Most States Ready to Confront Millennium Bug

With the year 2000 just days away, most states are reporting 90 percent or more of their mission-critical computer systems are Y2K-compliant.

Thirteen of the 50 states -- Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, and West Virginia -- say that their mission-critical computer systems are 100 percent prepared for 2000, according to the National Association of State Information Resource Executives (NASIRE).

The fear is that older computers will mistake the year 2000 for 1900 and either cease functioning or operate erratically.

Only one state, Alabama, appears to be playing a game of cyber-chicken with Y2K and whatever computer woes come with it. On Dec. 12, Alabama reported just 57 percent of its mission-critical systems were ready for the so-called Millennium Bug.

Wyoming's 85 percent is the next lowest rate, according to NASIRE.

"Alabama did get a late start, but they've come a long way in a short amount of time," says Jeannie Layson, with the state's Y2K coordination and planning center. "We feel like we're in good shape."

Asked what caused Alabama to fall so far behind, Layson said "we have a new governor and, you know, just a change of administration. He (Gov. Don Siegelman) came in January, and we had to start from scratch"

Just to be on the safe side, Alabama emergency management officials have distributed a brochure with Millennium Bug preparedness recommendations and are suggesting that citizens stockpile food and other supplies in case Y2K problems result in shortages -- advice other states have given.

"We don't anticipate any major problems, but we're going to be prepared just in case," Alabama Emergency Management Agency spokesman Scott Adcock told the Associated Press.

Thirty-three states report 90 percent or more of their Y2K work on mission-critical computers has been completed. Eleven of those states -- California, Florida, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and Washington -- claim to be 99 percent of the way home.

Jody Larson, New Mexico's Y2K expert, has a simple definition for "mission-critical" systems. "If they failed, it would severely impact areas like public safety, health and welfare and critical financial transactions," Larson says.

States claiming their systems are 98 percent Y2K-proof are Connecticut, Missouri, Ohio, South Carolina and Tennessee.

In the 97-percent realm are Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland and Nevada, while Oklahoma has reached 96 percent.

The remaining eight states that have done anywhere from 90 percent to 95 percent of their preparations are Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, Utah and Wisconsin.

Those states are trailed by New Mexico at 87 percent, and Wyoming, 85 percent.

"The normal reason that information technology projects finish late is that they start late," says Jody Larson, with New Mexico's Y2K office. "And one of the reasons that they start late is lack of resources."

"We have been experiencing difficulties getting appropriate pay for our IT (information technology) people, and that always hurts," Larson says. And "we had much higher than average vacancy rates and turnover" among information technology contractors, she adds.

One state, Oregon, doesn't communicate with NASIRE at all, having dropped out of the organization over a disagreement about how NASIRE records Y2K data. Oregon claims that 78 computer systems essential to the operation of state government are all ready for 2000.

Two key Oregon agencies still unprepared for the Millennium Bug are the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Environmental Quality, the Portland Oregonian reports.

In addition to the welfare of their citizens, states have a prodigious amount of money riding on whether their computers function properly on Jan. 1, 2000.

All told, 43 states are paying a collective tab of $3.3 billion to deal with Y2K-related matters. Not included are Arkansas, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin, which haven't disclosed to NASIRE what their Y2K budgets are.

The state spending the most to keep its fiscal operations and other computer systems humming smoothly is Georgia, which is shelling out $312 million, according to NASIRE.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is South Dakota, which is paying $5 million.

Along with tweaking computer software and hardware, states are preoccupied with other Y2K concerns:

  • New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman has tripled state police patrols on New Year's Eve, in case the Garden State experiences computer problems.
  • Florida officials are already handling Y2K-related scams, like one involving hand-held detectors that supposedly determine if household appliances need Year 2000 upgrading.
  • Authorities in Colorado will spend New Year's Eve in an underground bunker in Golden, where they will monitor important communications and energy systems.
  • At least 82 Mississippi counties plan to monitor conditions throughout New Year's Eve and report their findings to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

Ultimately, local governments may be the big Y2K wild card, says Mike Sponhour with South Carolina's Budget and Control Board.

"There's just so many, there's no real way to survey them," Sponhour told The State newspaper, in Columbia, S.C.