“If the power grid goes down, then it is all over. It
doesn’t matter if every computer in the country is
Y2K compliant if you can’t plug it into something.
So we are focusing first and foremost on utilities
and not just power. The water treatment system in
every municipality in this country is computer
driven and has the potential of being upset because
of embedded chips and bad software. Utilities,
therefore, are at the top of the list of the things we
are addressing in our committee.”
— Sen. Robert Bennett,
chairman of the Special Senate Committee on the
Year 2000 Technology Problem,
June 12, 1998
Sen. Robert Bennett, R-UT, conducted a survey of the 10
largest electric, gas and oil utilities in the nation recently to
determine their status as to Y2K compliancy.
Not one of the utilities were certain that their suppliers,
vendors and servicers, upon whom they depend to
transmit gas and electricity, would be Y2K compliant. Not
one of the companies had completed contingency plans for
Y2K-related eventualities. Only two of the companies had
even completed an assessment of their automated systems.
One of them could not even guess how many lines of
computer code it had.
“I had anticipated that I would be able to provide a positive
report on the Y2K status of these public utilities,” Bennett
said. “Instead, based on the results of this survey, I am
genuinely concerned about the prospects of power
shortages as a consequence of the millennial date change.”
Bennett is worried because even 100 percent compliance by
all of these facilities — a goal not even deemed possible at
this late date — would not ensure the uninterrupted flow of
power to U.S. consumers beginning Jan. 1, 2000.
Power utilities, for instance, rely on foreign oil production
and transportation. But if the pumping, navigation and
propulsion systems of those foreign companies are not
compliant, U.S. utilities won’t have the oil they need to
generate electricity. This is known, in Y2K jargon, as “the
Bennett is hardly alone in his concern over the potential
for disaster among federal officials. His vice chairman, Sen.
Christopher Dodd, D-CT, had a story of his own during the
June hearing on the dangers to the nation’s power grid.
“When I was back in Connecticut last weekend, I noticed a
fair amount of advertising for New Year’s Eve 1999 in
which the question was asked: ‘Where do you want to go
for New Year’s? Make your plans today!’ While I don’t
know where anyone else wants to be, let me suggest three
places you don’t want to be: In an elevator, in an airplane
or in a hospital,” said Dodd.
But avoiding such choices will not save you.
“The fact is that with less than 18 months to go, I am very
concerned that we are going to face serious economic
dislocations from this problem,” Dodd continued.
Dodd, hardly considered an alarmist on the subject of the
millennium bug, sure sounded like one during the
hearings on the power grid.
“Quite honestly, he said, “I think we’re no longer at the
point of asking whether or not there will be any power
disruptions but we are now forced to ask how severe the
disruptions are going to be.”
And that isn’t even the worst news. The really bad news is
the government is preparing to step in when the nation’s
critical infrastructure fails.
“FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) will take
the lead in assuring that the federal government is doing
all that is necessary to be ready should serious disruptions
occur,” says John Koskinen, chairman of the president’s
And what does Fox Mulder’s favorite government agency
plan to do when your electricity and telephones don’t
“FEMA has performed no assessments of the Y2K
computer problem on the telecommunications and electric
power infrastructures,” says James Lee Witt, director of the
agency. “FEMA has no contingency plans specifically
designed to address network interoperability or embedded
chip failures in either the telecommunications or electric
Instead, it seems, FEMA’s role will be to coordinate a
population pacification program — better known as martial
law. At least that’s the best reading one can get on
government plans under formulation through Presidential
Decision Directive 63, an official secret of the Clinton
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: My biggest concern
with respect to Y2K is how the government will respond to
what is going to be, by any standard, a national emergency.