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1998-03-09 22:40:18


Auckland: A Catastrophe and Foretaste of Things to Come



What has happened at Auckland is a kind of early warning on the Year 2000. So says Ross Steart, a y2k expert.

* * * * * * * * *

The story so far Ö

To New Zealandís everlasting shame, we are now facing third world conditions which donít even occur in the third world. Auckland, New Zealandís largest city with around 1,000,000 highly educated souls, has a dying Central Business District. . . .

. . . for the last two weeks, the CBD and its inhabitants of office towers up to 30-storeys high have been without reliable or consistent mains power. Cafes and restaurants canít operate, small retailers have set up street stalls, thereís no lighting, no air-conditioning, no lifts, no power to pump water to flush toilets at the higher levels, no traffic lights, and so on, and the major corporates and their lunchtime-spending employees have all been relocated to homes, suburban offices or make-shift rental space. Thereíre only a few people left in the CBD.

As youíll appreciate, frantic efforts are being made by Mercury Energy (the CBDís sole power supplier) to fix the cables but early this week, the two cables closest to being reactivated failed under test and the company has now admitted it may be up to 10 weeks before big business can return to their offices. Amazing and unreal.

But now read on Ö

So whereís the relevance with Y2K?

In this case, possibly the single most important item of a communityís infrastructure has failed. If water supplies fail, if phones fail, if the police are absent, if the hospitals are full, in most of these cases (all of which are bad - donít get me wrong), citizens can cope.

But when the power supply ceases in a civilised and highly automated society, most things stop. Telephone exchanges donít operate, traffic lights donít work, the sewage pumping systems donít start, apartment dwellers arenít able to cook or sterilise food and water. Of course, there are such things as diesel generators and gas stoves, but these are makeshift and stop-gap - as is being proven right now in Auckland. Our own building has a generator parked outside, but it is only capable of running the security systems, the emergency lighting and not much more. No extra power for lifts, no air-conditioning, no power for lights, none for computer networks, our faxes and photocopiers are dead, even the car-park security gates stay in the positions they were.

This power failure has highlighted in the most graphic way possible what will happen if the Y2K bug DOES bring down a major utility sometime in the next two years. We are now beginning to realise that while an interruption of a few hours is tolerable, a long-term interruption to a critical service provider (power, hospitals, sewage, telecommunications) is catastrophic.

It has also highlighted how poorly prepared most companies are with respect to disaster recovery plans, especially as these relate to computer systems. . . .

It is a salutary lesson for us all - if the Millennium Bug is not stamped on and stamped on hard and now, then perhaps this power crisis is merely a foretaste of what is to comeÖ


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