Statement from WaTech on COVID-19 support

Home » Statement from WaTech on COVID-19 support
Release Date: 
03/24/2020

Updated March 26 to include WaTech's work with the Department of Health's COVID-19 "chatbot" and a link to Director Jim Weaver's podcast with NASCIO. 

As a technology support agency, we’d like you to know that Washington Technology Solutions (WaTech) is continuing to support the operations of our public-sector customers throughout this quickly evolving situation in a multitude of ways.

While these past several weeks have been especially demanding on agency staff and services, we have been able to corral our resources and take fast action by:

  • Increasing capacity on the state’s Virtual Private Network (SSL VPN), the service that allows state workers to access their entire suite of files while working remotely. WaTech has nearly tripled the capacity for the number of concurrent sessions by increasing seat licensing and hardware installations to accommodate the higher demand for the SSL VPN service, as well as adding the additional IP Pools needed for VPN connections, along with emergency system load balancing work to ensure VPN connectivity. Other staff members are processing a myriad of new VPN service requests.
  • Working with the Department of Health and Microsoft, members of WaTech's Cloud Services team on March 26 launched the DOH COVID-19 chatbot on the DOH website. The chatbot allows citizens to ask their coronavirus questions in real-time to the agency via a chat bubble that appears on every page. Successive iterations of the chatbox will be introduced as feedback is provided. 
  • Ensuring core network services are working and maintained around the clock.
  • Installing software applications on scores of state agency-assigned laptops that allow remote workers to answer their phones as though they are at their work desks. This included a rapid collaboration between three groups within NSD to design a solution to a technical issue with the software.
  • Building new capacity for our suite of cloud-based services.
  • Expanding support of secure login functions through SecureAccess Washington, specifically as it relates to state unemployment benefits administered through the Employment Security Department. This includes blocking malicious traffic, teaming with ESD on end-user facing communications, and answering end-user questions.
  • Arranging for calls coming into the Office of the Governor to switch to Support Center staff within WaTech to help with the heavy volume of calls.
  • Maintaining the health and security of state networks to keep so-called “bad actors” from breaking into our systems. 
  • Setting up numerous conference bridge lines and videoconference sessions for state agency personnel to facilitate communication between remote workers as well as with their customers. The videoconference sessions have also been used by the state’s judicial system to replace in-person hearings to reduce potential exposure.
  • Helping small agencies to work remotely by supplying extra equipment.
  • Providing support to the Office of the Governor for conducting press conferences deploying video conference technologies, so Gov. Inslee can field reporter questions remotely.
  • Working with the Economic Services Administration within DSHS to increase its call center capacity to 1,000 seats after ESA deemed it necessary to close its customer service offices to protect both customers and employees. Increasing call center capacity means ESA can still serve its customers over the phone even with its offices closed.
  • Rapidly designing two public-facing websites being used for public information. The first is coronavirus.wa.gov, which now serves as the state’s central clearinghouse for information through the Joint Information Center at Camp Murray. A second site, configured by our Geographic Information Systems group, converts Department of Health statistical information to an easy-to-view geographical format with nearly real-time COVID-19 data, displayed by county.  
  • Lending staff to the Emergency Operations Center and Joint Information Center at Camp Murray, which is coordinating both the response and official channels of public information from the state. WaTech Emergency Management staff have also participated in and contributed to state and national briefings on the coronavirus and provided situational updates to the EOC.
  • Freezing customer billing at Feb. 28 usage rates despite the increased volume of demand for our technology services.
  • Working through email capacity issues by advising our customers on strategies to prevent “throttling” or delaying mail delivery due to the heavy volumes of traffic to and from the State of Washington’s wa.gov domain.

WaTech Director and State CIO Jim Weaver further discusses the response from a statewide IT perspective in a March 24 podcast with NASCIO.

WaTech appreciates the many messages of support and gratitude we’ve received through this period. We do ask for your continued patience and cooperation as we address a continuing onslaught of new, escalating issues. Our teams are working hard and will continue to do so while we join with our agency partners in the face of these never-before-seen times of emergency operations.

Thank you.