and all problems arose from personal computers. All around the world, as countries welcomed the new year, through Europe, the Middle East, and North America, no major problems were reported. Even less sophisticated machines such as small medical devices continued to operate with little interference. And as the month finished its course, Washington, D.C. reported that the government was working more efficiently than ever due to the precautions it took to prepare itself for the Y2K bug. The federal and state computer systems, financial systems, and management systems were improved due to the time and money that they put into advancements over the course of time leading up to the new millennium. Most did not even need file recovery systems in place, those most probably had them.

And so the new millennium came and went with little brouhaha. Most governments and businesses were working more efficiently. Some retailers allowed consumers to returned items they found were unnecessary, such as the 15 gallons of extra water they had purchased “just in case.” Others just enjoyed the profits they made as a result of the hysteria. Software companies enjoyed the windfall. It is estimated that the total global cost to resolve the Y2K “crisis” was $300 - $600 billion. Much money changed hands with those kinds of costs, and many lives were changed. And those of us who watched and waited for January 1, 2000, won’t ever forget it.