How FEMA Uses the Cloud—and How it Benefits Other Government Agencies

How FEMA uses cloud computing

In 2018, damage from natural disasters including hurricanes, tornados, and wildfires, cost the United States nearly $200 billion. 2017 was worse; with over $300 billion in damage, it was the worst year for natural disasters in American history. Tasked with picking up the pieces in the face of devastation is the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA). FEMA must respond to every disaster, and work quickly to bring aid to affected citizens; but as extreme weather events and other disasters continue to occur with greater frequency and intensity, this can be a challenge. To improve response times and provide better service to those in need, FEMA has turned to the cloud.

 

FEMA’s CTO Embraces Cloud Computing

FEMA Chief Technology Officer Ted Okada recently sat down with FedScoop (a leading technology media and education fixture within the federal government sector) to discuss the mission of FEMA, its goals for the future, and its commitment to cloud technologies.

“We ... support citizens and first responders, state and local government, but first and foremost, survivors of disasters,” said Okada. “When I think customers, I think of those survivors who are in the disaster zone and how do I meet their needs best?”

One way in which FEMA is aiming to better assist those in need is through OpenFEMA, an agency application hosted in the cloud. OpenFEMA helps personnel respond in the aftermath of catastrophic events. It allows the agency to quickly coordinate reservists, state and local resources, and track emergency operations center tasks. Citizens are also encouraged to upload photos of events affecting them in order to secure help.

Of course, development of such a tool hasn’t always been easy. “The challenge ... is scalability. We’ve had to take our entire infrastructure and scale it to literally millions of people to register for assistance. Now we’re going to have to sustain it for many, many years ahead. So, when we say we need processes that are measurable and manageable, it’s also about them being repeatable, sustainable, scalable.”

Okada isn’t shy about how the agency has made OpenFEMA a reality. “We’re doing a lot in the cloud, of course, which allows us to scale.” Because OpenFEMA operates in the cloud, the applications scale quickly to reach all users and resources, regardless of location. It also allows for fast and accurate decisions to be made about which resources can be deployed, and where.

Okada’s predecessor, Adrian Gardner, was also a strong advocate for cloud computing. “Because of the cloud, we are able to build in analytics that give us a unique perspective on the data,” he said in 2016. “As a result, we’re better able to manage activities within the emergency ops center.”

 

How Cloud Computing Can Benefit Other Government Agencies

While FEMA has a very specific set of needs when it comes to cloud computing—namely, utilizing it to help disaster victims and first responders—other government agencies can use it to save their sensitive data from disaster. One cloud service that’s become popular is Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS). It allows government agencies to quickly ramp up, securing their data within a cloud provider's infrastructure, and then gaining immediate access to critical data should a disaster strike. So, even if the government facility doesn’t survive the disaster, its data will.

When looking for a DRaaS provider, two things any federal, state, or local government agency will want to look for are:

  • CJIS Compliance. Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) regulations affect almost every aspect of data management within government agencies. Equipment will need to be configured to CJIS specifications, and PINs, passwords, and biometrics need to be used properly to remain compliant. Training that provides an understanding of cybersecurity and data breaches is also necessary. A word of caution: be wary of providers claiming they are CJIS certified versus CJIS compliant; no central certification or accreditation exists for CJIS.

  • GSA Contract. The General Services Administration (GSA) is the federal government’s procurement expert, helping other federal agencies get the products, services, and consulting advice they need from federal and commercial sources since 1949. When looking for a cloud partner, it may benefit you to find one that is available for purchase through the GSA contract. Learn more about the GSA advantage here.

Disasters can happen when least expected, so preparation is key. Hurricane season kicks off in June, if you’re in a state that frequently finds itself in the path of these natural disasters, you’ll want to ensure your business is prepared.


If you’re ready to work with a cloud provider that understands government requirements and compliance regulations, consider DSM’s G-Cloud. G-Cloud is the first and only Florida-based virtual private cloud solution designed for government agencies. With expanding VMware vCloud options in Phoenix and Atlanta, your data can remain protected, even as a disaster strikes your business’ physical location. We ensure strict security protocols, CJIS compliance, and 99.99%+ uptime. DSM’s G-Cloud is also available for purchase through the GSA contract, and we’re already working with government organizations such as the Florida Department of Agriculture. Learn more about the GSA advantage here, or contact one of our IT experts today for a free consultation.

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