THE CHIPS ARE DOWN
"We are staring down the barrel of a national emergency." - Tony Blair, March 1998
(report from SchNEWS 191, 13 November 1998)
Its January 31st 1999, the eve of the next millennium, you're at a party waiting for the clock to strike midnight. The countdown begins. Midnight and the sound system shuts down, the lights go out. Everyone pours onto the streets to total confusion. The roads are gridlocked, the traffic lights have shut down. No chance of getting a taxi so you walk home. It's freezing cold, the heating's packed up so you pick up the phone to complain. The line's dead. Welcome to 2000.
The 'millennium bug', or Y2K (year 2000) as it is now commonly called, is the failure of computer chips to digitally recognize the change of year from 1999 to 2000. At the turn of the century the computers' could think that time has returned to the year 1900. Many are speculating, but the truth is that no-one really knows what the consequences of this 'error of judgment' are going to be.
"Y2K is more than just a problem of computer failure. It is about legal dilemmas, insurance black spots, broken supply chains, public order and contingency planning. The bug has exposed the fragility of a just-in-time' economy." Simon Davies, (The Independent) In a recent TV documentary the Head of the Royal Commission for the Effects of the Millennium Bug cited "6 months of major destruction as the best case scenario."
The Government is playing the situation down, pampering the public with the notion that the problem is merely a bug, and can therefore be swatted or squashed as such. Their recent toaster and video campaigns, (the latter alone cost them a ripe #8 million)., only asks 'will your appliances survive?' Labour's latest scheme is to train 20,000 staff from small and medium sized businesses to create what Blair calls 'an army of bugsters'. And Gwyneth Flower, director of the Government body Action 2000, suggested that people at the most may stock up on a few extra candles.
So why is there this pre-occupation with the 'small' such as small businesses, toasters, and the stocking of candles? The supposedly 'independent' Bank of England has been silenced on the matter by the Government. One freelance journalist told SchNEWS that he has received more than the one phone call from the Government concerning his Y2K scribblings, warning him of scaremongering the public. Why the concern? Maybe there's more at stake than just burnt toast and candle wax on the carpet. Could it be to do with the fact that punters may withdraw their shares in companies, withdraw their money from their accounts, or stock-pile a months worth of groceries...just in case? These sudden jolts in economic behavior would themselves cause widespread chaos.
A leaked Government memo last week admitted that troops may be needed to maintain emergency services. Donald Dewar, the Scottish Secretary, expressed concern over the disbandment of units of the Territorial Army as they might be needed to help the regular army amidst fears that key areas like electricity and telecommunications will be affected by the millennium mayhem.
Aviation authorities are admitting that the bug may well paralyze air traffic. The chairman of the Aviation Insurance Offices Association stated "It is impossible to say where the failures may occur...If air companies are not entirely sure, they won't go."
CND are "deeply suspicious" of the whereabouts of the date sensitive chips in regards to the worlds nuclear arsenal. Will missiles confused by the date change decide to launch themselves?
'The Bug in the Bomb', a report out this week by Basic, the British American Security Information Council, cites a test at a radar centre where the clocks were put forward to the year 2000. The results? Total Systems blackout! In Dublin recently, the clocks were put forward again to test the workings of traffic lights. The results? Unless they have a contingency plan, there will be chaos on the streets. But don't panic the Government says your toaster will still work.
It's looking increasingly likely that the UK economy will be thrown into turmoil. Gwynneth Flower of Action 2000 believes that 200,000 businesses could likely go under with an estimated 2 million job losses.
And what about the water supply? Water companies have refused to give any guarantees, while stock piling bottled water. Doesn't bode well. With water treatment plants being controlled by computers any hiccups in the system could mean sewage being discharged into our water ways and dubiously coloured water coming out of our taps.
So why is the Government playing down the millennium bug? Robin Guenier of industry-backed Taskforce 2000 doesn't believe they're sounding enough alarm bells. "I'm sure the Government is in agony over this. It doesn't want to be held responsible for any panic..."
So don't worry. For goodness sake don't concern yourselves with banks, oil rigs, nuclear missiles, supermarkets, power stations or public utilities. It's alright. Everything's alright. Relax. Have a piece of warm toast.
It's OK. It's fine. report from SchNEWS 191, 13 November 1998