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1997-11-03 22:56:06


A Very High-Risk Situation: Kappelman


If public utilities are threatened by noncompliant chips, then nobody is safe. Prof. Leon Kappelman of the University of North Texas commented on the lack of evidence of industry programs to discover and replace embedded chips. It was posted on Peter de Jager's forum on November 3.

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I was recently on a y2k conference panel with 3 utility trade group representatives -- They were far more interested in discussing deregulation than y2k (a topic about which they had very, very little real information). A utility telling the public that is setting up a program office to coordinate embedded system testing does not mean that it has started any testing. A trade group telling us that they are sure that all will be well does not mean that it will be well. The NRC saying that there are problems but that crews are well trained does not mean that human errors will not happen.

People do have specifics about significant embedded-system-related risks. Dave Hall (an engineer and US Air Force officer) has provided some of this at the SIM Working Group's Online Conference ( I am in regular contact with people who are testing these facilities. They work for some of the largest contractors of factories, plants, etc. on the planet. They are not permitted to violate confidentiality agreements with their clients. Some of them share information with me because over the year I have demonstrated my ability to keep confidential and private information anonymous, confidential, and private. This is why the Grocery Manufacturers of America, the Society for Information Management, the Information Technology Association of America, and numerous other public and private enterprises and individuals choose to share such information with me on a regular basis. Some of this information is related to y2k issues and some is not.

As for the embedded-systems-at-risk information: If only one person were sharing such findings with me I would be very cautious about repeating it. But when 5 or 6 independent and credible parties, from various parts of the planet, and from various industries, are sharing such information, well, that's another matter. I consider it my duty to pass along this information in the best form I can without violating the trust people have placed in me. Add to this the very public statements of the NRC and FDA concerning the probability of embedded systems risks being real and yet unknown, the known y2k problems with electrical power transmission, the well-known time-related problems with GPS equipment, etc., and I believe it would be unethical and negligent for me not to say publicly that these risks should be dealt with.

And until the responsible parties, either through regulatory agencies or otherwise, make the facts of their testing programs known to the public, then the public should be in the face of those utilities, manufacturers, regulators, politicians, financial analysts, and anybody else that can do something about what appears to me to be a very high-risk situation.

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