Relief as Y2K Bug Fails to Spoil 2000 Celebrations Worldwide

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

( - Enjoying celebrations the scale of which have never been seen before, the world sailed into the year 2000 with next to none of the expected disruption from the "millennium bug" occurring, although experts warned that problems could still emerge.

Along with the notorious Y2K bug, the other unwanted gatecrasher - terrorism - stayed away from the global party, according to reports.

From Micronesia to the West Coast of the United States, the New Year arrived with very few computer-related glitches being reported. Even Russia, whose dated infrastructure and early half-hearted approach to the problem placed it near the top of the high-risk list, passed midnight without disruption.

No aircraft fell from the sky, no nuclear missiles were accidentally unleashed, and no widespread utility collapse appears to have occurred.

The Washington-based International Y2K Cooperation Center reported early Saturday that 89 of the 170 countries reporting their Y2K status had confirmed that 11 key sectors were working normally.

"The reports we've received so far are very encouraging, but we will continue to be vigilant throughout the next several days," the Center's director, Bruce McConnell, said in a statement.

He predicted, "glitches, headaches, hiccups" in billing and accounting systems could cause inconvenience next week.

The Y2K problem refers to the inability of older computer programs to interpret the two-digit date "00" as 2000, rather than 1900.

The international community spent between $3 and $6 billion on preventive measures; no one knows what may have happened had the preparations not been made, although accusations of "over-hype" have already, inevitably, been made.

"One of the questions you've begun to see surface is: 'Well, has this all been hype?'" said President Clinton's Y2K coordinator, John Koskinen. The answer, he said, was no.

Preparing for the bug was "the biggest management challenge the world has had in 50 years," Koskinen continued. "I think that we should not underestimate the nature of the problem that was originally there."

Despite the good news, computer experts have warned that more than half of the potential damage may take place only once systems are booted up after the holidays. It is also possible that many problems occurred undetected on January 1, and will only become apparent in months to come.

Aircraft safety over the year change was one of areas that caused the most worry - and consequently the sector received arguably the most attention. But international aviation authorities reported that normal services were operating world-wide.

Many airlines cut back flights over midnight, some grounding their entire fleets as a precautionary measure. British Airways planned to have just 15 aircraft flying at midnight, while airlines in Thailand, Egypt and Denmark shut down.

Among the most disturbing early problems, the radiation-monitoring systems of at least three of Japan's 51 nuclear power plants suffered disruption, although officials insisted radiation levels had not exceeded the normal levels as a result.

Even more alarming was an announcement by the U.S. military that it had detected the launch of three Russian missiles, but they turned out to be Scuds fired during the ongoing battle for the Chechen capital, Grozny. Y2K was not to blame.

Elsewhere it was surprisingly quiet, and what problems occurred were low-key. Fiji reported intermittent difficulties with mobile phones which could have been Y2K-related. Telephone and communications systems experienced minor problems in Italy, the European country considered least prepared for Y2K.

Minor glitches were reported in the French banking system, and in Australia, machines validating bus tickets failed. A South Korean court sent out summonses to 170 people to appear in court on January 4, 1900.

The website of the U.S. Naval Observatory reported the date as 19100. Several U.S. power companies said they had to manually reset clocks which lost track of the correct date at midnight GMT (7 PM EST). Operations continued without hitch.

The British government's Y2K monitoring unit reported no bug-related problems in the power, gas, telecommunications, nuclear, aviation or banking sectors. British diplomatic missions on four continents reported no serious mishaps.

The first stock exchanges to open in the New Year were two in Bangladesh. No early problems were reported. The first U.S. financial trading of 2000 will begin Sunday night in Chicago.

Stockpiling was reported in many countries across the globe, although in some cases retailers said demand was no higher than expected ahead of a holiday weekend.