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U.S. agency rates foreign countries' Y2K status

The State Department plans to begin warning U.S. citizens who live and travel abroad about specific countries that are lagging in their Year 2000 computer preparations.

The State Department plans to begin warning U.S. citizens who live and travel abroad about specific countries that are lagging in their Year 2000 computer preparations.

In addition, the agency has posted a public announcement warning that computer systems around the world may experience problems including "unpredictable system malfunctions."

Back to Year 2000 Index Page Later this month, the department plans to notify select country governments of its concerns about Y2K-related problems that could affect American citizens abroad in those countries.

The department's Bureau of Consular Affairs will then begin warning the public about these concerns in September, according to department officials. The warnings will be similar to current terrorism warnings posted in airports across the country.

The warnings come as analysts and government officials on one hand praise the U.S. private and public progress in readying the nation's computer systems for the upcoming century date change, while on the other hand worry that much of the international community is falling behind in its Y2K efforts.

Over the last several months the State Department has been assessing Y2K readiness in the international arena. The results of those studies were turned over to the Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem last week and posted to the State Department's Web site this week.

With less than six months to go before the date change, the message is mixed, according to the report. Approximately half of the 161 countries assessed are reported to have a medium to high risk of suffering Y2K-related failures in their telecommunications, energy, and transportation sectors.

Anywhere from 52 to 68 developing countries out of 98 were rated as having a medium or high risk of Y2K-related failures in those three sectors, the report found.

As a result of these findings, the State Department is warning travelers to consult their airline, cruise line, tour operator, hotel, and travel agent about contingency plans in the event of unforeseen Y2K-related delays, malfunctions, and cancellations.

It also advises travelers to consider purchasing trip cancellation insurance, to anticipate possible delays in flights overseas, and to give themselves plenty of time if their travel itinerary includes connecting flights.

In addition, the agency advises travelers to make sure that their essential possessions such as passport, medications, eyeglasses, and emergency telephone numbers are in their carry-on luggage.

Earlier this year, the United Nations along with the World Bank announced the creation of the International Y2K Cooperation Centers, which consists of government officials, industry leaders, and business executives that support efforts to address the Year 2000 computer problem.

Despite this and other efforts by the global community to get it's Y2K ducks in order, analysts have been critical of such efforts as being too little, too late.

However, the efforts by the State Department won the praise of Lou Marcoccio, senior Y2K analyst for Gartner Group.

"They have done a good job in getting this information from a variety of sources. They used outside consultants, international agencies, and even went out themselves to get the data, so what ever they come up with will be very accurate," said Marcoccio.

Marcoccio supports the State Department's plan to notify the laggard countries three months before they list the countries publicly in order to give them time to respond or provide additional information.

The Year 2000 problem, also known as the millennium bug, stems from an old programming shortcut that used only the last two digits of the year. Many computers now must be modified, or they may mistake the year 2000 for the year 1900 and may not be able to function at all.