Surviving Y2K Preparation Took the Bite Out of the Bug

Surviving Y2K

As the clock ticked down on December 31, 1999, the world could not help but watch with at least a little trepidation. But when the ball dropped in Times Square and the new year officially arrived, nothing happened except a huge celebration. Thankfully, the beast that was Y2K barely made itself heard. No cities went dark, few computers expired in a frenzy of confusion, the water systems pumped along smoothly. And few, if any, co-ops or condos reported problems with their systems. All was well. So why, given all the pre-event concerns, did everything go so smoothly?

"I'm not sure what the cause (of the quiet) was," says Bob Mackoul, president of Mackoul and Associates, an insurance brokerage firm in Lynbrook, NY. "Either everyone was concerned enough to follow through and make sure all their ducks were in a row or it was divine intervention."

It certainly seemed that some sort of intervention would be necessary when word of potential Y2K catastrophes surfaced several years ago. The problem originated in the 1950s when computer programmers, concerned with taking up valuable memory space, shortened year designations from four to two digits (e.g., using "57" to signify 1957). As the year 2000 drew near, programmers realized that computers might not be able to recognize the difference between 1900 and 2000. It was a horrifying thought for a society whose every technology - from air travel to stoves to medical equipment - is predicated on the microchip.

Y2K Preparations

Board members and management companies for co-ops and condos across New York City made Y2K preparedness a priority in the months leading up to the New Year, getting ready for any potential difficulties months, even years, in advance.

Aptek Management Company in Manhattan was one such firm that made sure its clients were ready, providing a thorough checklist of what to watch for, what to check on, and what to have verified. The list urged boards to check building and administrative systems and to contact outside vendors for assurance of their Y2K compliance.

"The first step was to identify anything that could be Y2K-sensitive," says David Khazzam, vice president of management at Aptek. "The second step was to make sure everything was Y2K-compliant." Vendors, such as elevator and heating and cooling system manufacturers were contacted to verify their products' Y2K compliance. In many instances, letters of verification were obtained, indemnifying boards from fault in case any glitches did occur.

Even after all precautions were taken within a co-op or condo's walls, there was still concern about what might happen elsewhere. "We actually took the added precaution of shutting down all elevators [in our buildings] on New Year's Eve and for a few minutes after midnight just in case there was a brown-out," Khazzam said. "We also worried that if there were any problems we wouldn't be able to get service people to come out."

Anita Sapirman, president of Saparn Management in Manhattan, also urged her clients to cease elevator operations for 15 minutes before and after midnight. In addition to the technical advice, Sapirman also wanted to sooth the worries of her clients and provide them with a sense of security. "Everyone was scared," she said. "We had all their financial records and data. We did a mission statement specifically for Y2K [to reinforce our policy of providing] our clients with superior service and peace of mind."

To waylay any client fears and to make sure her company would be ready for any potential glitches, Sapirman upgraded her computers and installed all new state-of-the-art reporting systems.

She felt that the hype about Y2K was overdone and actually might have been detrimental to clients, perhaps getting them to make unnecessary purchases or spend money when they did not need to. "We did things calmly. We didn't want everybody to become concerned," she said. "The year 2000 was an opportunity to reinforce the trust our clients place in us."

Good Preparation or Good Luck?

According to a March 2000 Reuters article, the United States government spent more than $8.5 billion over the last five years bringing computers up to speed for Y2K. All over the U.S., businesses and individuals spent close to $100 billion on preventive measures with a worldwide tally suggested at $200 to $250 billion.

Was this too much preparation for an over-hyped bug, or was the lack of catastrophe the result of just the right amount of preparation? "It was the biggest much ado about nothing that ever occurred," Mackoul says. "I think a lot of boards or management firms did take it seriously enough to make sure vendors were Y2K- compliant. No one knew where the problems were going to come from. They were cringing, waiting for something to happen and nothing did happen."

Part of the cringing, no doubt, came from the pre-New Year, Y2K hype, but perhaps part of the relief of a trouble-free Year 2000 turnover came from being ready. Elevators not checked for compliance, computer systems not scoured for proper software - anything could have gone wrong if the correct procedures were not followed. As it turned out, this preparation was key to a successful transition.

For Khazzam, the trouble-free New Year was the result of just the right amount of planning. "We were hitch-free," he says. "A lot of people, based on the results, felt that Y2K was just a lot of hoopla, but I look at it that our preparedness paid off. People were ready and therefore there were no glitches. If there was no preparedness, then there might have been more problems." Sapirman concurs, "We didn't get one phone call reporting any problems."

Reaping the Benefits of Y2K

Today, Y2K seems like a far-off memory. As we settle into the 20th century, Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America based in Arlington, Virginia, has spoken of a Y2K renaissance from which technology will grow. Companies have fine-tuned their computer systems, rooting out old and outdated software and hardware. Larger companies have established stronger connections with information technology specialists and have devoted more time and energy to maintaining and upgrading their networks and computers.

The same is true for co-ops and condos. Buildings which revamped their elevator or security systems will not have to worry about any potential problems or upgrades for years to come. Administrative and financial software systems have been upgraded, improving efficiency. In short, Y2K served as a large-scale spring cleaning, taking care of problems that could have cost more money and time in the future.

"If people were going to take the time and money [to get ready], in some instances they went all-out and prepared for years ahead," Khazzam said. "People made sure they did it right, in order to be ready for the future." Thanks to preparation and a little good luck, co-op and condo residents survived Y2K without a scratch. Now there's only some 365,000 more days to prepare for Y3K.

Ms. Lent is a freelance writer living in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

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  • But, what happened to all those people who stock piled water and food? Not to mention the people who built bunkers. I remember seeing a news show where a couple had made furniture from filled cases of water. I wonder if they still live like that?