Triage for Year 2000 Efforts

TRIAGE (American Heritage Dictionary, 1993)

1. A process for sorting injured people into groups based on their need for or likely benefit from immediate medical treatment. Triage is used on the battlefield, at disaster sites, and in hospital emergency rooms when limited medical resources must be allocated.

2. A system used to allocate a scarce commodity, such as food, only to those capable of deriving the greatest benefit from it. [French, from trier, to sort, from Old French.]

Normally triage is understood to be a very local situation at a battlefield or disaster site. The global, simultaneous, and widespread scope of potential Year 2000 (Y2K) failures will add entirely new dimensions to the understanding of how interdependent our modern society is.

I believe that a very conscious triage effort must be undertaken which will formally examine and rate key organizations---commercial, government, and defense---as to their current Y2K preparedness, and actively monitor their progress towards acceptable levels of compliance. Certain organizations---communications, financial, energy, defense and others---must receive more pro active scrutiny than others.

I spent fifteen years as a programmer for a rich variety of financial, educational, and consulting organizations in Boston; have a MBA; own a personally autographed copy of Jim Champy's "Reengineering the Corporation" (the infamous BPR bible); have spent the past ten years both evaluating and selling software maintenance tools to Fortune 1000 companies in North America; and have spent the past two and one half years completely immersed in the Y2K problem.

Knowing what I know about the software maintenance process [shhhh!... it's not politically correct to discuss such a rude subject in public!] in large organizations, I have to bluntly state that rather than continue to delude ourselves that somehow we're going to have an "Immaculate Reception" in the last seconds of the game, we---as responsible members of a global society---must quickly being to speak of how to do triage on our major societal organizations and systems. The track record of delivering large software projects on time is simply abysmal, particularly for commercial MIS (Management Information Systems) organizations that are the Fortune 1000.

We must begin preparing ourselves for the fact that lack of Y2K preparedness will cause significant disruptions in the daily activities and flow of our lives. What these disruptions will be is currently impossible to predict.

While I know full well that it is considered un-American to admit defeat before the battle is even engaged, attempting to fight tanks with bare fists is pure folly.

But we're talking about serious stakes here. Anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of economics and social studies recognizes that the web of our daily lives is supported by a highly complex web of activities that handle our: - communications - energy - transportation - financial transactions - food production & distribution - internal security (police, judiciary, fire) - external security (military) - government (national, state, and local).

All of these activities are highly interdependant and highly computerized. Financial firms move money by telephone, not by armored car. Without communications, financial institutions quickly grind to a halt. Communications companies depend upon electricity, and so forth.

No organization stands along, not even the Department of Defense (DoD). The DoD states in their January 1997 Information Warfare Defense (IW-D) report that they are dependant in unspecified ways on civilian organizations for communications, transportation, etc. Disruption in these civilian resources would directly affect the DoD's ability to fulfill its missions. Just as any significant disruptions of communications, transportation and energy would likewise seriously cripple any organization from conducting it's normal business.

By no means am I saying that rolling computer failures will mean the end of modern society as some critics have claimed. What I do believe is that, as a global interdependant society, we are extremely ill prepared to cope with what may happen. If we actively consider and prepare for worst case scenarios, then actually weathering the inevitable storms will be far easier.

What we need to do is stop pretending everything will be ok. We must begin active, aggressive and imaginative consideration of what alternative and emergency plans need to be ready when (that's when, not if) normally dependable components of our infrastructure(s) suddenly fail or are greatly reduced from normal capacities.

Wearing a seat belt is an act of optimism not pessimism.

Your comments and ideas are welcomed (

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