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City workers cover for downed server

July 28, 2010
BERLIN — The city's computer server went down two weeks ago, and it didn't come back online for a week. In today's digital world that should have spelled disaster, but thanks to four women in the finance department the city kept running.

Florence Fitzmorris and Elaine Tremblay registered cars using paper tables and a typewriter, and Elizabeth Domino and Sandy Rosenburg spent two days doing payroll for the entire city by hand. The city council recognized each of them last week for their effort with a $100 bonus, for them the biggest reward was seeing the system back up and running last Tuesday.

"It was a lot of work, but it had to be done," Mrs. Tremblay said. She pulled out the sheet she used to determine the tax on a vehicle, stashed for years in a drawer in her desk. "It was coming full circle."

She has worked in the office since 1982, and it was only in the last decade that they went to a computerized system. She was hesitant when it first they first went digital, but this experience was a stark reminder of the old days.

"I'm not saying I want to repeat this," she said. "The first day was rough. After that everything came back."

But luckily she had the knowledge, and the department had the tools. They typed out registrations on an old IBM typewriter, and they had to find vehicle weights online because they didn't have books for the most recent years' cars.

"I was working in reverse," she said. "It was like a time warp."

They were able to keep the lines moving, she said, despite the arcane process, and in the end the work got done.

Across the office, however, things were on a tighter deadline. Mrs. Domino knew payroll had to be out by Thursday, and even the bank routing numbers were lost with the server.

"It was kind of scary at first," she said. "I'm just thankful we were able to get it done. I've done it manually before, but all the information is in the computer."

"We kept thinking tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow," she said, but the computer system wasn't coming back online.

From Wednesday morning through Thursday they raced to print paychecks for the city's 120 full time employees. They built a mock check with numbers from the bank, she said, and all the logos and information intact. Then they photocopied checks, and paid people based on the previous week's payroll.

"It' was a crisis situation," Mrs. Domino said. "It really was a joint effort."

"We rely so much on the computer," said Blandine Shallow, the city comptroller and director of the finance department. "Thank goodness it happened in the middle of the month."

Mrs. Shallow was on vacation for most of the crisis, she said, and even when she came in there wasn't anything she could do.

The staff pulled it off, she said. "They worked late, they came in early. Sandy worked like a beaver. They did a fantastic job. You couldn't ask for better."

Mrs. Tremblay said this is the first time she has ever received a bonus in 28 years with the city.

"This is big," she said. "I think they were just appreciative we kept the place going."

Littleton Chmber
Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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