Y2K: Are You Ready?

by Dave Campbell

The millennium is coming! The turn of the century is little more than one year away. It is a time to reflect on the wondrous era to which we’ve been a part. It is also a time to ponder what the future holds; what will it be like in the 21st century? There is a massive problem lurking just around the corner that will greet us on January 1, 2000. It is referred to as the Y2K ‘bug.’ Y2K is short for the year two thousand. It is not a true ‘bug’ in the sense of an unforeseen error in the logic of a computer program. Instead, it is a problem created by man as a result of his shortsightedness. In the 1960’s, computers came into the mainstream of government and business, automating mundane tasks like calculating payroll or keeping track of inventory. Through the 1980’s, computer memory was very expensive so programmers went to great lengths to conserve on memory space. As such, date fields were stored as 5 or 6 digit representations with the last two digits used to signify the year such as 69 for 1969. When the year 2000 rolls over, millions of computer programs will malfunction unless they have been updated to handle a 4 digit year field. The year (20)00 will be confused with the year (19)00, throwing off calculations and causing computers to fail.

This problem has been known to computer professionals for sometime, but it has not been given serious attention until the past few years. You are bound to hear a great deal about it in the coming months; it will be THE STORY in 1999. Gartner Group is the top information technology market research firm in the world and has been an early voice in warning the world about the threat from year 2000 computer failures. Their experts estimate the worldwide cost of preventing year 2000 computer failures will be between $300 and $600 billion, with $150 to $225 billion of that amount to be spent by U.S. companies alone. In total, this will be the biggest expenditure since World War II. In 1999, year 2000 spending will become the No. 1 technology priority for companies worldwide, exceeding spending on all other new computer technologies combined!

Stop for a second and think of how pervasive computers have become in our country and the world. Computers and so called "embedded" systems (microchips) are used in almost every facet of daily life. It is estimated there are 100,000 large mainframe computers, 300 million personal computers and 25 billion embedded systems. Microprocessors are used to control the engines of automobiles and to determine when traffic lights should change; to enable aircraft to land, takeoff and fly across the country safely; to run the reactors in nuclear power plants to generate electricity; to maintain an efficient temperature and humidity in office buildings; and to determine if our country is coming under attack from foreign aggressors. The list goes on and on.

Every one of those computers must be tested and upgraded as appropriate. For some businesses and government agencies, the job is so large and complex it seems overwhelming. But if these computers do not work, then everything dependent upon them comes to a standstill or breaks down. Airplanes cannot fly, traffic cannot proceed safely, electrical generation is disrupted and so on. The potential ramifications can range anywhere from a minor inconvenience to widespread economic and social dislocation.

This problem will effect all of us to varying degrees. Unfortunately, it will disproportionately effect those who are the least able to help themselves, the elderly and the infirmed. Hospitals are heavy users of all types of technology, from taking your blood pressure to administering anesthesia during surgery. If hospitals are unprepared, then it is likely a diminished level of care will occur.

The countries of the world will be effected unequally as well. The United States has been busy addressing the problem since the mid 1990’s. Even at this late date, some other countries have barely started. Particularly hard hit will be the third world countries such as in Africa where they do not have the resources or the resolve to fix the problem. They will fix what they can and deal with the fall out after the fact. The resulting problems they will face could be catastrophic, requiring years of recovery.

For many entities who do fix their systems in time, yet another threat looms, in that there may be failures in systems outside their control. Think of how interconnected the world is today. We can place a telephone call to almost anywhere in the world by dialing a string of 14 digits. What happens when telecommunications networks in different parts of the world malfunction?

Financial markets are highly dependent on each other to determine the prices of financial instruments such as stocks and bonds and to provide for a way to settle funds between parties. What if business cannot be conducted because of a lack of communications? You may not think it effects you because you don’t participate in the stock market, but if this lasted for even a few days the effect on the worldwide economy could be substantial, effecting all of us.

In this country we are the most dependent on four basic components of our national infrastructure for daily life; namely natural gas, electricity, telecommunications and banking. Take a moment to think how you would get along if you could not heat your home, turn on the lights, make a telephone call or get money from the bank for even a few hours. What would you do if the disruption lasted more than a few days?

How should we as Christians respond in times such as this when the future is uncertain? Proverbs 22:3 states that "A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it." The word prudent, in the Hebrew, refers to someone who has good judgment or good sense about him. That is contrasted with the simple man who is inexperienced or naive and easily persuaded into believing a lie. As the year 1999 approaches we need to exercise good judgment and prepare for the millennium carefully.


What can you do?
Take the time to do your own research about the problem and what your response should be. There is a wealth of good information on the Internet. Stick to the sites of official government agencies, industry associations and Christian news groups like the 700 Club. You can also check out magazines and periodicals at your public library. James 1:5 says "If any of you lack wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." Ask the Lord to give you wisdom about what to do in preparation for the millennium and to discern the truth from the distortions which are likely to come in the months ahead.

Here are a couple of tips to get you started. First, remember to consider the needs of your household. A single person can get by in an emergency much easier than a family with young children. You should consider having non-perishable food and water on hand to get along for a minimum of two weeks.


What are some of the other things you should do?

  • In December, pays your bills two months in advance in case computer systems at your creditors malfunction. That way, you will not be found delinquent and at risk of foreclosure.
  • Have one month’s cash on hand to pay for normal living expenses like food and rent, in case ATM’s or credit card systems malfunction.
  • Check with the companies you do business with to find out when they will be year 2000 compliant. Seriously consider another supplier if they are not ready by early 1999.
  • Pray for your leaders in government and business to provide the resources and expertise to address the problem in time. And pray for the millions of people who are working diligently on the problem.

2 Timothy 4:5 says "But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry." There will surely be confusion and we need to keep our heads about us. There will be hardships; we just don’t know the severity. Through all this, each of us is called to be an evangelist, to testify to salvation through Jesus Christ. In times of uncertainty and turmoil, many people will be looking for concrete answers. The Church of Jesus Christ needs to be prepared to help those in need, to provide the truth and a safe harbor and to win many souls for the kingdom of God. This could well be one of the defining moments in modern history when many will turn to God for answers and the peace that passes all understanding. This can be the church’s finest hour!

Psalm 46:1 says "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefor we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea." This does not infer that you should move to the mountains and hide from the situation. The bible does not tell us to run away from the battle but to run towards it. We are to take refuge in the Lord as the source of our strength; he is our deliverer.

David Campbell is an elder at Church on the Rise in Westlake, Ohio. He is a former technology consultant and executive. He lives in Cleveland, Ohio with his wife and seven children.