Readiness Disclosure

Year 2000 Contingency Planning--Recommendations to Consider

As described in the September 21, 1999 issue of Almanac, the University's Year 2000 Project has been continuing at full speed preparing the University's information systems, networks, and physical infrastructure for the new millennium. Even as the final details are completed, we have one task remaining: planning for the possibility that, in spite of repeated and thorough testing, we (and our suppliers) haven't been entirely successful in correcting every Year 2000 problem or haven't introduced new, unrelated, ones. The goal is for our systems to be at least as reliable in the coming year as they have been in the recent past. However, prudence demands that we all take steps to answer the "what if?" questions, understanding that defect-free systems are an ideal to which we aspire, but are rarely, if ever, achieved in practice.

So, what should members of the University community do to prepare for the possibility of service disruptions arising out of the Year 2000 problem? The answer to this question, like other important questions we've had to deal with in the Year 2000 project, will differ considerably among schools, research institutes, centers, departments, work groups, and individuals. However, there are a number of specific recommendations that are applicable in most cases. Please bear in mind that all but the first two are sound recommendations well beyond Year 2000's relatively narrow time frame. 

Quiesce campus activity over the New Year's holiday

The New Year's holiday is normally a time when campus activity is at ebb. Nonetheless, some University operations, such as research, do not ever stop completely. This year, in addition to the staff who are always here on holidays due to their operational responsibilities, there will be additional staff on campus to validate systems and infrastructure for proper operation prior to the first business day of the new year, January 3, 2000. If you are not among these faculty and staff, you should reduce your on-campus activity to a minimum.

Make telephone system changes soon

If your plans call for changing or adding telephone lines this fall, make sure you get your requests to Telecommunications as soon as possible. AT&T will be limiting services to move or add new lines in December to help insure they are managing a stable, known environment as we enter the Year 2000.

Identify alternative telephone lines

Most office telephones such as the Eagle, Extrom, or Norstar systems deployed on campus will not operate in the event of the loss of electric power. If your organization needs telephone communications capability in such an event, and if your office phones are not on an emergency generator, lines normally used for modem or fax access can still provide dial tone. Consider identifying these lines and securing telephone handsets that you can use with these lines in an emergency. The existing handsets on some fax machines will work if the power is off, but you should verify this by making a call with the fax machine unplugged.

Back up systems

Guarding against unintended data loss using routine backup is a sound, if sometimes neglected, practice. Preparing for Year 2000 is no exception. You can recover from almost any kind of system failure if you have adequate back up, preferably stored in a location different from the computer's. Many University organizations have included data backup in their Year 2000 plans. Check with your local computing support provider or Year 2000 coordinator for details on the plans for your area.

Be aware of UPS limitations

Universal power supplies often provide battery backup power to computer systems and instrumentation in the event the usual power source is interrupted. These batteries have a finite lifetime and are not intended to keep systems up and running indefinitely. Further, in reduced voltage conditions (brownouts) the batteries may be providing some of the power and can eventually fail, even if other equipment appears to be functioning normally.

In addition to the general recommendation made above, researchers should be particularly mindful of the following:

Review contact information

Make sure you are familiar with emergency procedures and know the contact protocols for reporting problems with facilities (your building administrator), hazardous materials (Environmental Health and Radiation Safety; 1-215-898-4453), laboratory animals (University Laboratory Animal Resources; 1-215-898-6466), and security (Public Safety; 511 on campus, 1-215-573-3333 off campus).

Verify status of emergency power to critical components

Some campus buildings provide emergency power outlets to critical equipment. Testing of these systems has been underway since the summer of 1999. These tests are now nearly complete. Check with your Year 2000 coordinator for test results and recommendations, especially if you have critical equipment that is not provided with emergency power.

Check auto-dialers

Some equipment monitors will dial an outside telephone number if they detect a problem. If you have such equipment, you should verify that it is operating properly. It may need to be reconfigured to conform to the recent change of local dialing rules that require dialing the area code.

Identify yourself

It is important that research support services such as Facilities, Environmental Health and Radiation Safety, and University Laboratory Animal Resources have correct and complete emergency contact information for you and your organization. If there are any special considerations they need to take into account in responding to emergencies in your areas, be sure to clearly communicate them ahead of time.

Review the research risk checklist

Other recommendations for identifying and mitigating Year 2000 risks that affect the research community can be found in the Research Risk Checklist located on the Unversity's Year 2000 web site at:


Since these recommendations cannot apply in every context, it is crucial that you direct your questions to your school or center's Year 2000 coordinator for specific instructions and recommendations. The current list was published in the September 21, 1999 issue of Almanac with updates on the University's Year 2000 web site at: If you're not sure where to direct your questions, send e-mail to We will direct them to the right place.

Almanac, Vol. 46, No. 9, October 26, 1999