by Mike Roluti and Elee Erice
that you are one of the few power plant operators on duty in a major
Reclamation hydroelectric power plant around midnight on New Year's
eve, January 1, 2000, and there are record cold temperatures. You
receive a request to increase power production to meet higher demands,
but you cannot make the increase occur. You and a few others on
duty are frantically trying to discover the culprit. The problem
appears to be one or more components of the complex computerized
plant control system, referred to as the supervisory control and
data acquisition system (SCADA).
If you cannot locate enough people to help you run the plant
manually without the use of computers, you may not be able to
open the dam gates to increase the power output of the turbines.
The result would be a loss of power production which could potentially
affect the entire system and cause widespread brown- or black-outs.
Eventually you discover that the problem was embedded microchips
in SCADA components which malfunctioned when the date function
could not properly roll over. It is this type of situation that
Reclamation, the Department of the Interior, several other government
agencies, and Congress are working to avoid.
Reclamation's Y2K Program Is Top Priority
Reclamation's Y2K program, particularly the embedded microchip
activities, are the Commissioner's top priority. "Y2K is becoming
a higher priority for the Department of the Interior as well as
our own agency," stated Commissioner Eluid Martinez in a June
23, 1998, memorandum on Year 2000 compliance requirements. "It
is critical that Reclamation do its part to effectively address
this challenge so that potential disruption of critical services
in the next millennium can be prevented."
Embedded microchips are miniature circuit boards that control
many kinds of modern electrical devices, and can be found in most
everything from vehicles to defibrillators. All embedded microchips
are computers or at least include them, although some are very
simple compared to a personal computer. For microchips, the year
2000 (Y2K) date problem is the potential failure of devices and
systems with embedded microchips before, on, or after January
1, 2000. Difficulties from minor inconveniences to system failures
could occur if our systems cannot differentiate the year 2000
(or "00") from the year 1900.
Todd, acting Great Plains Regional Director has described
the Y2K effort as one of his "top concerns," and also emphasized
that he does not want any hydropower or water supply disruptions
in the Great Plains Region resulting from Y2K problems.
of the United States has declared the nation's power generation
system to be one of the highest priorities, along with the transportation,
banking, and finance systems. The concern is based on the fact
that, when compared with all electric utilities, Reclamation ranks
as the ninth largest utility. Although hydropower production is
extremely important, other mission critical functions are of concern,
including the ability to provide municipal, industrial and irrigation
water, as well as water for fish, wildlife and recreation.
Order 13073 and other letters from the Department of the Interior
and Reclamation's Commissioner officially directed staff to pursue
solutions to Y2K problems, including embedded microchip devices
and systems. All regions and each major Washington/Denver organization
have coordinators who report and coordinate Y2K efforts related
to embedded chips, information technology or computer areas, and
telecommunications. The embedded chip areas inventory embedded
microchip systems at Reclamation facilities for Y2K-compliance.
The information technology areas include computer software, both
Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) and locally-developed applications
designed to perform Reclamation-specialized functions, and computer
hardware including mini and micro (PC's) computers. The telecommunications
areas include hardware and software for voice and data services.
Y2K coordinators are: Dick Dye (Embedded Chip Coordinator) 406-247-7631,
Bev Pfaff (Information Technology/Computer Coordinator) 406-247-7858
, and Melody Fitch (Telecommunications Coordinator), 406-247-7828.
As part of
the Year 2000 effort, Reclamation and GP Region coordinators are
systematically assessing the magnitude of the Y2K as it affects
or may impact automated technologies used throughout the agency,
and solutions are being developed to help us continue to provide
effective service to our customers. Devices, such as various automated
controllers containing date computational capabilities, are also
being identified, accounted for, and designated for renovation
where the device is not Y2K compliant. Action plans are being
developed to ensure that all Reclamation facilities will be unaffected
in any significant way by system failures caused by Y2K.
Has Five Phases of Compliance Activities
there are five major phases or categories of compliance activities
in Reclamation for the Y2K embedded microchip process.
of the five phases is awareness, which has involved defining
and describing the Y2K problem, and it is expected to continue
through March of 1999. Inventories of all devices or systems with
microchips has been the primary activity thus far, which is referred
to as the assessment phase. The Great Plains Region's inventory
has been one of the most complete when compared with those of
other regions. Assessment work is expected to be completed
in December 1998.
phase includes testing equipment to determine Y2K compliance.
As a result of testing, some non-compliant embedded systems or
devices may enter the renovation phase which includes their repair
or retirement and replacement. Most renovation phase work
should be completed by September 1998.
cases, testing may have shown that microchip equipment is compliant,
and these devices enter the validation phase. Securing vendor
documents or web site pages stating device compliance, or certifying
compliance using a form designed specifically for this purpose
is part of validation. At selected major Reclamation facilities,
a technical advisory group composed of various engineering disciplines
will review and document Y2K microchip compliance as an additional
validation measure. Validation is a critical phase in the
overall process, for this reason, it is of great concern to the
planning is a phase designed to ensure that Reclamation facilities
will continue to provide services in the event a microchip problem
could not be remedied in sufficient time, or in the event one
was missed during the process and fails to operate. Each Reclamation
office and plant has been requested to develop a contingency or
back-up plan for all mission critical equipment, and all plans
should be completed by November 1998. Contingency plans are to
include any additional staff expected to be on duty and associated
the device or system plans and in cooperating with Western Area
Power Administration and other agencies, an overall contingency
plan will be developed to keep power and other services going
on and around year 2000. Implementing the repaired or replaced
equipment, or the contingency plans is the final phase, the implementation
about the Reclamation Y2K embedded microchip effort will be available
in an embedded microchip management or action plan due out in
the next few weeks. Please contact Michael Roluti at (303) 445-2923
or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
for a copy of the plan or any questions about the microchip project.
appeared in the October 1998 issue of Plains Talk, a hard
copy newsletter for Bureau of Reclamation employees in the Great
Plains Region. Plains Talk is published by the Office of
Public Affairs, US Department of the Interior, 316 N. 26th Street,
Billings, MT 59101. Phone: (406) 247-7607.
Roluti is Manager, Power Resources Office and Program Coordinator
for Y2K Embedded Microchip Program at the Bureau of Reclamation
in Denver. You may reach him at (303) 445-2923 or email@example.com.
a Public Affairs Specialist for the Bureau of Reclamation in Billings,
MT, is the editor of Plains Talk. You may reach her at
(406) 247-7607 or firstname.lastname@example.org.