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Is The World Ready For Y2K?

The CBS Evening News is looking ahead to the 21st century. Some predict the next century will begin with a bang from the Y2K bug, causing a cascade of computer crashes and chaos.

White House officials unveiled Monday a $40 million Y2K problem operations center, just in case. Correspondent Steve Kroft reports on the countdown to 2000.

If you ask the question, where will the Y2K computer bug do serious damage, the answer is: No one really knows. But everyone agrees on one thing: All is not Y2K-ready in the world.

"There's the unknown, and there are regions that are simply well behind and apparently not giving it enough attention," says John Pasqua, AT&T's vice president for Y2K.

Pasqua believes the $650 million spent by the telecommunications giant means the phones will work at home. He's not so sure about some of the rest of the world.

"There's still some reluctance on the part of some of these international countries to share their status information with the rest of the world, and that's why we're putting them in the high-risk category," says Pasqua.

Places people are worried about are:

  • Oil-producing Indonesia, where phones failing or the electricity going out would mean energy shortages.
  • Russia, where Y2K problems at airports could mean a slowdown in air traffic in Europe for weeks.
  • Asia, where problems in manufacturing electronic parts and automotive components could ripple through the U.S. economy.
"There's so many links in our global supply chains that all it takes is a few weak links to cause problems," says Ed Yardeni, chief economist at Deutsche Bank.

For several years now, Yardeni has been predicting that Y2K failures equal a 70 percent chance of a worldwide recession.

"As an economist I am not predicting doomsday. I am not predicting anything that we need to particularly panic about. What I am predicting is a recession," he says.

"I just think it's naively optimistic to believe that all these systems are going to function just fine, and there's going to be no problems," he adds.

The assumption is that wealthy countries like the United States or Great Britain are ready.

But that's only an assumption. No one really knows what countries have fixed which problems. The little information available is all self-reported, which means it's almost always reassuring and positive. And no one is checking its reliability.

"We have found from our work that there will be failures at every economic level, in every region of the world," says Jacquelyn Williams-Bridgers, inspector general at the U.S. State Department.

Williams-Bridgers says more than 8countries are at moderate to high risk of having Y2K problems in telecommunications, power generation and transportation.

"Now there may not be disastrous events but there will be pockets of failures," she adds.

At the World Bank-funded International Y2K Cooperation Center in Washington, director Bruce McConnell worries about networks of computers that may fail gradually, not all at once.

"My assessment is that not very much will happen on the first of January or the second of January. It will be somewhat of a nonevent, and that after that we will start to see failures in business systems, which will come about over days and weeks," says McConnell.

When asked, "You don't really know how this is going to turn out," McConnell answers "Absolutely not."

And back at AT&T, they know Y2K won't be a one-night stand. SWAT teams will be on call from Dec. 31 on into the first weeks of January.

"With Y2K, it's one of those unique opportunities where you're not done until you run out of time," Pasqua says.

With billions already spent on the computer bug, U.S. companies admit this New Year's Eve, they'll be waiting to see what in the world will go wrong and where.

©1999, CBS Worldwide Inc., All Rights Reserved

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