At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, over half of state unemployment websites experienced significant outages as nearly 22 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the span of a few weeks. At the time, part of the explanation for these outages was that many state government agencies had simply never anticipated receiving such a high volume of traffic. Others noted that they were still running outdated systems and had not yet migrated to the cloud. But a year later, many state and local government agencies are back in the exact same position, as numerous government websites have crashed as residents flocked online to make vaccination appointments.
As Daniel Castro writes in GovTech, these problems have been seen across the nation and have continued for months. In January, multiple Florida county government websites — including those in Broward, Pinellas and Hillsborough — crashed as older adults went online to try to book appointments for the first available vaccines. In February, the Massachusetts state scheduling website crashed the week that people age 65 and older became eligible for the vaccine. And in March, the Cook County, Ill., vaccine registration website crashed after they made vaccines available to residents with certain underlying health conditions. During its peak, the website received half a million requests per second, according to officials.
It is almost certain that there will be future unprecedented events that generate similar surges. From building more scalable, cloud-based websites, to selecting more qualified private-sector partners, to using better design, there are many lessons that government agencies can learn from these failures to prepare for future challenges.