Catching The Millennium Bug

Are you ready for the Year 2000?  More importantly≠≠is your technical equipment?  The Y2K bug can definitely affect workplace safety and health.  On January 1, 2000, every computer and every computer chip in the United States needs to recognize that weíre leaving the 1900ís behind.  Many need to be reprogrammed, since original coding often used only two digits for the year.  This design flaw means that computers may not distinguish whether 00 means 1900 or 2000, which may lead to possible shutdowns, inaccurate data and faulty calculations.  Fixing the problem may be pains-taking and labor intensive, but not fixing it may be worse.  Serious safety and health problems are among the many concerns facing employers, employees and governments worldwide.  OSHA recommends you take time now to address these issues.

What Can Go Wrong

Computer chips are embedded in all kinds of equipment.  If you have machinery or production processes that are computer controlled, this equipment could fail or malfunction when 1999 turns into 2000.  Some businesses have computerized information on hazardous materials.  Will you be able to access that in the year 2000?  What about computer chips programmed to print out routine maintenance messages?  Will they work?  Or will a system component fail because it wasnít replaced at the proper time?

For example, a power generating station simulated changing the date for a boiler feed-water control loop.  The date change caused the feed-water regulating valves to slam shut and initiated the boiler trip logic.  If this had not been a test, the plant would have come to a screeching halt.

Another employer tested and found that all the fire sprinklers in its facility would have been activated.  Wouldnít this cause a major problem on our campuses?  As another example, a petroleum company realized after conducting testing that its offshore rig would shut down because an embedded chip misunderstood the date change.

What You May Want To Evaluate

These are some areas on your campus that you may want to take a look at or bring to the attention of the proper departmental personnel.

The following is a priority listing according to one university:  

A.     High Priority
1. Facility Fire Alarm and Control Systems

2. Security Systems (ADA Doors)
3. Microprocessor Computer Room A/C Units
4. Environmental management control systems: Excell, Landis, Andover,  Teletrol, Johnson
5. Microprocessor Chiller Control Panels
6. Microprocessor Elevator Control
7. Microprocessor Generator Control Panels

B.     Medium Priority
1. Programmable Thermostats
2. Variable Speed Drives
3. Programmable Lighting Controllers
4. Digital Time Clocks (Other than lighting)
5. Irrigation Systems
6. FAX Machines

C.     Low Priority
1. Desktop PCs and Software
2. Laptop PCs and Software
3. Meters (Power Analyzer, Flow Meter)
4. VCRs
5. Camcorders
6. Still Cameras
7. Astrological Clock (not working)

  What You Can Do

Make a list of all computer-controlled equipment (anything with a circuit board).  Most computers that are over five years old and are NOT Pentium (586) processors should be suspect.  Ask your computer experts on campus or a local computer store how you can check the BIOS to see if it will recognize years after 1999.  Here some steps that you may want to follow in evaluating your equipment and systems.

Every institution should have a recovery plan. Almost all big businesses already have a plan and a department to oversee it. A recovery plan ensures that essential functions will continue despite most conceivable disasters. All schools should have a plan that backs up and protects the schoolís data and ensures continued essential functions with minimal delay.  Does your school have such a plan in place?

Unfortunately, a lot of us just hope that there will be no disaster or event that will affect us. They just hope, and, it must be said; they usually luck out. Most of the time for most organizations, disasters donít happen. But the millennium change is a potential disaster that is going to come for every-body for sure, and this time we know exactly when it will come, down to the second. We arenít quite sure yet what it will and wonít effect, but the prudent organization will have already begun to plan for contingencies now.  If you havenít examined the Y2K problem yet or overlooked some of the areas identified in this newsletter, take the time to do so and hopefully avoid some potential serious problems.