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1998-01-12 13:16:43


Theatened Systems and Silent Public Utilities in Minnesota



This posting warns of "the magnitude of the Y2k problem and a disaster of historical proportions will befall some communities." It provides a long list of threatened systems. It appears on the Web site of the Minnesota Software Association.

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The Daily Oklahoman, 10/29/1997, covered a press conference involving two State Representatives, where they revealed the findings of a survey of power utilities. The survey found one-third of all utility companies had not started to correct the Year 2000 ("Y2k") electronics problem, and "another third were severely behind." These legislators want Oklahoma to be the first State with Y2k compliant infrastructures.

Two surveys conducted in early 1997 among public utility companies found between 32% and 45% had not yet begun a Year 2000 analysis and repair program and one survey found of those working on the Y2k problem, 37% were behind schedule.

Four power utilities discovered that embedded electronic systems, critical or significant for producing power, failed when they simulated the Year 2000. . . .

The Gartner Group predicts that more than 50 million embedded system devices will exhibit year 2000 date anomalies. The problem is determining which 50 million devices out of an estimated 25 billion devices that will be in existence by the year 2000 and which of these devices are critical.

The 10/2/1997 issue of ComputerWeekly News reported on the magnitude of the problem. Anthony Parish, director-general of the federation of Electronic Industries said: "For every 1,000 embedded chips you look at, you'll find two or three that need correction. But those two or three are the ones that can close a blast furnace at the cost of 1m a day or stop power distribution. The problem is finding those two or three that are not compliant." One petrochemical firm tested 150,000 embedded chips and found 100 not compliant. . . .

The extent of embedded systems is vast -- below are examples of embedded systems, both small and large, many of which might affect power utilities. Not all of them are critical for generating power. Not all of them are known yet to be significantly impacted by Y2k problems. Some are definite problems at some utilities. . . .

The embedded systems problem is one that affects almost everyone, but most heavily those in the infrastructure and manufacturing arena. Yet, many act as if they have until 1/1/2000 to get things going. However, with embedded electronic (hardware) chips, it is a race to get your manufacturing rework job order into a manufacturer before thousands or millions of competing orders get in front of yours. There are not that many job shops out there to satisfy everyone by 1/1/2000.

The current months are critical for the utilities to conduct and finish their discovery phase of exactly what equipment do they need to fix, upgrade, or replace. To reinforce this urgency, at

the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) report on their Y2k Embedded Systems workshop held on September 9/10, 1997, which was attended by 165 people representing over 50 domestic utilities. The EPRI writes that among the utility representatives at the workshop, it was agreed that "time is critical given that the first identified failure date for some systems is 1/1/99." . . .

No utility can say they are on schedule to be Y2k compliant if they have not completed the following phases. Until they are past these hurdles, the phase-completion times are almost completely out of their hands:

The discovery phase of what equipment needs to be replaced or new parts ordered, orders approved, vendors found that can deliver the items in the time window desired, orders placed, and firm ship dates are secured. Assuming the items arrive on time, the items must be tested in conjunction with whatever existing or new equipment they are needed to be tested with. Because Y2k compliancy can be done a multitude of ways, it can not be 100% assured prior to testing that everything will work in sync. This also assumes that everything is built to spec, and that the specs are correct. If the testing reveals that nothing needs to be returned for modifications or rejected and replaced with something else, then the remaining tasks of installing all the received equipment in the field can perhaps be safely scheduled and forecasted. Even this assumes that the original discovery phase did not miss anything, that there is no loss of essential employees (to better paying competitors, etc.), and that weather and natural disasters do not slow down schedules.

Furthermore, no utility can say they are on schedule to be Y2k compliant if they rely upon fossil fuel delivered by rail to their power generation plants unless the railroads that service them from the source of the coal to their plants are finished with their Y2k upgrading. I refer readers to the recent shipping disasters taking place among customers of Union Pacific Railroad because of the numerous computer problems following their merged-buyout of the Santa Fe Railroad.

As for Nuclear-powered utilities, there are numerous issues including the need to meet the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Y2k guidelines, which are covered in depth by Rick Cowles at his web site. . . .

There are 126 municipal electric and 19 municipal gas utilities in Minnesota. Living in the Twin Cities, I've tried to find out how NSP and Minnegasco are doing with their Y2k embedded systems problem. Over a month has passed and NSP and Minnegasco have not replied to my inquiry about the Year 2000 problem. I wrote all the corporate officers, who were named in a local Public Library, to no avail. I searched NSP's web site at but found nothing dealing with the Y2k software or embedded systems problem. . . .

Most of you have probably never felt the need to "go political" in the past. But the Y2k problem, face it, is a technician-created problem, and consequently technicians have to communicate this problem to the rest of society. You can bet without such communication, the non-technicians who manage everything will not understand the magnitude of the Y2k problem and a disaster of historical proportions will befall some communities. . . .

It is depressing to visit every officially related web site located in Minnesota and see nothing about the Y2k embedded systems threat to core infrastructures and manufacturing facilities. Nothing at NSP. Nothing at the State Government Y2k web page. Nothing at the Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association web site. Nothing at the Minnesota League of Cities. Nothing at the Hennepin and Ramsey County Government web sites. Nothing at the city of Minneapolis and St. Paul Government web sites. Nothing at the Minnesota Counties Association web site.


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