State outlines response plan for world Y2K glitches

The State Department last week disclosed an elaborate plan to ensure that its embassies worldwide will continue to operate in the event of Year 2000-related losses of power, communications and services in host countries.

The plan lays out procedures to follow in reporting on the Year 2000 status of host countries, requiring the department's foreign posts to submit a series of status reports after the date rollover. It also includes giving some embassies and consulates generators and digital satellite phones so that the offices have a way to communicate with offices in Washington, D.C., and have a source of electricity for computers and other equipment.

Bonnie Cohen, undersecretary for management at State, on Oct. 13 told the Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem that the agency's plan has focused on three areas: fixing mission-critical systems worldwide; making sure the department's missions will operate even if Year 2000-related disruptions occur; and encouraging other countries to complete Year 2000 fixes and develop contingency plans.

"At this late date, our most valuable use of time is spent encouraging international organizations to design contingency plans to manage Y2K-related disruptions," said committee vice chairman Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) in a prepared statement. "The implications in the global arena do not differ greatly from the domestic risks. They simply occur on a grander scale."

Later in the day, State's Year 2000 adviser Stacy Williams unveiled details of the agency's plan to the Washington, D.C., Year 2000 Group, an interest group whose members come from the public and private sectors.

Williams told the group that some overseas posts will receive generators as well as satellite phones by Iridium LLC so that the posts will be able to continue to do business and communicate with State's headquarters in Washington. He said that one hour after local time, the posts should report by e-mail or fax to alert headquarters as to whether their host countries' electricity and telecommunications systems are working.

Twelve hours into Jan. 1, the posts are supposed to report on Year 2000 problems in more detail, such as whether automated traffic lights are operating correctly. Thirty-six hours into the new year, the posts will file another report on Year 2000 consequences. Monitoring of problems will continue for three days, according to Cohen.

"This reporting will serve as an early warning system for the U.S. on the types of problems that may occur domestically," she testified. "We will quickly be able to identify locations where power grids are not functioning or telecommunications systems are down."

Williams said information sent by the posts will go to an information "cell" at the department—a group of people who initially will analyze a nation's Year 2000 situation and route information, if needed, to the department's operations center, which has 150 workers working in three shifts.

Those operations center workers will feed the data to an information coordination center at State that will share information with other federal agencies, including the CIA, the National Security Agency, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency and the White House Situation Room, which monitors world crises.

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