Remembering Y2K

Remembering Y2K

As we count down the days to the end of the Mayan calendar, I am thinking back to the last potential apocalypse. I still remember all the hoopla that surrounded the change from 1999 to 2000. It seems many people were convinced that all the computers in the world were going to crash and we would be returned to the dark ages because the computers would not know what year it was.

At first I thought the whole idea was just silly. I had no idea anyone had taken the issue seriously. This is until I got a directive from my company that I had to certify each and every item in the plant to be Y2K compliant. Even in my relatively small plant employing just under 200 people, there were a lot of individual items that had to be certified.

Considering the relative importance of the situation, I first assigned the task to my co-op engineer. As he began to collect the data, and report back his findings to me, I began to realize that there were in fact many people who took the issue very seriously. Some companies were paying big bucks to have their equipment certified.

In order to not take resources away from solving real problems, he and I developed a checklist to quickly verify that the equipment would not self destruct at the stroke of midnight on December 31, 1999.

Naturally our first step was to see if the device even had a clock and even knew or cared what day it was in the first place. We also developed a form letter to send to manufacturers to get a document that added credibility to our own assessment.

Once we realized that not only did our own upper management actually task the situation seriously, but other companies were also taking the issue seriously we began looking into selling our services outside the company. Unfortunately by the time we realized people would actually pay us to do the work, most of the big contracts had already be let to people faster on the uptake than us.

So we just resumed our own process of certifying all the equipment we had and depended on. Naturally most of the stuff we looked at did not have a clock and could quickly be eliminated from the high priority list.

For most things with a clock, it was a simple matter to set the clock to a date past 1/1/2000 and see what happened. Only after we had tested most things on our list did we get stern warning from corporate not to test in this manner unless specifically told to by the manufacturer. Luckily we had completed most of our testing by the time they told us to quit.

One system of particular interest was the phone system. It did have a very important function of keeping the date and time of each voice message. About a week after we had run our clock forward and back again with no ill effects noted we received a dire warning from the manufacturer not to perform such a test. The assured us that it would indeed self destruct.

Sensing this was a scheme to cause us to hire one of their technicians to test for us, I called our sales rep and told her we had already done the test and nothing bad had happened. She informed me we were very fortunate that it had not crashed but was sad that we did not need their tech to test it for us.

Once we had complied huge notebooks of documentation for the equipment in the plant, we began thinking of how to best present the data to management and the auditors. Yes, they actually had auditors to make sure we actually did the certifications and did them correctly.

We first ranked items by criticality. The highest priority items were placed in the first notebook. These were items that would have the most impact on the operation should they fail on 12/31/1999. Of course these were items that might shut down production or make the facility uninhabitable for some reason.

My co-op engineer examined the data and decided in order to quickly point out how thorough we had been we would sort the data in inverse alphabetical order. After all our most important piece of equipment was made by Zerand and there was no point making them flip through the huge notebook looking for the Z’s.

The most rewarding consequence of the inverse alpha sort pattern was that it put the Zurn company at the top of the list. Zurn made the automatic flushers for our toilets and of course we ranked these as critical since no one wants to inhabit a building if the flushers are not working. The added benefit was the not so subtle hint as to where we thought all the data we had worked months to gather really belonged.

The managers go the last laugh on us however as they required us to be on site at the stroke of midnight on 12/31/1999 just to make sure we had not missed anything. We got to ring in the new millennium with a group of engineers and maintenance workers rather than our families. But, they did give us written authorization to have an actual Champaign toast at midnight.