What Y2K Managers Fear

Having fixed and tested their systems, corporate Y2K managers are confident they will successfully process the millennium date change. What they're worried about are the things they can't control: acts of nature, acts of God and the world's fickle financial markets.

"The only thing that I'm really worried about is the weather," says Lyn McDermid, chief information officer of Virginia Power in Richmond. "If we have a major ice storm or snow-storm, it's not that our systems won't work, but that we could have outages blamed on Y2K."

To prepare for that possibility, Virginia Power has hotel rooms booked, all-terrain vehicles on standby and extra cellular telephones ordered. "We have learned over the years that like good Boy Scouts, we need to be prepared," McDermid says.

Weather is also a worry for United Airlines, which has its main data centre in Chicago. "We have weather contingencies in place. We have people with laptops at home. We have a facility with bedrooms where our folks can [bunk down]," says Deanna Baker, director of the Y2K project for the IT department at United Airlines.

With 170 chemical plants around the world, DuPont's exposure to potential weather problems is as great as can be.

"Our systems are remediated. The thing that you cannot account for is what's going to happen in the outside world," says Cinda Hallman, senior vice president and Y2K project leader. "My biggest concern is that there will be some major outage of electricity somewhere. Another thing that worries me is the weather. We could have in certain parts of the world a hurricane or earthquake that could cause us problems."

DuPont ran a Y2K test at a plant in Taiwan after the recent earthquake there.

"They had 80% of the electricity go out, and one of our transformers went out [because of the earthquake]," Hallman says. "We were able to test the systems in one of our plants . . . and I'm happy to report that everything worked well."

Officials at First Union Bank in Charlotte, N.C., are less worried about Mother Nature than they are about the bull market. "One of the things we cannot control is the market's behavior," says Vice President Rich Alden, the bank's Y2K manager. "If everyone wants to buy or sell, there would be an impact. We could see a slowdown not because of the Y2K bug, but because of the volume of trades." First Union is a full-service bank that offers personal brokerage services as well as corporate and municipal trading.

Alden says bank employees are trying to tell customers what to expect over New Year's weekend. Tellers are instructed to inform customers about when deposits made on or near New Year's Eve will be posted, a process that usually takes a few days. The bank's goal is to prevent customers from interpreting normal delays as Y2K problems. "We're trying to educate customers and employees about our normal processes," he says.