Geographic information systems can be a great boon to any organization, whether government entity, private company, or non-profit. But there is a sticky point that even people with a master in GIS cannot make inconsequential: If you want to use GIS analysis, you need location-tagged data to analyze. And that can be a slow process. That’s what the Federal Emergency Management Agency found:
During response and recovery missions, the Federal Emergency Management Agency receives massive amounts of data in a variety of formats from a multitude of sources. But the data often is not delivered in a manner that readily supports geospatial representation. And frequently, disseminating the information beyond the data owner is not permitted.
An organization can find itself constantly struggling with how to prepare data to use with a GIS system. But the approach that FEMA is taking might work for other organizations. The agency plans to move important data to a cloud to make it available on a real-time basis to federal, state, and local agencies. FEMA wants to develop a cloud delivery approach that will incorporate information and processes from a number of legacy systems.
Other agencies, governmental bodies, and relief organizations that might need access will be able to get geospatially-tagged data far more quickly, which is critical when responding to disasters. The agency has already experimented with a proof of concept project in which the agency used Amazon.com’s cloud services to store, create, and manipulate data. The approach has a number of advantages:
- By using a cloud implementation, FEMA could offer common access to a large number of state and local agencies at the same time in an automated fashion, rather than depending on human-driven processes to satisfy a request by selecting and transferring the appropriate data. User self service is a major advantage of a cloud platform.
- Cloud-based systems have the ability to quickly bring additional computing resources online, scaling to meet demand.
- By incorporating a third party provider like Amazon, FEMA could scale up or down as necessary without the capital expense of building an infrastructure large enough to meet peak demand during a disaster of some type.
- Using a contracted vendor to manage the Amazon services also meant that FEMA could have the service available faster than it would have been possible on its own.
- Readying such a system also force the agency to tag all its legacy information with geospatial information once, rather than potentially having to convert data each time there was a request.
GIS practitioners in other organizations will want to take note because many will also face the need to provide data to others, whether external to the organization or even in-house, but in other locations. For example, a corporate GIS system could provide tagged data to internal groups in marketing, customer service, and product delivery spread out across multiple locations. A state GIS system could allow access by multiple cities and towns. Cloud technology will become increasingly important to providing GIS services.