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1997-11-03 18:03:12


Factors That Make a Community Vulnerable


Martyn Emery, of Corporation 2000, does research on both the U.S. and U.K. In a recent newsletter published on October 31 by the Information Technology Association of America, whch he sent to me, his methodology was described in considerable detail. It described his assessment of a British city with 5,000 employees.

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He found the local electric company off to a late start, with limited understanding of the issue at the board of directors level; the power generation company in even worse shape; the gas company disorganized and inarticulate on the issue with no "drill down" to potentially critical embedded systems issues; the borough council trying to juggle Y2K as it struggles to absorb its recently devolved responsibility for social services and education; and a petroleum refinery with little employee awareness of the Year 2000 issue. Not all infrastructure providers scored poorly; on the contrary, the telecommunications and nuclear power firms appear to have active and productive Year 2000 programs. Still, the laggards dragged the region's overall rating down to 18 of 40 percent.

Emery also takes points off the board for what he calls the "just in time" nature of the economy. Here he is referring to the dependence of a local economy on imports to sustain normal life. Emery believes the infrastructure of this area would break down within 24 hours of supply interruptions. While the bank has taken steps to protect itself from temporary shortages, even those steps raise interesting questions. For instance, what responsibility (if any) will the bank have to others if its building is lit like a beacon in an otherwise dark cityscape? If the bank's uninterruptible power supply will last for days, what does that mean to the local hospital, with energy reserves good for a few hours? . . .

One of the few factors on which this region scores well could be a wild card. Emery says localities north of the frost line will fare relatively worse in the Year 2000, more prone to climate-driven calamities. He points out that freezing conditions could burst gas and water pipes, damage which could happen within two hours of a power outage. By luck of the geographic draw, this particular region enjoys relatively temperate weather in January, warming up its Y2K rating.

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