In comparison to its potential impact on national defense or air traffic control, the Y2K problem for the event planning industry is relatively minor. Nevertheless there are plenty of nightmarish scenarios to consider. If the software used to track hotel reservations or meeting registration is not Y2K-compliant, there could be room block errors, mistakes in food and beverage calculations, and erroneous attrition charges. Billing software glitches could lead to confusion over payments and credits. Exhibitors may not be able to get their exhibits built, delivered, and set up at the right place and the right time. While you can be thankful you're not an air traffic controller, you've still got your work cut out for you.

Y2K Assurances First, ask hotels, contractors, and other vendors if their computer systems are Y2K-compliant. It is increasingly common for customers to demand--and receive--written assurances that Y2K problems will not prevent them from performing their obligations. An unwillingness to do so, particularly at this comparatively late date, is a red flag.

Y2K compliance also can be incorporated into written contracts. For example, meeting planners should try to get written assurances that the vendor:

* has reviewed its operations for Y2K compliance;

* has developed, or is developing, a program to address Y2K problems in a timely fashion;

* has made a related inquiry of its relevant suppliers and vendors;

* and based on such review, is satisfied that Y2K problems will not cause any material adverse effect on the performance of the contract.

In addition, such contractual representations should be backed up by a clause in which the meeting planner is indemnified against any losses arising from a Y2K problem.

What Goes Around Of course, turn about is fair play. Planners should be prepared to respond to similar requests. Ideally, responses should be reviewed by legal counsel. Whenever possible, limit your organization's Y2K liability by excluding certain types of damages (e.g., lost profits) or, better yet, by excluding potential liability for Y2K problems altogether.

Last fall, President Clinton signed into law the Year 2000 Information and Readiness Disclosure Act to encourage companies to share Y2K compliance information. The act limits the circumstances under which Y2K disclosure statements can be used against the persons making them and imposes strict proof requirements in legal actions claiming fraud or defamation from a Y2K statement. For the protections of the act to apply, the statement must be specifically identified as a "Y2K readiness statement." In addition, the act provides that exchanges of information that take place before 2001 to correct or avoid Y2K problems are not subject to antitrust laws. Such exchanges, however, cannot be used for anticompetitive conduct.

No industry that relies on computer-based information systems is likely to make a completely trouble-free transition into the new millennium. With some planning and preparation, however, the Y2K bug's impact can be kept to a minimum.