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Preparations for Naught As Y2K Bug Bypasses MIT

By Mike Hall

Time to return your stockpiled toilet paper.

The much-anticipated Y2K computer bug failed to cause malfunctions in any major system at MIT and worldwide, drawing praise for the technical staffs that worked to prevent millennial disaster. The bug, resulting from computers’ interpreting two-digit year numbers as “1900” instead of “2000,” was cured in nearly all computer systems prior to New Year’s Eve 1999, leading to a peaceful transition into the year 2000.

MIT’s Y2K transition team

MIT affiliates staying on campus during the transition were protected by the Y2K transition team, operated by MIT’s Business Continuity Management Team. The Y2KTT coordinated all MIT technical and emergency response units between December 31 and January 4. Work of the Y2KTT followed two years of preparation by MIT’s Y2K Project, which handled the bulk of MIT’s technical problems.

Precautionary measures at MIT included emergency power generators, spare bedding, food and water stockpiles, and protection by the MIT Campus Police.

Gerald I. Isaacson, Y2KTT member, said the transition weekend was “quiet because of all the work that had been done prior to [the transition].”

“Nothing unexpected happened over the weekend, but [MIT] did have a major accomplishment as a result of the project” Isaacson stated. The “green cards” inside laboratories listing emergency numbers were updated as a precaution for Y2K problems.

Although the team had access to emergency funding from MIT, Isaacson said that spending was kept under the $15,000 budget.

Worldwide worries wither

Preparations for Y2K across the globe ensured a peaceful night of celebration worldwide. While some cities toned down celebrations due to millennial fears, every celebration across the world was conducted without technical or security failure.

Technical preparations were the highest priority for hundreds of firms worldwide. John Koskinen, President Clinton’s top Y2K advisor, estimated total Y2K international preparedness expenditures at over $100 billion. Utility providers, local and national governments, and companies such as Microsoft, Yahoo! and IBM maintained “war rooms” throughout the millennial transition.

The most significant Y2K-related glitch occurred in a nuclear weapons plant at the Oak Ridge National Labratory in Tennessee. Department of Energy CIO John Gilligan stated in a press release that the glitch -- a faulty data transfer between Oak Ridge and DOE headquarters -- did not affect the actual nuclear system.

Security issues were also a primary concern for municipal and national government leaders. ABC News stated on December 31 that the United States was at its highest level of military preparedness since World War II. City governments from New York to Naples took additional steps to counteract possible terrorist attacks at the transition, including blocking vehicles from city streets and sealing manholes and sewer drains. Seattle cancelled its New Year’s Eve celebration out of fears stemming from the arrest of potential terrorists entering America near the city days before the new year.

Two cities reported glitches with millennial celebrations. In Paris, a countdown timer on the Eiffel Tower short-circuited five hours before midnight. In Pittsburgh, a New Year’s Day fireworks show was marred when over twenty fireworks on a downtown bridge were fired into a truss, sparking on the bridge’s road and sidewalk. Neither glitch, however, was attributed to Y2K failures.