11th Hour. Another insider's view of Mr. CEO

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This is an open letter. Please, circulate, if you choose, or ignore this information, depending on the leading of your own personal wisdom on Y2K and related issues. At this time I am not able to provide any details other than this brief summary.

Y2K: An Eleventh Hour Assessment

by Will Reishman, November 8, 1999

A troubling prognosis: The status of the electric utility industry.

About two months ago a man I am privileged to call a friend (Friend #1) related to me an assessment of the Y2K status of the electric utility industry. This report was passed on from his very good friend, someone we'll call Mr. CEO. First a word about Friend #1. He is a person of the utmost integrity, a very wise man, and a very professional individual. He's an engineer by training, and someone who has had outstanding success in several career paths during his lifetime. He also has an in-depth understanding of Y2K and is quite capable of judging Mr. CEO's competence, not to mention the fact that as a good friend he can also assess Mr. CEO's sincerity in this report. The first time I heard what I am about to relate I was stunned.

A short time later, Friend #1 shared the same report with a few friends and me. We mumbled and stumbled for a couple of days - taken aback by the seriousness of the report of Mr. CEO's concerns. Determined to resolve with precision the accuracy of what we heard, I called Friend #1 and asked him to repeat, carefully and thoroughly, exactly what he had heard from his friend, Mr. CEO. This is an exact quote: "If we lose power in 40-60% of the country from between 2 weeks and a month; and, if we have dirty power all next year that is rationed, I'll consider that a home run." There's no question that Mr. CEO considers that incredible prognosis his best case scenario.

Just who is Mr. CEO and why should we believe him? He is a principal and the Chief Executive Officer of a large software engineering firm specializing in work with embedded systems, the programmable logic controllers and other devices that make so much of the modern automated infrastructure run so brilliantly. His company is well known (I first became aware of it in 2Q '98 in the Y2K context) and has over 200 teams of engineers in service today at electric, water, and gas utilities. Based on Friend #1's information I have been firmly convinced that Mr. CEO is one of the world's most qualified individuals in this field.

Because of the incredibly devastating impact this scenario would have on our society and economy, I encouraged another friend to look into it. Friend #2 is considered one of the country's Y2K experts. He had grown somewhat more optimistic about the status of the electric utility industry during the course of 1999, although he remained very concerned about Y2K overall. Because of his technical background and general Y2K expertise, Friend #2 is far more capable than I of evaluating the credibility of Mr. CEO's report. The fact that I encouraged Friend #2 to check this out is no reflection on my level of trust in Friend #1. It was simply a matter of prudent due diligence. You might also look at it as following the Biblical principle of taking action in serious matters only on the testimony of at least two witnesses.

Well, Friend #2 did arrange to be at several lengthy meetings also attended by Mr. CEO. He has recently reported to me that: first, the quote given above indeed does represent Mr. CEO's thinking; and second, "that there is no one in the world more qualified than Mr. CEO to accurately assess the Y2K status of the North American electric utility industry."

"If we lose power in 40-60% of the country from between 2 weeks and a month; and, if we have dirty power all next year that is rationed, I'll consider that a `home run'." It is clear Mr. CEO is indicating that this is his best case scenario. The primary reason for this very negative outlook is that as Mr. CEO's engineers probe the situation at one electric utility after another they are encountering a much higher failure rate of embedded systems than expected. Approaching 5%, as I understand it. This is in contrast to government and industry reports of failure rates well below 1%, some suggesting rates as low as 1/10%, or even lower.

Folks, we are obviously talking about the risk of an utter collapse of the domestic infrastructure. Even if things are not as severe as Mr. CEO thinks, it still represents an enormous risk to the lives of many, many people, and threatens, at least for some protracted period of time, the modern American way of life. Perhaps not "The End Of The World As We Know It" (TEOTWAKI) - but much closer than any of us care to get.

Many of you may ask why you haven't heard anything about all this. Why hasn't Mr. CEO come forward with his information? If he is a man of character and compassion (which both of my friends have assured me is very much the case), why doesn't he find a way to get the country's attention. There's a simple explanation. No question that Mr. CEO would not make such a statement unless he had ample proof, and because of the unique position of his company, these claims could be easily documented. However, there's one hitch - confidential agreements. It is likely that the service contracts between Mr. CEO's company and each utility have confidentiality clauses that prohibit his sharing information with any unauthorized persons. My guess is that Mr. CEO has anguished about whether to make this information public, but in the end decided that his integrity did not permit him to violate the contractual obligations to his clients.

When I spoke recently with Friend #1 to ask him if he approved of my telling this story, he offered another detail. You won't like it. It reveals the ugly underbelly of Y2K. The sad fact is that Mr. CEO is beginning to lay off some of his engineers. The utilities are terminating their contracts. Why? Does this mean good news? Are they finishing the job? Not exactly. As Mr. CEO's people identify problems at individual companies, the engineers create a paper trail that increases a company's legal liability. At least that apparently is the judgment of management at a number of Mr. CEO's clients. To make matters worse, the people being let go possess the very skills that will be required to repair essential systems come January 1st. Most utilities do not have the in-house personnel necessary to execute an efficient fix-on-failure Y2K strategy. Yet this fix-on-failure approach appears to be the meaning of Y2K-ready in some of the electric utility industry.

If you couple this devastating information with the equally troubling reports continuing to surface about likely problems throughout the world's oil and gas industry, you can only cry out - "God help us!" Because we will need every bit of Divine mercy and provision available. I suggest each of us immediately commit to a fervency in our spiritual preparation and supplication. Unless we can be lifted above our human limitations and failings, we will not be capable of helping others in the way we have intended.

There is more I could report to you about recent Y2K developments, but all that would be a summary of recent stuff gleaned from the Internet that most of you have seen. I have tried to contribute only that which is unique information for your consideration.

-- cpr (buytexas@swbell.net), September 11, 2000


WOW, this is HOT! Thanks guy!

-- (wow@wow.wow), September 11, 2000.


Do you think "Mr CEO" ever actually existed, or was he made up in the *hope* of boosting credibility?

-- Grace (SincerelyGrace@aol.com), September 11, 2000.

cpr, You act like a robot. Alway spitting out the same thing, over and over again.

-- ET (bneville@zebra.net), September 12, 2000.

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