Enterprise cloud adoption is proving to be an ideal fit with the rapidly changing mission rhythms of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) – the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) component agency that is tasked with coordinating the Federal government’s disaster preparation and response capabilities.

While FEMA employs more than 20,000 people across the country at its Washington headquarters and ten field offices, its mission of preparing for and responding to unscheduled crises means that its IT operations also have to support dramatic spikes in headcount and usage when disasters strike with little notice and in far-flung places.

Monica Langley, FEMA’s Deputy CIO, explained at a Feb. 15 virtual event hosted by FCW that the inherent scalability of cloud-based services makes them fit particularly well with FEMA’s mission and the unpredictable rhythm of demands for its services.

She said FEMA has made “substantial progress with cloud over the last few years.” The service’s agility, and ability to rapidly scale up applications when demand is peaking, and scale down when demand is waning, makes cloud “the perfect model for FEMA’s disaster response efforts,” she said.

Depending on the nature of the disaster that the agency is responding to, Langley explained, FEMA may see hundreds of people filing a particular application on one day, and then see hundreds of thousands of people using the same application the next day. Relying on cloud rather than legacy systems without the same level of scalability, she said, means the agency case use resources when it needs them, and “we don’t have resources sitting around unused 95 percent of the time.”

She also talked about cost advantages seen from the agency’s use of an enterprise cloud solution, and the “huge benefits during a crisis” of being able to quickly recover from system failures.

The agency’s adoption of an enterprise cloud architecture stems from a project started in 2018 to build a technology plan covering Fiscal Years 2020 to 2024, Langley said. Related IT implementation planning covered 32 initiatives and 150 metrics targets.

The result, she said, has been a much firmer technology foundation for the agency’s mission needs. “A few years ago, we were standing on quicksand … today, we are standing on several feet of granite,” she remarked.

Langley added that the agency’s technology planning revamp does not constitute “a one-time build,” but a process that is going to be “living, breathing, and changing to our environment.” IT modernization, she said, is not “once a decade,” but rather is a “constant state of advancement.”

Finally, Langley said that 36 out of the 50 states have completed arrangements with FEMA so that state officials can have automatic access to FEMA services as they do their own disaster planning.

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.