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Lowell, Mass., Considers Cybersecurity Amid Attack Recovery

CIO Mirán Fernandez told the City Council that a cyber attack created an opportunity to rebuild a free Wi-Fi service that hadn't followed established protocols during implementation back in 2004.

(TNS) — A focused City Council deliberated the city's business during its meeting at City Hall Tuesday night. Only seven motions were submitted, a big shift from a history of monster-sized agendas featuring at least 25 motions per meeting for action by City Manager Tom Golden and his team.

And unlike the last term, this council is taking a page out of the School Committee's governing playbook and referring more items back to the front office for clarification or revision and to subcommittees for consideration.

Two ordinances, amending the fee schedule for residential parking signs and amending the parking rates, were sent back to Golden's office. The ordinance to create a deputy chief information officer position in the Management Information Systems department was sent to the Technologies and Utilities Subcommittee for further discussion.

Golden updated the body with the ongoing recovery efforts of last April's cyberattack that knocked the municipal network offline.

"We're out of disaster recovery right now," he said. "We are 100% going in the correct direction. We did strip our system down and rebuild it. We were very fortunate that we didn't lose a lot of information in the sense of trying to rebuild things."

His comments were made during motion responses regarding the implementation of a 311 system and the status of Wi-Fi in the Senior Center.

Chief Information Officer Mirán Fernandez told the body that the cyberattack gave the city an opportunity to rebuild its free Wi-Fi service that hadn't followed established protocols during an implementation that took place since 2004. The access point started at City Hall and grew to include the JFK Center, Pollard Memorial Library, the Senior Center, Health Department and eventually 103 spots throughout the city including school locations.

The service was intended to bridge the digital gap, that over time Fernandez said was utilized for high-demand usage such as streaming and video games.

"When the event occurred, it was one of the items that got knocked out of service," he said.

Restoring free Wi-Fi meant sourcing new equipment, executing licensing agreements and hiring a state-approved vendor to work with the city.

"The Wi-Fi visitor network is now up and running across the city and in other buildings," Fernandez said, although he acknowledged, without naming them, that some places still have blind spots. The service also has capacity restrictions and operating hours currently defined as 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Councilor Erik Gitschier said that work should be reflected in MIS's capital planning budget needs. The administration's budget discussions with the council begin in earnest in May.

Assistant City Manager Shawn Machado told the council that the Pollard Memorial Library elevator is close to being fixed. The traveling cable, which is an electric connection from the elevator car to the controller, has been sourced and Otis Elevators expects repairs to commence by late April. The company will also replace the hydraulic jack.

The Sun first reported on the broken elevator in August 2022, when Donna Richards, chair of the library trustees, said the lack of reliable elevator service was creating hardships for both the staff and library patrons. At the time, Councilor Rita Mercier asked Golden to "go full tilt on this," describing the library as "one of the city's main jewels."

Machado also noted that the City Hall elevator was in the design phase.

The utility phase of the housing project at 733-735 Broadway St. was the focus of a National Grid request to install an underground conduit from Pole 37 to feed a new transformer at the property.

The $30 million, four-story building with 52 units of affordable housing will also provide three permanent supportive housing units for formerly homeless families. The council unanimously approved the request. Gov. Maura Healey and Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll held a ceremony at the development site last May that announced $246 million in state funds to build and preserve 1,600 affordable and mixed-income housing units in 20 communities across the state, including Lowell.

The light agenda left time for the council to recognize Women's History Month by saluting the work of Councilor Kim Scott and Mercier, with Mayor Dan Rourke presenting each woman with a plaque.

"These are great women who have done so much for our city," he said, while specifically calling out Mercier's long service to the city.

"This is her 15th term as a city councilor," Rourke said. "When she's done this term, she'll be the second-longest serving councilor in the city of Lowell."

He also recognized all the women in the chamber representing the manager's office, who he said "make the manager's team look good on Tuesday nights."

The council adjourned to executive session to consider and discuss ongoing negotiations relative to the Senior Center.

The building is owned by the city, but has been under a 20-year lease agreement with Nick Sarris and George Behrakis, trustees of City Barns Trust. The council has expressed dissatisfaction with the trust's maintenance of the property.

© 2024 The Sun, Lowell, Mass. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.