Evaluating the Y2K Problem: It's Real but not Catastrophic

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The Senate committee investigating the nation's Y2K problem plans is issuing a report Tuesday, and its basic message is: Be prepared for some disruptions, but don't panic. The senators conclude that the United States will not suffer a meltdown of services, but there will be glitches. Some of the systems that could suffer minor disruptions include those involved in food and energy distribution, medical records and financial records. "The Senate report underscores the fact that the Y2K problem is serious," says TIME assistant managing editor Philip Elmer-DeWitt, "but it is not the end of the world."

The ubiquitous nature of computers these days "makes it hard to pin down all the bugs," says Elmer-DeWitt. Which is why it is probably good advice to prepare for the Y2K problem as one would for a good storm, in the words of Senator Christopher Dodd. For instance, says DeWitt, it may be useful to put away "some extra cans of food for New Year's Day 2000." But computers or not, trucks will still roll on the highways come January 1, and any disruptions in food distribution will be minor. "The real problem," says Elmer-Dewitt, "is panic -- fear of the problem rather than the problem itself."