Yesterday I had the pleasure of sitting down and chatting with Larry Smith, President of the Institute for Crisis Management. Among the many valuable insights gleamed from that meeting was a reminder of the months preceding the feared “Y2K”.

Like many, I was an IT systems engineer at the time. The company I was working for had spent millions of dollars and countless man-hours in correcting code in the ERP systems, financial/GL applications, backoffice systems and even some of the products we designed and manufactured.  Like everyone else, we watched the news and closely monitored the progress of critical infrastructure organizations like the banks, public utilities and oil refineries. We went so far as to issue a certification program for our critical suppliers to ensure they would continue to deliver raw materials, equipment and services after Jan 1, just as our OEM customers had required of us.

I clearly remember New Year’s Eve 1999.  Again, like many other IT guys that year, I spent it in the computer room.  I was in our Northridge, CA location and on a conference bridge with my colleagues in Indiana and in Europe and Asia.  Most of the day was spent assisting our overseas counterparts in testing various components as their clocks turned over past midnight.  By the time the year 2000 arrived on the east coast in the United States, we were resigned to the fact that this was decidedly a non-event. Midnight came and there were no power outages.  Defense systems didn’t fail.  Banks didn’t fail.   There were no riots in the streets.  And, as expected, none of our internal computer systems failed.  It was a quiet night and seemed a lot of anxiety over nothing.

And that’s exactly the way it was supposed to be.

You see, worldwide, governments, communities, businesses and individuals knew the event was coming.  Through careful planning and preparation, the threat was contained and the potential for disaster was averted. But even today, ten years later, we occasionally hear business leaders argue against the value of business continuity planning by saying, “Look at all the hype around Y2K and nothing happened.”  Unfortunately, that’s how continuity planning works.  Ideally, if planned well, virtually all potential business disruptions become non-events.

The only real difference between Y2K and other disrupting threats business face today is that we knew ahead of time exactly when the incident would occur.  But, just like Y2K, we know that these disruptions will occur and we know there is something we can do about it to reduce the impact, reduce financial loss and stay in business.

We can plan. We can prepare.