Wary Americans Plan For Y2K Computer Glitches

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Nearly half of Americans surveyed in a new poll said they would avoid traveling by plane on or around January 1, 2000, when experts fear air traffic control could be snarled by major computer failures.

Nearly two-thirds of the 1,032 adults polled said they planned to seek extra confirmation of their bank accounts, retirement funds or other financial records after the start of the new millennium.

Despite their concerns, 55 percent said they believed the so-called ``millennium bug'' would cause only minor problems. The poll was conducted by the Gallup organization for the National Science Foundation and USA Today.

Computers running crucial corporate operations, not to mention power stations, air traffic control, banking, and government social services, are exposed to a potentially huge problem with comparatively trivial origins.

``With a full year before the year 2000, American industry, government and academia are largely aware of what they need to do to be fully prepared,'' said George Strawn, the foundation's computer networking division director.

The Year 2000 or ``Y2K'' problem stems from an old programming shortcut that resulted in many computers being unable to recognize the date change of the new century. If left uncorrected, some computers could view the year 2000 as 1900, generating errors or system crashes.

In April, Transportation Department officials told a Senate Commerce Committee that only a quarter of the nation's critical air traffic control systems were certified as ready for 2000.

Other government agencies also face potential problems.

Forty-six percent of those surveyed by Gallup Dec. 9-13 said they expected some air traffic control systems to fail; and nearly two-thirds said banking and accounting systems would fail, possibly causing errors in employee paychecks, government payments or other automated financial transactions.

Forty-nine percent said they plan to take steps to make sure their personal computers are programmed correctly, but an equal number said they would wait and see what happened.

Eighty-two percent said they were confident that U.S. corporations and large businesses will have upgraded their computer systems to correct Y2K problems.

Despite media reports about people preparing for food delivery or water systems to fail, 72 percent of those polled said they had no plans to stockpile food or water; while over 80 percent said they did not plan to buy generators or wood stoves.


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