Y2K (4/98, 5/98 Bits & Bytes)

By Fred Henning

Have you seen this designation? It stands for Year 2000. Everyone has been reading about the problems, real, imaginary and possible as a result of computer systems and how they manage dates starting with the year 2000 and beyond. Many individuals think the problem is simplistic. Some computer systems have only 2 digits to represent the year and it will need to be changed to 4 digits. Do all computer systems need a 4 digit year? The grocery store cash register receipt doesn't need to have a 4 digit date. You would know if the meat was 100 years old! This is the simple view but it really isn't the problem.

To understand the actual complexity of the problem, we need to understand that the WORLD has gone through calendar problems before – more than once – and it had nothing to do with computers!

A little history……

Even though there was a very accurate calendar, with leap years, set up by Ptolemies in Egypt about 300 B.C. it had not been used by the Romans or many others. In 46 B.C. Julius Caesar and the Astronomer Sosigenes devised the Julian Calendar so that the Roman Armies could do their thing on the correct day and collect taxes when the harvest was ready. 45 B.C. was a year with 445 days so that the seasons were where the gods expected them to be, where the traditional feast days were. Because leap year was not being used correctly, Augustus Caesar, who followed Julius, had to make a correction. Because July had been named after Julius, he named a month after himself, (August). Since July had 31 days he decided August should have 31 days and that’s why the calendar is not 30, 31, 30, etc. days per month. February, which was to be the month that the leap day would be added to, had to have another day taken from it. Even though these men thought the Solar year was 365 ¼ day long it is actually about 11 minutes shy of that. Therefore there is an error of about 1 day every 128 years. Amazing as it may seem the Julian Calendar is actually used by some computer systems!

In 326 A.D. the Council of Nicea set the date of Easter as the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox (the first day of spring). By the 16th century the date for Easter was off because the Vernal Equinox was March 11 not March 21. Pope Gregory the XIII put in place the necessary corrections to the leap year calculations to keep Easter where it belonged. This created a calendar that is only off by an average of 26 seconds per year. He also needed to get the first day of spring back where it belonged so in 1582 October the 4th was followed by October the 24th. The Catholic countries changed their calendars but the Protestant and Orthodox did not. England and the American colonies accepted the change in 1752 and lost 11 days. The Orthodox Church still follows the Julian calendar.

This Leap Year calculation, which keeps the calendar year in synch with the solar cycle is critical to one of the major year 2000 concerns.

Leap year in the year 2000…

We all believe that every 4th year is a leap year because that is what we were taught in school.

Because programmers probably didn’t do their homework when developing the clock/calendar program for computer operating systems or application programs there may be grave consequences. The actual RULE is: If the number of a year can be divided by 4 without a remainder then it is a leap year but in 1582 Pope Gregory added a century year is not a leap year unless it can be divided by 400 without a remainder. 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not leap years but 2000 will be a leap year. The question is: What was the system programmed to do on the day after February 28th in the year 2000?

Do you want to be on an airplane crossing the International Date Line from 12/31/99 to 1/1/2000 or on February 28, 2000?

The problem with 2 digit vs. 4 digit date fields is not the need for room on the screen to display, but whether a program will understand that 2000 is the next year! Will programs actually continue to work or will they freeze trying to perform an impossible calculation.

A Y2K group has been established to evaluate the problem and next time there will be more on what is being done to evaluate not only the AlexIS, TXEN, etc. computer systems but bio-medical equipment, Radiology and Lab systems, mechanical systems and other equipment.

The Y2K problem continues to receive a great deal of press, disasters are always good for newspaper circulation. If it weren't for the Y2K computer problem, the 'dooms day' predictions and cults, that have traditionally been active at the turn of each century, would be on the front page. Ironically one of the earliest efforts to identify and fix the potential Y2K problems was initiated by the Social Security Administration in 1989. They plan on having all changes in place and tested by June of this year. Unfortunately other federal agencies and companies weren't as forward thinking.

You may have been reading about the theoretical, potential problems, but the fact is, there have already been significant ones. An example is the London Times, in an article dated May 3, 1998 entitled "Hospital Postpones Operations", reported that the hospital Materials Management System said that items needed for surgery were not available, but there were plenty in stock. The hospital computer system thought the items in stock could not be used because they had an expiration date of 2001. The year 2001 was translated to the year 1901, which was interpreted as outdated. Within a hospital there are numerous systems and devices that need to be considered, such as, all computers, the elevators, fire alarm or telephone systems, applications, etc.

As we continue on our travels toward the Year 2000, its importance to our Alexian Community becomes more apparent. Michael Schwartz, our CEO, spoke to Management Council recently regarding the Y2K Project. There was an interdisciplinary kickoff meeting in May to introduce all of the players to the Superior Consulting team that will be helping ABI entities with the project. Michael Schwartz is the Executive Sponsor for the project and Bob Erndt is the Project Officer. The team will be broken down into four disiplines, led by the following people: John Condon, Information Resources; Tom Johnson, Bio-Medical/Radiology; Gene Wells, Facilities; and Gina Besenhofer and Robin Gussis, Trading Partners. All departments and entities within ABI will be physically surveyed in June to inventory all devices and systems that might be affected by Y2K.

Y2k Project Goals and Objectives



Phase I – Calculate Risk and Cost to Resolve Year 2000 Non-Compliance Devices and Systems

(September 1)



  1. Compile a comprehensive inventory of potential devices and systems at risk within all Alexian Brother’s entities
  2. Issue compliance surveys to hardware/software vendors
  3. Assess survey response, perform device/system risk analysis for Alexian Brother entity based on mission critical priorities
  4. Develop repair/replace/retirement recommendations that will minimize risk.
  5. Identify budgeting and staffing requirements and develop specific repair/replace/retirement project plans and timelines to bring systems and devices into compliance.

Phase II – Repair/Replace/Retire Devices and Systems to Ensure Compliance

(Beginning 3rd quarter of 1998 and continuing throughout 1999)

  1. Begin resolution repair/replacement/retirement of triaged device and systems based on priorities assigned
  2. Create and execute tests for each device and application to ensure compliance
  3. Receive sign-off from functional area
  4. Document