"I am Asking for Heads to Roll"

Cllr Gary Malcolm says virus became a catastrophe for Council

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After problems experienced trying to access Ealing Council's website for a number of days, Cllr Gary Malcolm is now calling for a full, open enquiry into the website and phone problems. Cllr Malcolm says: "I am asking for heads to roll – how many depends on who did what and why."

On Monday May 18th, we reported that the Ealing Council website was down. A Council spokesman told us at the time: "Despite have [sic] comprehensive security software, the Council’s computer system was threatened by a virus late last week. In order to protect information, the Council’s website and computer system were shut down as a precautionary measure.

"The threat has now been removed and we are working to restore services as quickly as possible. We apologise to customers for any inconvenience caused."

Cllr Malcolm works in the website industry and says he is "totally appalled" by the situation. He estimates that Ealing Council's website was down for about 5.5 days. He said: "This virus was indeed a problem but Ealing Council turned it into a catastrophe."

Cllr Malcolm kept a diary of events as they occurred:

Thursday 14th May evening – website down

Friday 15th May – a resident called me when they could not get access to Ealing’s website. I called to get a full briefing but councillors and members of the public were given the standard line of a virus attack which later on affected all calls into and out of the council buildings. I called staff via their mobiles. A promise was made to be up and running by Monday.

Monday 18th May – no service. I even received calls from two residents in Perivale asking for help with council matters.

Tuesday 19th May – Most services are reported to be back on-line

Wednesday 20th May – Server goes down or the council switched off the website. Apparently someone internally within the council re-infected the system. Also council switchboard answer machine message services stated there was an evacuation in the Town Hall. After calling a number of staff (via their mobiles) I was told a problem with the design of the system meant the recorded message could not be changed.

Wednesday 20th May – I emailed Chief Executive, Darra Singh and asked why there seemed to be a veil of secrecy / lack of information etc from some staff in Ealing? Also I asked for a commitment that any resident who loses out because the website was down will be compensated / reimbursed. So far no reply on that point.

Thursday 21st May – Server back up

Saturday 23rd May – council website back down again (third time) sometime earlier than 9am when a resident emailed me. Website brought back up at approximately 8pm. Note that I checked just now (midnight) and it appears that the council are so embarrassed they have taken off an earlier press release about the virus. See my attached picture.

Cllr Malcolm concludes that:

- The council has a disaster recovery plan which clearly doesn't work (it was a disaster).

- Paying council bills was impossible; he has also received no reply to his request for a commitment to compensation for those affected.

- Many contractors have on occasion been hired to work 24 hour days to clean the hundreds of PCs in Ealing Council buildings. He believes it is likely the cost will be footed by the tax payer and not the Council’s IT contractor, ServiceEaling.

- When the phone system was partially down no-one in the customer service section had printed copies of internal contacts and numbers, so may residents made wasted calls.

- He is aware of one resident who applied for a postal vote form and did not get it in time. Cllr Malcolm believes this has implications for the fairness of the European elections as others must have been similarly affected.

Anthony Kemp, Director of Business Services at Ealing Council said: "Whilst we continue to apologise for any inconvenience, we had no choice but to take immediate action to protect our systems and secure highly sensitive financial and personal data.

“Despite this issue, which meant we had to individually check more than 4,500 PCs at more than 60 sites across the borough, the council's contingency plan ensured all critical services were delivered.

“It would have been irresponsible to put the system back up without being sure that it was virus free and would not infect other organisations, including partners in the emergency services.

“Our staff have worked around the clock to restore operations and keep disruption to a minimum and external experts have confirmed that our actions were robust and followed correct procedures.”

A Council spokesman added: "Online payments are just one method of payment open to residents. Our cash office and customer service centre was open throughout the period of disruption to take payments. We can confirm that people who were unable to pay fines online have been given extensions.

"We have had no complaints from any residents about problems with postal votes. There was a dedicated IT team allocated to assist the electoral team and staff worked over the weekend before postal vote applications closed to process telephone, emails and faxes.

"All requests are logged and dated and staff worked throughout the weekend (16 & 17 May) to ensure all were responded to. Indeed, Ealing had the highest return of European registration forms in all London boroughs. If any resident has any concerns they should contact electoral services on 020 8825 7777 or elections@ealing.gov.uk and they will be happy to help.

"We have a default emergency telephone message that is automatically goes up if the system is taken down, this message can be changed and was updated."



June 1, 2009