Brexit uncovers the stark difference there is in the way people assess risk. There’s a range of responses to alerts, concerns and warnings. Legitimate concerns are being raised by respected professional organisations who have a great deal of accumulated experience. Yet, a large group of people react with a dismissive attitude to these concerns. Often that that’s the form of simple statements like; we’ve been through all this before, it’s all fear mongering and this wasn’t a problem before 1973. Brexit concerns are real.
I’ve found one of the most irritating and wrong dismissive statements is about the “Millennium bug”. It goes something like this: you remember all that fear mongering back in the late 1990s? Everything was going to stop and grind to a halt, but it didn’t. It was all a waste of money because nothing happened. That’s what’s happening now with Brexit.
I admit that standing here in 2018, what happened around 1999 does sound bizarre. A massive public information campaign altered everyone to the problem that computers of the time had with the practice of representing the year with two digits. In our INTERNET age none of this makes much sense. However, this basic design deficiency of the date roll-over at the start of the year 2000 had the potential to cripple 20th Century computer systems.
Risk management is about identifying problems and then putting in place measure to deal with those problems. It’s all very well to dismiss problems after the event. In fact, after enormous efforts have been made to overcome those problems. That simple hindsight view can be downright foolish and dangerous. It can be to invite catastrophe.
Since, at the time I was working avionic systems at the UK CAA, I can tell you of the real experience of solving the Y2K problem. Yes, it was a real problem with the real potential of crippling aircraft computer systems. Not every case was critical and not every case was fixed. A great deal of work was done surveying those aircraft computer systems. Checking that potential failures were identified and fixed or that the systems were retired. Processes and procedures were put in place to make sure aircraft continued to fly safely.
The work done was a success. That success was evident because no lives were lost, no major disruption took place and life continued smoothly after midnight on 31 December 1999. So, now when I hear people quote this event as an example of fear mongering and it’s immensely irritating. It’s more than that, it’s downright senseless to walk around with such ideas.
Today, our more complex and interconnected computer systems are threated in different ways. Cyber attacks are real. It seems strange to have to say that, but they are real. Alerts, concerns and warnings should be heeded. It’s negligent not to prepare. I’m with the Scouts moto.