生活Y2K──小市民如何安度千禧年?

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1999 / 4月

文‧李光真 圖‧李淑玲



今年元旦零時剛過,瑞典三處機場就嚐到了千禧蟲的苦頭。由於機場航警局的電腦將年序「九九」視為結束符號而當機,使得未簽證旅客無法取得臨時入境證,只得怨聲沸騰、敗興而 返。

三月初,美國參議院Y2K特別委員會發佈的報告中指出,主要產油國沙烏地阿拉伯和委內瑞拉的千禧蟲因應進度落後。果真如此,屆時供油可能發生問題,對全球產業影響甚鉅。

最近在新加坡召開的全球金融業因應Y2K危機會議中,抓蟲進度領先的地主國新加坡,竟也坦承他們正考慮讓金融業在明年元旦時「放長假」,好讓銀行開張前能有更寬裕的時間, 進行疏漏部份的緊急修正工作……。

許多專家承認,千禧年電腦年序問題,可能比預期的嚴重許多。然而,它真會引發天下大亂嗎?在美國,少數狂熱宗教組織已將Y2K危機和「世界末日」的古老預言劃上等 號,警告 人們在那一天裡足不出戶、閉門祈禱。而飲用水、乾糧、油品、藥品、木炭、手提收音機、電池、緊急照明設備……,凡是可以救命的,都應儲存著準備帶入諾亞方舟。為了怕銀行倒 閉,他們提領大筆現金;為了怕停電時發生暴亂搶劫,他們買槍自衛;甚至為了怕被誤射的核子飛彈波及,他們躲入山中……。

如果Y2K在人類措手不及中爆發,「世界末日」的夢魘可能成真。然而,經過全球近幾年耗費數千億美元、投入無數心血、喚起世 人警覺後,Y2K問題大致已在掌控中。大大小小 的災難事故或許難免,但滅絕式的浩劫應屬杞人憂天。

至於你、我這些小市民呢?就日常生活層面來看,影響最深的,首推水、電、油、瓦斯等能源供應,及電話等通信設施;一旦能源短缺、通信中斷,生活及工作的步調就會大受影 響。

「幸好國內的公用事業很早就開始Y2K的因應方案,」IBM大中華地區公元二千年綜合策進處協理、同時也是政府「Y2K稽核管理服務團」義務成員的林獻仁,過去一年藉著稽 核之便,視察過台電、中油等公用事業,並給予相當高的評價,認為民眾在這方面毋需恐慌。

目前由行政院列管、中國生產力中心團隊負責稽核的國家重大體系,涵括了能源、電信、醫療、金融、航空、警政等項目,幾乎和民眾生活及社會安定相關的事務都已納入,至今進度 還算不錯。

以和生命安全休戚相關的航管問題為例,國際航空運輸協會的緊急應變航路副主席日前來台探訪,結果給民航局打了一個「satisfied」(滿意)的高分。

除了公用設施、飛安航管,一般民眾最為關心的,應該是事關眾人荷包的金融體系,以及健康所繫的醫療系統了。它們的因應狀況如何?民眾又有哪些應注意事項? 醫療篇

西元二千年元旦凌晨,一位剛從新年狂歡舞會出來的年輕人,在開車回家途中發生車禍,送到醫院時已呈休克。「準備心臟電擊!」住院醫師大叫,然而前一天仍然好好的電擊器,此 時竟無法擊發電流。病人火速轉院,生死未卜……。

如果病人有投保意外險,車禍本應得到理賠(酒醉駕車除外),然而當保險專家發現醫療過程中可能涉及「因Y2K而導致儀器失靈」時,卻以「Y2K非意外事件」為由拒絕理賠。 一場病患、醫院及保險公司的三角糾紛於焉展開。 別在千禧年生病?

以上情節雖純屬虛構,但也不是沒有可能發生。據台大醫院估計,在林林總總的醫療儀器中,約有百分之七的儀器設備無法通過跨年測試,隱藏有Y2K問題;可能因此對病患造成危 險或重大衝擊的比例,也達到百分之二。

私立醫療院所協會Y2K因應小組召集人吳明彥則表示,二千年時至少有一成的洗腎機可能停擺,對國內二萬多名洗腎病患將造成影響。

在Y2K危險名單上的醫療設備還有一長串:治療子宮頸癌的鈷六十放射線治療機,由於其放射線劑量的計算和半衰期有關,日期錯 誤將影響到劑量的多寡,導致病人接受的照射量過 多或不足而引發嚴重後果。此外,依不同年齡、體重而有不同標準的骨質密度檢查儀、肺功能分析儀、麻醉儀……等,都可能出現Y2K問題。

再說,生個「千禧寶寶」是許多人的心願,不過在某些廠牌的產科超音波設備中,已發現在計算懷孕週數及預產期時,若預產期跨越二千年,就會發生日期計算錯誤、螢幕顯示亂碼等 異常,這時就要靠經驗老到的醫師自己推算了。

「奉勸各位好好鍛鍊身體,千萬不要在千禧年生病!」一位熟知Y2K醫療風險的資訊專家表示,由F府列 管的重要基礎設施中,「醫療體系」算是整體進度較落後的一環,不僅國內 如此,先進國家如美國也是一樣。 減少對科技的依賴

負責國內醫療院所Y2K事務的衛生署技監蕭美玲表示,衛生署的列管範圍是五十一家大型(準區域級以上)醫院,病床數合計佔全台灣病床數的百分之四十。以目前進度來看,各大 醫院資訊系統已完成因應、或進入測試階段的比例約在百分之三十左右,比起金融或油、電等公用事業,進度是稍呈落後。

和產業一樣,醫院的Y2K,也可以分為資訊系統(IT)和以醫療儀器及設備為主的非資訊系統(NON-IT)。

資訊系統,指的是掛號、收費、病歷、開處方簽、拿藥,以及人事、會計等由電腦及各種應用軟體掌控的系統。

對某些較早開始電腦化的大型醫院來說,這部份的修改因應非常龐雜,因此像台大及長庚等醫院,都藉機進行資訊再造工程。

「大醫院的病歷、藥品庫存、甚至電梯、燈光都用電腦控制,Y2K對它們的衝擊自然比較大,」一家 僅有八十床的地區級醫院表示,中小型醫院大多是民國八十四年健保開辦時,為 了配合健保的電腦連線報帳措施,才開始電腦化,必要時隨時可以恢復手工。

「像前幾天我們的電腦語音掛號系統故障,就改用電話掛號,再不然現場掛號、人工登錄也可以,」他表 示,小醫院早就習慣半自動、半人工,「我們的醫護人員應變能力很強的,沒 有大醫院那麼『嬌』。」他認為,中小醫院及診所的低度電腦化,減少了對科技的依賴,在Y2K危機當前時,反而是件好事。 隨時轉診

其次,「大型醫院的病患其實絕大部份是來看門診的,」蕭美玲表示,「萬一系統故障,這些人不妨就近到住家附近的診所去看病。」當然診所也可能發生電腦當機,但一來許多診所 的電腦化只用於健保報帳上,現場的掛號及開藥並沒有使用電腦;再說,在診所密佈的都會區,民眾的選擇很多,應該不會有「無處就醫」的困擾。

資訊系統外,為數眾多的醫療儀器,則是更令人頭痛的一環。

話說九七年時,英國的Y2K專家發現,加護病房的監視維生系統,向來是將各種偵測貼片貼在病人身上,偵測到如血氧、血壓等數值異常後,就直接下藥進入人體。然而在Y2K測 試中,這套儀器竟然失靈。可以想見的是,一旦藥品無法輸出、或輸出劑量錯誤,病人即有死亡之虞。

當時專家甚至預言,如果這類緊急維生設備不立即進行修正,估計英國因而死亡的人數將高達一千五百人。這份報告,揭開了醫療儀器的Y2K之戰序幕。

由於醫療儀器種類繁雜,正如製造業的機具及程監控問題一樣,除了少數可以靠著資深老醫工(醫事工程人員)的巧手修正外,大多數還是得仰賴原廠的升級或汰換服務。

目前國內一些大型醫院已在網站上公開它們測試出問題的設備清單,同時衛生署也已和美國醫療器材協會(HIMA)取得聯繫,希望藉團體力量,促使國際大廠加強對台灣的服 務。

小心你吃的藥!

由於時間緊迫,加上某些昂貴儀器的汰換並不是每家醫院都負擔得起的,因此目前衛生署只能要求五十一家列管醫院,必須在今年十一月底前將有問題的儀器全部找出來以防誤用;來 不及修正或汰換的,就暫時停用。

至於病患若因沒有儀器可用而必須轉院(譬如心肺衰竭病人因血氧監測儀當機、或是子宮頸癌患者因鈷六十儀器停用而需轉院等),也只能暫時「委屈」、「配合」一下了。當然,衛 生署目前正加緊整理各醫院呈報上來的、有Y2K問題的儀器清單,若有較重要、或數量較多的儀器,衛生署會出面要求廠商儘快協助,不會讓病患無「機」可用的。

另外一個最近才引起較多矚目的,則是醫院的藥品供應問題。在美國最近發佈的一份報告中,特別指出美國醫院供糖尿病患使用的胰島素多半來自丹麥,而丹麥在這方面進度不夠理 想,可能危及糖尿病患者的權益。如此觀之,稀有及緊急維生藥品要如何確保存量充裕、來源無虞,是醫院下一個要注意的目標。

此外,國內百分之六十左右的處方用藥,是來自本土廠商,而藥廠屬於製造業,不在衛生署列管範圍內,但由於製藥業產值不大,也不會是工業局優先輔導的廠商。藥品的品質究竟由 誰監督?也有儘速釐清的必要。

醫療的Y2K危機不容小覷。衛生署呼籲醫院,為了避免日後發生醫療糾紛,醫院一定要積極擔負起自救的責任。至於一般民眾,除了不妨打電話去熟悉的醫院「關心」一下Y2K進 度外,也別忘了鍛鍊身體,以安度千禧年! 金融篇

由於金融業的主力業務──貸款,往往橫跨數年甚至數十年,加上龐大金錢數字的處理極端仰賴電腦,各金融機構間的網絡又是如此緊密、牽一髮動全身,因此在電腦年序問題中,金 融業一直是人們預期的百分之百「重災區」。幸好,正因為大家不敢心存僥倖,在許多國家中,包括台灣,金融業反倒是最積極因應Y2K的一個產業。

金融業的優勢

金融業的Y2K災情,可能會是什麼樣貌?有一個笑話是這樣的:西元二千年二月初,一位消費者收到他的銀行對帳單。令他大吃一驚的是,九九年十二月份他曾用金融卡預借五萬 元,而如今電腦算出的待付利息竟高達一千多萬!(五萬元,年息百分之八,共九十九年〈00-99=99,負數不計〉)更無辜的是,由於欠繳利息太高,他的戶頭慘遭凍結,手 頭正緊的他只能跳腳。

「這種情形應該不會發生,」金融業的主管機關財政部金融局副組長林永健指出,由於深知Y2K對金融業的衝擊,金融局早在民國八十六年初就開始宣導,金融研訓中心也開了一系 列的課程,讓各公民營銀行及信合社、農漁會機構來瞭解,目前金融業都已進入修改後的測試階段,應可順利在今年六月底前完成因應。

因應Y2K,金融業有幾個不同於其他產業的優勢。

第一是金融機構的資產規模。以新銀行來說,每一家都至少有百億以上的資本額,這可不像一般小型企業可以說收就收,自然會小心因應。

其次,對金融業而言,Y2K的因應工作雖然規模龐大繁雜,卻不算困難。除了辦公大樓的電梯、電話、保全等辦公設施外,主要就是電腦資訊系統。金融業沒有製造業難以處理的程 監控系統,也沒有醫院的眾多醫療儀器設備,因此可以集中火力。

此外,由於金融體系彼此牽連,容不得一點疏失,因此一般銀行的資訊系統本就採「雙主機系統」設計,在作業主機外永遠有一套備用主機可以隨時支援,而Y2K測試也順理成章可 在備用主機上進行,不會干擾到正常業務,避過了一般製造業最煩惱的「停工測試」問題。

錢網樞紐──金資中心

在所有金融機構中,肩負著全台灣一百二十八家金融機構跨行作業(跨行通匯及跨行櫃員機作業)的財金資訊公司(通稱「金資中心」),無疑是最受矚目的。

「金資中心是所有跨行資金往來的交換中心,一旦停擺或發生錯誤,跨行交易就會大亂,」金資中心Y2K負責人、資深工程師何軼倫指出,金資中心從民國八十六年年中開始進行 Y2K因應工作,清查了所有系統中的一萬二千個程式,發現其中約百分之十二和年序或日期相關,有Y2K問題,因此耗費大量人力一行一行去修改,同時耗資二億多元,將原有的 IBM主機汰換升級。

目前金資中心已修改、測試完畢,且從去年七月起,開放給一百二十八家會員銀行來做測試(銀行將其主機日期設定在跨年後,進行模擬交易,看送進來的資料對不對)。截至三月中 旬,已有一百一十多家銀行前來測試,其中五十八家已經過關。

「金融測試的方式比較特殊,都是用各種不同的交易模式去測,」何軼倫舉例,在剛開始測試時,曾發現有部份程式沒改到,造成「交易日期」出現民國11年(00-11,不計正 負數)的怪現象。這樣的資料若交換到往來銀行去,銀行的作業如利息計算、餘額查詢等就會發生混亂。以金資中心龐大的業務量──每日二十萬筆跨行通匯、五十萬筆跨行櫃員機交 易,只要一小部份出了問題,就會天下大亂了。

有趣的是,金融業基本上是服務業,光把自己弄好還不夠,如果大額放貸的企業貸款戶倒了,銀行也要慘遭池魚之殃。從今年開始,許多銀行在審核放貸案時,已將客戶的Y2K因應 情形列入評估考量,三商銀等大型銀行甚至主動出擊,為企業客戶提供Y2K的諮詢顧問服務。

至於國內數百萬股票族最關心的證券市場,根據行政院主計處二月份回收的問卷調查,目前有百分之四十八的證券業者已完成因應,百分之四十三在進行修正後的測試,只有百分之九 仍在加緊修正中。券商公會也將成立Y2K專案小組,全面加強監督。 民心安定最重要

落實到消費者層面,報載美國聯邦儲備會準備加印五百億美鈔以因應民眾提領現金,國內的消費者,又該有什麼動作呢?

「其實不用擔心帳戶裡的存款會憑空消失,」金融局稽查方鏘傑表示,銀行可能出錯的,頂多只有利息的計算錯誤。如果消費者真的不放心,不妨小心保留每次存、提款或繳息還本的書面憑證,也可以在今年年底時將存摺拿去補登錄一下。

「不過千萬不要大家都擠到十二月三十一日這天,否則將機器給刷爆了,又要引起一陣恐慌,」金融局副組長林永健說。一般民眾手邊只要有較平日稍微寬裕的現金做準備就可以了。萬一那幾天真的不能使用櫃員機,去銀行櫃檯領錢也是一樣;再不幸櫃檯電腦也當掉,耐心一點排隊,應該都可以順利領到錢。

最要緊的是,「千萬不要去擠兌!」再好的銀行也經不起大家盲目擠兌,結果「本來沒事也變得有事」了。何況國外已有政府警告民眾,要注意將大額現款存放家中可能引發的治安問題。

金融Y2K,考驗著大家身為「生命共同體」的決心和智慧。在保全自己時,切忌危害到全體,這是最高法則。

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近期文章

EN

How Y2K Could Affect You

Laura Li /photos courtesy of Pu Hua-chih /tr. by Phil Newell


In the early hours of New Year's Day this year, three airports in Sweden discovered what it was like to be hit by a Y2K-type bug. In the computers used by the airport police, "99" was read as "terminate," and their computers crashed. Travelers without visas found it impossible to get transit visas, and amidst a storm of complaints, had to go back to where the came from.

In early March, the Y2K Special Committee of the US Senate released a report stating that the major oil producers Saudi Arabia and Venezuela were lagging in coping with Y2K. If this is really the case, when the time comes the supply of petroleum could be affected, which would be a tremendous blow to the global economy.

During a recent conference in Singapore on how the global financial industry is coping with the Y2K crisis, even the host country, which is in the forefront of those dealing with Y2K, had to admit that they were considering giving the financial industry an extended holiday after the new year, to give banks some breathing room to make last-minute changes on anything they may have overlooked.

Many experts concede that the Y2K problem could be even worse than predicted. However, will it really lead to widespread chaos? In the United States, a small number of religious fanatics equate Y2K with the ancient prophecy of the end of the world. They are warning people to stay indoors and pray, and to stock up on vital supplies like drinking water, staple foods, gasoline, medicines, batteries, emergency lighting, and so on, like a modern-day Noah's Ark. Fearing the banks will crash, they are taking out huge sums of money. Worried that a power outage will lead to riots and looting, they're buying guns to protect themselves. There are even those who fear that they'll be hit by an accidentally launched nuclear missile, so they are taking to the hills. . . .

If Y2K broke out without people having done anything to prevent it, then the apocalyptic nightmare could perhaps have become a reality. However, hundreds of billions of US dollars have been spent and tremendous effort invested in tackling this problem, and Y2K is, in great measure, being brought under control. Some tragedies will inevitably occur, but those who say the sky will fall are just Chicken Littles.

What does Y2K mean to ordinary folks like us? There are several areas potentially affected by Y2K which are intimately related to daily life, including energy (electricity, oil, gas), water, and communications equipment like telephones. If there's no power, water, or communications, this will greatly slow down the pace of life and work.

Austin Lin, a Y2K expert at IBM Taiwan, declares: "Fortunately public enterprises in Taiwan began strategies to cope with Y2K early on." Lin, who is also a volunteer member of the government's "Y2K inspection service team" has taken advantage of this role to inspect public enterprises like Taiwan Power Company and China Petroleum over the past year. He gives them quite high marks, and feels that there's no need for the public to panic in this regard.

The Executive Yuan has designated seven national systems of concern-energy, telecommunications, health care, finance, air travel, and law and order-and teams from the China Productivity Center are responsible for monitoring their progress in addressing Y2K. Virtually anything closely related to daily life and social stability is being covered. Thus far progress has been quite decent (see table).

Take for example the problem of air transport management. Recently the International Air Transport Association vice-chairman in charge of emergency-response air routes visited Taiwan, and declared himself "satisfied" with Taiwan's civil aviation administration.

Besides power, water, and communications, what concern the average citizen most are the financial system, which affects everyone's financial well-being, and the health-care system, which touches on physical well-being. How are they doing in coping with Y2K? What should the public be on the lookout for? Health care

It is the wee hours of the morning on New Year's Day of the year 2000. A young person who has just left a raucous party gets in an auto accident on the way home, and he goes into shock while being sent to the hospital. The ER doctor yells, "Prepare the defibrillator!" But the defibrillator, which had been working perfectly just a day earlier, suddenly isn't producing any electricity. The patient is rushed off to another hospital, his life hanging in the balance. . . .

The patient has accident insurance, so, unless he was drunk at the time, he should receive compensation for the accident. However, when the insurance investigator discovers that there were Y2K-related problems with the instruments during the process of medical care, the company refuses compensation on the grounds that "Y2K is not an accident." Thus begins a three-sided dispute between the patient, hospital, and insurance company.

Don't get sick in 2000!

Though the above situation is hypothetical, it is not impossible. According to estimates by National Taiwan University Hospital (NTUH), about 7% of medical instruments would not pass a Y2K test. About 2% could cause serious damage or even death to patients.

Dr. Wu Ming-yen of the Non-Governmental Hospital and Clinics Association of the ROC states that when the new year arrives, at least ten percent of the kidney dialysis machines in Taiwan will not function, which will be bad news for the more than 20,000 people on the island who need these machines.

There is in fact a long list of equipment on the Y2K danger list: One is the cobalt-60 therapy unit used for treating cervical cancer. Because the calculations of the radiation dosage are connected to the half-life of cobalt, a mistake in the date would affect the amount of radiation delivered, giving patients more or less than they need, which would have serious consequences.

Many people would like to have a "millennium baby." But in the ultrasound machines made by certain manufacturers, problems have been discovered with calculating the term of pregnancy and expected delivery date. If the baby is going to be born in the year 2000, there could be errors such as miscalculations of the date or meaningless drivel on the computer screen. At such a time it will be necessary to rely on an experienced physician to judge things the old-fashioned way.

One information specialist familiar with the risks of Y2K in the field of health care declares: "I encourage everyone to stay in shape. Definitely don't get sick in 2000!" Of the major areas of concern established by the government, the health-care system gets relatively low grades in terms of coping with Y2K. This is not only the case in Taiwan, but also in advanced countries such as the United States.

Less is more

Hsiao Mei-ling, a specialist at the Department of Health (DOH) who is responsible for overseeing Y2K countermeasures in hospitals, relates in the testing stage. This is somewhat behind the corresponding that the DOH is responsible for 51 large hospitals (indicating regional hospitals or above), accounting for about 40% of the total number of hospital beds in Taiwan. Currently, all of these have completed necessary adjustments to their information systems or are figures for the financial, petroleum, or electrical power industries. As with industry, areas of Y2K concern in hospitals can be divided into information systems and non-information systems (the latter being mainly medical equipment and facilities).

The former indicates those systems governed by computers and applied software, including registration, payments, medical records, prescriptions, pharmacy records, personnel, accounting, and the like. For some of the larger hospitals, which began computerization early, this aspect will prove extremely complex. This is why hospitals like NTUH and Chang Gung Memorial Hospital are taking this opportunity to completely reengineer their information systems.

"In the big hospitals, all the medical records, pharmaceuticals inventory, even the elevators and the lights, are controlled by computers. Naturally Y2K will have a bigger impact on them," says a spokesperson at a hospital with only 80 beds. Smaller hospitals generally began computerization only in 1995, to coincide with the implementation of the national health insurance plan, which computerizes its billing records. Because this was so recent, they can switch back to doing things by hand at a moment's notice.

"For example," says the spokesperson, "a few days ago our computer voice registration system went down. All we had to do was switch over to registration by telephone, or on-the-spot registration with our staff taking notes by hand," he says. Small hospitals are used to being only semi-automated. "Our staff can handle many different things and are adaptable. They are not so 'fussy' as people at the big hospitals." He suggests that the low degree of computerization at small hospitals, and thus the lower dependence on technology, is turning out to be a good thing as far as Y2K is concerned. Hospital switch

But what if systems go down at the big hospitals? "Most of the patients who visit large hospitals are in fact only there on regular outpatient visits," says Hsiao Mei-ling. "If the systems go down, these people can simply go to the smaller clinics near their homes." Of course these clinics might also have computer problems, but this would not be as serious. For one thing, in many of these clinics only the national health insurance billing procedure is computerized, but registration and prescriptions are not. For another thing, in cities there are many small clinics, and people have a wide variety of choices, so they should always have somewhere to turn in the event of illness.

Turning to the Y2K problem in non-information medical equipment, people are very concerned.

British Y2K specialists working back in 1997 found that normally the monitoring and life-support systems in intensive care units rely entirely on instruments attached to the patient's body. If they detect anomalies in things like blood oxygen or blood pressure levels, the patient automatically receives the necessary medication. Unfortunately, many of these machines failed their Y2K tests. You can imagine that there are grounds for serious concern if no one can be sure how much medication an ICU patient is getting.

Back then some experts even warned that if immediate action was not taken, as many as a 1,500 patients worldwide could die as a result. This report marked the beginning of the Y2K battle in the area of medical equipment.

Medical equipment comes in a bewildering variety. Just as in industry, except for rare cases where a senior expert (a medical engineer in the case of hospitals) is available to repair bugged machines, those with Y2K problems will have to rely on the original suppliers to upgrade or replace defective machines.

Currently some of the larger hospitals in Taiwan have established websites with lists of machines which have experienced problems in Y2K tests. At the same time, the Department of Health is working with the US Health Industry Manufacturers' Association (HIMA) in hopes that it can bring large international manufacturers to strengthen their services in Taiwan. Be careful what medicine you take!

Because time is short, and not every hospital can afford to replace some of the more expensive machinery, at present the DOH is only requiring that the 51 hospitals under its jurisdiction determine, by the end of November of this year, which devices are likely to have problems, so that these are not used by mistake. Ones that cannot be repaired or replaced in time will simply not be used.

What if patients therefore have to transfer hospitals because the appropriate equipment is out of service? Well, other hospitals will just have to temporarily "put up with it" and "help out." Of course, the DOH is also working to keep abreast of data reported by various hospitals, so that if Y2K affects any particularly important machines, or a large number of devices of certain kind, the DOH will ask that the manufacturers provide assistance as quickly as possible so that patients are not left without necessary equipment.

Another problem which has recently been getting attention is that of pharmaceuticals. A recent report in the US suggests that insulin from Denmark (which supplies most of the insulin used in the States) may be unreliable because Denmark is not making sufficient progress with regard to the Y2K problem. Hospitals in Taiwan will have to pay close attention to maintaining an adequate supply of reliable vital medications.

Currently about 60% of the prescribed medications in Taiwan are made domestically. But pharmaceutical manufacturers are not under the jurisdiction of the DOH for Y2K matters. Problematically, they are not likely to get priority attention from their governing agency, the Industrial Development Bureau, because the total value of their production is not great. Who is going to monitor the quality of pharmaceuticals? This urgently needs to be clarified.

The Y2K problem in medical care should not be taken lightly. The DOH is calling on hospitals to accept responsibility and do what they can for themselves now to avoid disputes later. As for ordinary citizens, besides making a phone call to the local hospital to "show concern" about their progress on the Y2K problem, don't forget: Stay in shape, and don't get sick in the year 2000!

Finance

Many people have expected the financial sector to be a "disaster area" in terms of Y2K for many reasons. The main service driving the financial industry-lending money-often extends over years or even decades. Moreover, the handling of huge sums of money depends on computers, while financial institutions are closely interlinked on computer networks, so rocking one will shake the whole structure. Fortunately, because no one wants to see this disaster happen, in many places, including Taiwan, the financial sector has been among the most active in combating Y2K.

The advantages of the financial sector

What would a Y2K disaster in the financial sector look like? Have you heard the one about the guy who borrows NT$50,000 against his credit card in December 1999, and then when he gets his bank statement for February 2000 it says that he owes NT$10 million in interest? The computer decides that the distance in time between the statement and the loan is 00-99, or "minus 99 years," which, since the computer can't handle negative numbers, is 99 years-at 8% a year! Even worse, because of the huge amount of interest owed, the account has been frozen, and all the poor guy can do is jump up and down in frustration.

"This kind of thing isn't likely to happen," says Lin Yung-chien, deputy director of the Bureau of Monetary Affairs. Well aware of the potential impact of Y2K, the BMA began in early 1997 to spread the word, while a series of classes was begun for government and private banks, credit cooperatives, and farmers' and fishermen's associations. The financial industry is already past the initial adjustment stage and well into the testing stage. They should complete all their Y2K countermeasures before the end of June this year.

In some ways the financial sector is at an advantage compared to other industries in coping with Y2K.

The first is the asset size of most financial institutions. For example, new banks must have capitalization of at least NT$10 billion. With this much cash at stake-much more than an ordinary small enterprise can lay its hands on-financial institutions have little choice but to be extra careful.

Secondly, although the task of coping with Y2K is detailed and gigantic, it is not all that difficult. Except for a few physical facilities like office elevators, telephones, and security systems, the main work involves computer data systems. The financial industry does not face the same problems with process control systems as in the manufacturing sector, nor does it have the diversity or complexity of equipment that the health-care sector has. Thus financial firms can concentrate their firepower.

In addition, because the financial system is interlinked, and no laggards are tolerated, in general bank information systems have a dual-mainframe design. Besides the operational mainframe, there is always a reserve mainframe standing by for support. Y2K testing can be conducted on the reserve mainframe, so there's no disturbance of normal operations. This avoids the main dilemma facing manufacturers of having to stop their operations now to test whether or not they will have to stop their operations later.

Axis of the money network

Among all of Taiwan's financial institutions, the one that is under the most scrutiny is the one responsible for interbank operations (interbank remittances and cross-bank automatic teller operations) for all 128 banks in Taiwan-the Financial Information Service Company.

Joseph Ho, senior engineer at FISC, explains: "FISC is the exchange center for all interbank flows. If it stops operations or something goes wrong, interbank exchanges will fall into chaos." FISC began taking measures to cope with Y2K in mid-1997. They inspected all 12,000 programs in the system, discovering that about 12% of them were related to the year or date. They spent a tremendous amount of man-hours making changes, bank by bank, spending more than NT$200 million in the process, and replaced and upgraded their original IBM mainframe. FISC has completed adjustments and testing. Moreover, since July of this year, they have opened their doors to all 128 member banks to come in to do testing of their own. (Banks set their own mainframes to a year-2000 date, try a simulated transfer, and see whether the data comes out correct.) As of mid-March, more than 110 banks had conducted tests, and 58 had passed.

"Financial testing is somewhat special. We test all different kinds of simulated transfers," says Joseph Ho. He says, for example, that when they first began testing, they discovered that some programs had not been changed to account for the ROC calendar system. In the ROC calendar 1912 is the Year 1, so to get the ROC year, subtract 1911 from the Western year (e.g. 1999 would then correspond to ROC year 88). In many computers, however, the digits "19" were left off, so that when tests were done for the Western year "2000," the computer subtracted 11 from 00, and got "minus 11"; not recognizing negative numbers, it then decided that the Western year 2000 corresponded to the ROC year 11!

If data with such dating were sent out to participating banks, many calculations, like interest or balance remaining, would be in chaos. Given the volume of work handled by FISC-200,000 interbank transfers and 500,000 cross-bank automatic teller transactions per day-even if only a small percentage of transactions were affected, the result would be disastrous.

Interestingly, seeing as the financial sector is fundamentally a service industry, it is not enough for it just to get its own house in order. If enterprises heavily in debt to banks fold, the banks themselves will suffer. From this year, many banks have begun to consider the client's policies for dealing with Y2K in their evaluation of a loan application. Some major banks have even gone out and offered Y2K consulting services to firms and clients.

As for the stock market, which is the institution of greatest concern to the millions of stock players in Taiwan, according to a survey conducted in February by the Directorate General of Budget, Accounting, and Statistics, 48% of securities firms have completed their countermeasures, 43% are in the testing stage, and only 9% are lagging behind, still making initial adjustments. Meanwhile, the securities dealers' association will establish a Y2K task force to strengthen oversight. No worries?

At the level of the individual consumer, it has been reported in newspapers that the United States Federal Reserve is preparing to print an additional US$50 billion in cash to cope with withdrawals of money by the public. What should consumers in Taiwan do?

"In fact no one needs to worry that the money in their savings account will suddenly disappear," says the BMA's Lin Yung-chien. If the bank makes a mistake, at most it will be in calculating the interest. If consumers are really that worried, there's no harm in keeping all their receipts of deposits, withdrawals, and interest payments, and these can all be fully re-entered at the end of the year.

"However," advises Lin, "please don't everybody rush in on December 31, or the system will break down and that will create a general panic." People need only prepare perhaps a little more cash than they normally would use. If there are a few days when it is really not possible to use ATMs, people could simply go to the tellers inside. If the tellers' computers are also down, then just be a little patient, and you should be able to withdraw your money easily.

The key message is: "Definitely don't all rush out to empty your bank accounts!" Even the best-managed bank cannot withstand a run caused by blind panic among its customers. The result would be "making something out of nothing." This is all the more true as governments overseas have already warned their citizens about the potential security problems of keeping large amounts of cash in the home.

Y2K is a test of the determination and wisdom of all the players in the financial world to work together. While protecting yourself, don't endanger the whole: that's the highest principle.

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