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From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
May 26, 1999

Assessment of Public Health Computer Readiness for 2000—United States, 1999

JAMA. 1999;281(20):1884-1885. doi:10.1001/jama.281.20.1884-JWR0526-3-1

MMWR. 1999;48:359-367

2 tables omitted

Computer software, equipment, and other devices that contain embedded microchips that store and process dates may use two-digit years (e.g., 99 for 1999) to reduce data entry burden and save electronic storage space; these devices may not work properly when the year 2000 (Y2K) arrives.1 Many aspects of health-care delivery, public health surveillance and research, and critical infrastructure components (e.g., utilities and transportation services) depend on vulnerable computers. To ensure that critical public health functions will not be compromised because of Y2K problems, CDC assessed state public health agency readiness for Y2K. This report describes the findings of the assessment, which indicate that state health agencies that responded are substantially ready for Y2K and plan to reach full readiness in 1999.

In November 1998, CDC sent surveys to health officials in all states, territories, and the District of Columbia using a standardized questionnaire; responses were received from December 1998 through February 1999. Questions were asked about the degree of Y2K assessment performed and the degree of Y2K readiness achieved in 10 functional areas essential to public health and potentially vulnerable to Y2K problems. CDC received completed surveys from 29 states, representing 75% of the U.S. population.

The 29 public health agencies reported an average of 92% (median: 93%; range: 85%-99%) completion for the Y2K assessment across the 10 functional areas listed in the survey. The level of Y2K readiness averaged 77% (median: 75%; range: 66%-93%) across the 10 areas; one state reported Y2K readiness in all areas. All states (with one exception in one functional area) reported intentions to reach full readiness during 1999 across all functional areas. However, there were 35 responses of "unknown" in various functional areas, with the greatest number (14) regarding the readiness of local public health agencies. Thirty-four percent of the respondents lacked a contingency plan, 49% had plans to develop one, and 17% did not intend to develop one.

Reported by:

Information Resources Management Office, Office of the Director, CDC.

CDC Editorial Note:

The survey results indicate substantial Y2K readiness of many computer-based functions, with plans to reach full Y2K readiness in 1999, in state health agencies that responded to the survey. Because 21 states, all the U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia did not respond, the survey findings do not reflect Y2K readiness in these locations. In addition, the lack of information about local public health agency readiness further limits the assessment of public health system readiness overall. Given the fixed deadline (December 31, 1999) for preparedness, states that do not plan to be ready until the fourth quarter of 1999 may have increased their risk for not completing the work in time. Finally, the lack of an intent to develop a contingency plan in some states further increases the risk for a longer interruption in service or operations than would be the case with adequate planning.

CDC has achieved Y2K readiness for all its major information systems and is in the final stages of ensuring that its infrastructure is ready (e.g., facilities, laboratory equipment, desktop computers and networking devices, telecommunications, and commercial software products). CDC also has implemented a toll-free hotline to provide Y2K information on health care and public health, telephone (877) 232-2020. The system provides an automated fax transmission consisting of a Y2K fact sheet and resource guide, including Internet addresses for additional information on topics such as medical devices, health-care sector Y2K readiness, assessment checklists, and contingency planning templates.

The President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion reports that the nation's major infrastructure services (e.g., telecommunications, electric power production and distribution, banking and other financial services, and transportation), will be ready and that no major service disruptions will occur.1 Additional information is available from the council, telephone (888) 872-4925 ([888] USA-4-Y2K), and on the World-Wide Web, http://www.y2k.gov.

Health-care providers and government health agencies must maintain a full commitment to Y2K preparations, readiness, testing, and contingency planning. Public health and safety and the quality of health care are paramount during the Y2K transition. All public health partners are encouraged to develop rigorous contingency plans and business continuity plans to assess and quickly respond to any problems. To track progress and identify vulnerable areas, CDC will repeat the state public health agency readiness assessment in June 1999.

President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion, Welcome to President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion. Available at http://www.y2k/gov. Accessed May 3, 1999.