FEMA aims to bring geospatial data into cloud environment


To quickly share vast amounts of geospatial data on a natural disaster, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is seeking to develop a cloud environment to merge its data and processes.

The agency posted Feb. 25 onto FedBizOpps a request for information about a service that would do so. FEMA shares geospatial data with other federal agencies, state and local governments, the private sector, nonprofits and others, but it says in the RFI that it struggles to send and receive the data seamlessly.

The cloud environment it describes in the RFI would feature scalability, storage and mobile compatibility. It would need to provide connectivity solutions in austere environments and allow for custom application development. Some of the information it would contain would have to be secured for official use only.

Currently, during response and recovery, "valuable time and resources are devoted to converting data to a geospatial compatible format or searching for other sources of mission critical information," the RFI says. The agency receives "massive amounts of data" in various formats, from many sources.

Because of security issues, FEMA is often unable to share data with those outside of government firewalls except through what it calls "archaic" means, such as mailing DVDs or even providing paper representations of the data.

Mark Snyder, the director of FEMA's Office of Transformation and Initiatives, gave some examples at a conference last fall of how the agency increasingly relies on geospatial information displays. Displays can overlay the path of a tornado with an aerial view of devastation to homes, and FEMA can then make damage assessments much more quickly and cheaply than through on-the-ground inspection.

Another objective, as stated in the RFI, is "to establish a common view of critical data during times of emergency response and recovery." During Hurricane Sandy, FEMA tested the Amazon EC2 cloud environment, where emergency managers and the public produced and accessed files that were nearly in the terabytes.

For more:
- go to the Feb. 25 RFI on FedBizOpps

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