Charged with serving as the Federal lifeline for millions of citizens who need immediate help in the face of life-threatening disasters, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is leaning heavily on cloud services to run its data management system more efficiently, securely, and collaboratively.

Sam Hultzman, FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program’s (NFIP) Pivot System Owner, said at the Google Government Summit on Nov. 15 that the agency recently moved from a mainframe to the cloud – and in the process built a “one-stop shop” for all their customers to access the applications they might need.

“We’re able to provide one place where everyone can come to get their information,” Hultzman said. The move to the cloud combined access to all the agency’s independent applications so they can seamlessly and securely provide the resources for their expansive list of customers: states, counties, insurance companies, internal users, and data scientists.

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Hultzman touted that the agency was able to fully build out it’s the project cloud with Google on time and under budget – “which almost never happens in government,” he said.

NFIP is building out an additional cloud environment with Google as well, which Hultzman predicts will be done by the middle of next month. “We’re going to ETO (engineer-to-order) two environments in less than a year which is pretty incredible,” he said.

One advantage that Google Cloud offers FEMA is scalability.

When the agency is getting “hit with requests,” Hultzman’s team has a code environment set in place that will automatically scale up to ensure FEMA has the processing power to meet everyone’s unique needs. It will then automatically scale back down when the need decreases, he explained.

Savings from the work with Google Cloud will be farmed back into data analytics so FEMA can deliver better information to customers, he said.

“We’re going to take that money and make our system better over time,” Hultzman said. “We can’t just sit and let it stay stagnant or it won’t meet the need of our current customers, and then ten to 15 years from now we’d have to have another large modernization process.”

“We’re trying to change the technology today so that we can meet everyone’s needs down the road,” he said.

When asked about his favorite tools within Google Cloud, Hultzman responded that the agency is “just getting started.”

“We’re like kids in a candy store,” he said. “We’ve opened it up and [we’re] looking around because there’s a lot of possibilities and a lot of tools at our disposal.”

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.