Navy: DOD must balance Y2K preparation, public perception

NORFOLK, Va.—The Defense Department must be careful to prepare for possible Year 2000 problems while not alarming the public, a top Navy official said.

DOD commands worldwide must take prudent steps to ensure that Year 2000 computer date bugs in critical infrastructure systems—electricity and telephones, for example—do not cripple operations, according to David Wennergren, deputy chief information officer of the Navy. But Wennergren, speaking here at the service's semiannual Connecting Technology conference, added that preparing for possible interruptions—what he called "consequence management"—needs to be balanced with preventing public distrust and worry—what he called "perception management."

For example, as part of its Year 2000 consequence-management efforts, Wennergren said a Navy base might bring in water tankers shortly before year's end to ensure that the base's water supply is not interrupted if computers fail. But perception management would dictate against such a move "because people outside [the base] would want to do the same thing," Wennergren said.

Wennergren said good perception management also would oppose calling out the National Guard to handle any Year 2000-related incidents. "You do not want to call out the National Guard," because Year 2000 doomsayers would see it as evidence of a large-scale public disruption, he said.

From the Navy's standpoint, Year 2000 should not cause much of a problem because the service has fixed most of its mission-critical systems, Wennergren said. The Navy has certified 612 of its mission-critical systems as Y2K compliant, leaving 53 systems requiring certification.

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