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1998-02-05 10:27:23


Kappelman to Clinton: Global Emergency



Prof. Leon Kappelman is Co-Chair, Society for Information Management (SIM) Year 2000 Working Group. He is also Associate Professor, Business Computer Information Systems, University of North Texas. He has published an open letter to President Clinton. He minces no words: we are facing a global emergency.

* * * * * * *

Time is of the essence so I will be brief. I humbly ask you to please declare a national and global state of emergency because of the year-2000 (or century-date computer-processing) problem. I base this request not on some precognition about the future but on empirical evidence of both the enormous risks posed by this problem and on the minuscule probability that we will be able to effectively mitigate all of these risks in the time remaining.

Would you declare a state of emergency if you were informed today that millions of meteors, ranging in size from the diameter of a baseball to that of the moon, were due to strike Earth on January 1, 2000? Metaphorically that is the situation we face. And just as people who examine the heavens without the benefit of telescopes might deny the existence of such meteors, this would not reduce the risks posed by them.

Whether we like it or not, the world is now in such a state of emergency Regrettably we are not behaving as such and thus precious time is wasting. Fighting the century-date computer-processing problem is much like a war effort. But not only do we have the problem itself to defeat, but also the enemies of limited time as well as other resources, compounded by the near invisibility of the problem to the naked eye The near 100% increase in total federal year-2000-project cost estimates over that past few months is evidence of how little of this problem can be seen at first glance. Your leadership is intensely needed Mr. President.

Take the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for example: Although the NRC publicly acknowledges century-date-related computer-processing risks that are profoundly threatening to human lives and the environment, they refuse to require or take any action. Instead they rely on the unsubstantiated claims of parties who apparently have not actually tested any of these systems either kind of like looking for meteors with the aid of a bottomless paper cup and on some peculiar and irrational hope that no human errors could possibly occur if embedded-microprocessor and/or computer-based process-control systems do fail. . . .

The time for denial is long past It is time for triage directed at a clear and urgent focus on the most life-threatening and mission-critical systems. Real tests of these systems are needed, not wishful thinking Please ask to see proof not just promises that all is well. Priorities must be set in order to focus limited resources of time and skills on repairing those systems that can cause the most damage, disruption, or death.

Sacrifices will be necessary This will require some tough decisions by political, government, business, and other leaders. All of the year-2000-problem meteors cannot be stopped in time, thus we must focus our efforts on those that pose the greatest risks. A state of emergency declared by you is critically needed. As well as some facilitation of information sharing among countries, industries, and economic sectors. Time is wasting! Please Mr. President, send the world a wake up call before it's too late.


Leon A. Kappelman, Ph.D.


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