Preparing for 2000 at USU
Employees are confident Y2K problem won't be a problem
By Jessica Warren
Ever since 1999 hit, people can't stop talking about the year 2000. The Y2K dilemma is a concern that is involved in everything from banks to elevators.
Utah State University is no exception. Computer Services has begun testing individual systems within the university to see if they are Y2K compatible.
This is done by making a copy of the systems and rolling the clocks up and seeing what happens. If they aren't compatible, it is programmed to see "00" as coming after "99" or adding two more digits to the year.
Time is the main factor. Testing each program for compatibility is tedious. Each individual program with a clock within the system has to be tested.
"In the programs they [the programmers] have to actually go in and find all the fields that have the year in it, and check to see if it is two digits or four digits," said Kim Marshall, associate director of Computer Services on campus.
This can seem relatively simple, but large files can have multiple date entries in them. For example, in the Student Information System (SIS), one file for each student contains their graduation date from high school, their entrance date to USU, their graduation date from USU, etc. Each of these dates must be changed seperately.
Marshall said that they are trying to assess the problems directly before the turn of the century. The staff feels that they are on top of the situation.
With all the hype going on about getting ready for the change, Marshall said he feels that the competitive pressure on businesses forces people to do something about it.
For example, if USU is not ready to register students in the new millenium, they will go somewhere else.
He also said universities have the advantage of not being in session when the date turns. With at least five or six working days before school begins, universities should have time to iron out any unexpected problems.
"Everyone thinks they're okay. I'm sure there's going to be problems, but I think they're going to be relatively few, hopefully that can be addressed within a day or two," said Marshall.
He thinks that the main concern should be environmental controls.
Brian Andersen is with the Physical Plant staff of the university. His concern is embedded microchips within electric, heating and cooling systems, phones and elevators. He says electricians and heat experts have been working on the Y2K issue since last summer.
Their strategy is going through the manufacturers of the systems to see if they are compatible.
"There's not really a good way as a user to roll your machine ahead," said Andersen.
Right now they are taking inventory to follow-up and verify with manufacturers. This should be completed by this summer, said Andersen.
"The biggest problem is identifying which systems have a chip and which don't," said Andersen.
When it is identified that an embedded chip isn't Y2K compatible, the solutions vary with the piece of equipment. On an elevator, the electronic circuit board would be replaced with one that was compatible.
Andersen said he is confident that they will have most of the problems assessed when 2000 hits.
"We're pretty well in control of our destiny with heat," said Andersen. He said USU has a store of 45-60 days worth of fuel to heat the university.
They are, however, dependent upon Logan City for electricity. Logan City depends on Utah Power and Light, a part of the Western States Coordinating Council (WSCC). WSCC powers most of the Western United States.
Andersen said that there is enough diversity in the production of the WSCC that some systems could stay up, and some could lose power. The questions are which ones will lose it and how long would power be out for each.
By diversity, he means that if a circuit shorts in Seattle, it could also cut power in Logan.
After talking with Utah Power, Andersen said they feel they won't have a problem.
"They continue to research, and continue to work," said Andersen.
Approximately once a month, various people from different departments, including Andersen, meet to discuss what is being done within the departments to prepare for the year 2000.
Merry Lu Zeller also attends these meetings, taking the minutes.
Zeller said it began at the request of President Emert to assess where USU was regarding the issues. The state also sent a report to determine the status of everything on campus.
"Due to the forethought of our computer people, we're fine compared to universities in Utah," said Zeller.
Zeller said there are certain systems ruled out as "Mission Critical," which means they are first priority. Systems such as the SIS, employee information, and financial aid are included under this title.
She said that the publicity has focused on disaster, shut down and power outages, but that the majority of people are more confident than the media portrays.
"Our story on campus is that we're prepared for it," said Zeller.