Between Thursday, when the city of Akron’s website was hacked, and Saturday afternoon, the city’s 311 information center received 5,200 calls from taxpayers desperate to learn if their information had been compromised.
City employees fielded 2,200 of these calls, however, meaning about 3,000 went unanswered.
The center, which normally handles 1,700 to 2,100 calls in a week, was overwhelmed.
“Nobody plans for an event of this nature,” said John Eaton, Akron’s head of customer service. “When it does happen, you have to react as best as you can.”
Turkish Ajan has claimed credit for hacking into Akron’s website and internal server about 2 p.m. Thursday, and posting the information, including Social Security numbers and account numbers, of about 35,000 taxpayers on another website where anyone could access it. The website with the stolen information was taken down Saturday.
Turkish Ajan is part of the Anonymous’ OpUSA Campaign, which has been trying to hack into various U.S. government websites. Mayor Don Plusquellic has called the hacking “a terrorist attack” and has said the city will cut off diplomatic ties with Turkey if the country fails to cooperate with the investigation by Akron and the FBI.
Akron has been trying to reach taxpayers whose information was jeopardized, first with phone calls and emails, then with letters mailed Tuesday to more than 30,000 residents. The city has said taxpayers who want to find out if they are on the list of those whose information was disseminated can call the 311 information line.
The 311 call center, though, normally handles such issues as complaints about tall grass or requests for bulk pickups. It initially had trouble responding to the deluge of calls.
The city added call-in hours on Saturday and Sunday and asked employees to stay later. The calls, however, kept coming, with as many as 50 people at a time waiting. Some calls were not answered for as long as 46 minutes; some callers hung up in frustration.
“Certain things are beyond our control,” Eaton said.
Akron took additional steps Tuesday to try to get the call load and wait time under more control, adding six additional phones and six more computers to the 311 center in a building at the Public Works Bureau on Triplett Boulevard, and bringing in employees from other city departments to help answer calls. The city also had assistant law directors at six community centers Tuesday — a step that will be repeated today — for those who would rather have their questions answered in person.
The 311 center, which has been operating since 2004, normally is staffed from 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays. Inside, it looks like a typical office, with the call agents at desks, each with a double-monitor computer and a phone with multiple, flashing lines. A digital sign on the wall tells how many calls need to be answered and how long the first caller put on hold has been waiting.
Sheryl Spinelli Maslanka, the acting supervisor of the call center, said it typically handles 400 to 500 calls a day. On Saturday, it received 1,700; of those, 300 were answered. Six people were working, rather than the normal two for a Saturday.
“There is no way we could answer 1,700 calls,” she said.
Still, she is pleased with how the staff has handled a difficult situation.
“Everybody here — all the agents — have been very kind to those calling,” she said. “[The callers] are confused and don’t know what to do.”
Maslanka said some people have questions the call agents aren’t able to answer, such as whether and when anyone will use their information and for what means.
On Tuesday morning, eight employees, three who normally work in the recreation department, helped field phone calls.
Kathy Johnson, 37, who has worked in the call center since it opened, took a call from a concerned taxpayer. She asked the person’s name and looked it up in a list that shows whose information was compromised.
“No, your name is not on the list,” she told the caller.
The next caller wasn’t so lucky.
“Uh, oh,” Johnson said. “Your name is on the list.”
Johnson advised the caller to monitor her financial accounts closely and call the credit reporting agencies to have her credit frozen. She told her about a police report Akron filed, available at www.ci.akron.oh.us/, that can be provided to credit agencies and banks. She also gave the caller the numbers of the three credit- reporting agencies.
City officials were in contact with all three credit bureaus Tuesday in an effort to work out details to make the credit freeze free or to reimburse charges already paid.
Johnson has been pleasantly surprised that taxpayers haven’t been more upset when they’ve called in. She said some have left irritated messages on the call center’s voice mail, with a few so angry they’ve forgotten to provide their contact information.
“I don’t think anybody has been an irate caller,” she said. “They get upset about trash. You’d think they would be upset about this.”
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or firstname.lastname@example.org.