City website crashes after technical difficulties handling summer camp registration


Katie Pach/Daily Senior Staffer

Director of parks, recreation and community services Lawrence Hemingway speaks at Monday’s City Council meeting. Hemingway said the department’s website crashed over the weekend due to too much traffic.

Samantha Handler, Assistant City Editor

Online registration for the city’s summer camps encountered a snafu over the weekend that resulted in a high number of vacant registration spots, as the Parks, Recreation and Community Services website experienced technical difficulties, city staff said at Monday’s City Council meeting.

The online registration forms for Evanston summer camps originally went live at 8 a.m. Saturday, then crashed due to the large number of people trying to register. It was finally shut down entirely by city officials by 9:45 a.m., according to a city news release.

People were still able to register in person at the Levy Senior Center, and the department has processed all 748 of those applications, department director Lawrence Hemingway said at the meeting.

He said when registration opened, there were only around 58 people at the center to register, but an hour later there were more than 300 people trying to register in person, with more “coming in the building every minute by the dozens.”

“Of course people weren’t happy that the online system wasn’t working, but we didn’t anticipate having that as an issue,” Hemingway said. “Last year, that wasn’t an issue for us. So there was no reason for us to assume that would be an issue in 2018.”

There are a total of 9,715 spots in Evanston summer camps and 2,104 of those spots are now filled, Hemingway said. He added that “every single camp” has openings and the department will offer a second time for online registration.

The department’s Twitter account originally said online registration will reopen Wednesday morning, though Hemingway said they will delay that time until 8 a.m. this coming Saturday. He said this will be a more convenient time for people who work and give staff time to retest the system.

Hemingway added that they are “trying to make the best of a bad situation,” and that he still believes the online system is the best tool to use for registration.

“We have the technology,” Hemingway said. “We just have to make sure the technology works in the future. Hopefully we can get this thing right this coming Saturday.”

The city’s chief information officer, Luke Stowe, said staff has identified the factors that likely contributed to the technical difficulties and will come up with some action steps to prevent future incidents.

Stowe said staff will look to increase the server’s processing power and have been working with the software vendor to further prevent the system from crashing again. He said they will do a “full stress test” this week with a third party before the next round of registration.

Mayor Steve Hagerty said he appreciates that the department will delay the registration time from Wednesday to Saturday since it will be more convenient for a large number of people. Camp registration may already be a stressful time for families who are trying to get their children into certain programs or classes before the spots fill up, he said.

“The bottom line is the city of Evanston ought not add to people’s stress and we did on Saturday,” Hagerty said. “It’s unfortunate, but we have to learn from it and make sure this does not happen again.”

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