Whitehorse Daily Star

Y2K Scare

The Year 2000 Problem, also known as the Millennium Bug or Y2K, lies in the dating method used in virtually every aspect of computing. When the year rolls over at midnight on Dec. 31, many fear that date-sensitive systems will cease functioning.

By Whitehorse Star on February 1, 1999

Ambulances will run, planes will fly, roads will be cleared and lights will stay on in the Yukon as the clock strikes midnight on Dec. 31.

These were the confident accounts given by witnesses to the standing committee on public accounts Friday during hearings assessing the territorial government’s Y2K preparedness.

Answering MLAs’ questions in the legislature were representatives from the Departments of Health and Social Services, and Community and Transportation Services and the Yukon Development Corp. Officials assured committee members that they’re actively addressing the 2000 problem by identifying and testing critical systems, producing regular status reports and establishing contingency plans.

Serving about 1,200 direct customers in the Mayo, Dawson City and Faro areas, the YDC has budgeted $700,000 and hired a full-time employee to assess, test, certify and replace critical equipment.

Testing and certification is 30-per-cent done and is expected to be completed by June.

While many electrical companies are grappling with interconnected grids, which can potentially create a domino effect, the YDC’s isolated power grid and the 1997 fire destruction of the Yukon Energy Corporation’s facilities have helped it become Y2K-compliant.

“Ironically, this is one of the few times where having an isolated electrical system is a benefit,” said YEC president Rob McWilliam.

“The Whitehorse Rapids fire in October 1997 and starting up direct management on January 1, 1998, have solved many of our year 2000 issues, as well as providing severe tests of our contingency plans.”

The control centre and other sub-systems can also be run manually, and critical areas will be staffed by essential personnel on sensitive dates.

The bulk of the YDC’s sales are to Yukon Electrical Co. Ltd., which is then responsible for distribution to about 12,000 clients who form 90 per cent of the Yukon’s energy consumers.

The YECL is responsible for assuring its distribution systems are Y2K-compliant. While the company was absent from the hearings, it did issue a press release today confirming it has been extensively testing its generating plants, facilities and equipment in all of its 13 service areas. It expects critical components to be Y2K-ready by June.

The committee also quizzed the Bruce McLennan, deputy minister of Health and Social Services, and Ron Browne, the chief executive officer of Whitehorse General Hospital, on their respective agencies’ progress.

The government department is evaluating its young offenders custody facility, three long-term care facilities, 14 community-based nursing stations and five group homes within Whitehorse and Yukon communities. It expects to be finished in April.

A biomedical maintenance company has also been contracted to review all equipment such as X-ray machines, incubators, defibrillators and ventilators for compliance.

Testing of the hospital’s laboratory and imaging equipment has proved a greater challenge because of programmed cycles.

“It is important to understand that there is some equipment that you can’t test and can’t roll ahead the date,” said Browne.

“It’s all in real-time and running all the time, and so we can’t roll the dates up to January 1, 2000 and see... It has programmed cycles in it for maintenance, and if we rolled it up to 2000 now to try it out, it would really scramble the maintenance cycles.

“So yes, it is just the practical reality that we can’t physically program everything to test that date before it happens, and we do have to rely on compliancy statements from manufacturers and count on that being reliable.”

However, Browne expressed a high confidence in supplier compliance statements.

The hospital plans to fill its fuel storage tanks supplying its heating and incineration systems, and stockpile medical and food supplies. Its building systems can be operated manually, and it has a back-up diesel generator.

One critical outstanding issue is a reliable water supply, as the hospital depends on two lines from the city’s system.

“It’s a simple fact that if their pumps aren’t operating, then neither of those supply lines to our hospital would be working and we don’t have a back-up water supply,” said Browne. “I assume a hospital can’t operate without water.”

Despite not having a back-up plan, the CEO thought water would likely be trucked in until the pumps were operational.

He expects the hospital to be fully compliant by September, and added that the new facilities had been constructed with Y2K in mind.

Community and Transportation Services’ status report was also quite optimistic. Its main worry lays with hard-to-test embedded chips in its heavy equipment and large machinery, thus making it also reliant on manufacturer and distributor compliance confirmations.

While deputy minister John Cormie saw the problem’s immediacy as a motivator in testing and emergency planning, he also warned that the historic event’s uncertainty has left his department highly-dependent on contingency plans.

“Even with my level of confidence, I do not believe it is realistic to assume that everything will work the way you think it will, so we are putting a lot of efforts into our contingency plan,” said Cormie.

Established services in 22 areas will ensure water, sewer and transportation services to Yukon communities.

Checks are being done on ambulances and large snow removal equipment, and most of the Whitehorse airport systems are run manually.

Many speakers stressed that the legislative assembly’s key role is in public communications and fostering confidence levels.

Said McWilliam: “I think that in terms of what this committee or the legislature could do would be to ensure that public information and the public debate around the millennium bug was done in a reasonable fashion to ensure that we don’t get the type of hysteria that is developing in other areas.”

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