GEOG 588
Planning GIS for Emergency Management

Emerging Theme: Cloud GIS for Emergency Management


GIS in the Cloud

There's still a ton of buzz today about Cloud computing. Cloud computing advances the state of the art in client-server systems by making the server side much more flexible on demand. In the old days, you would need to set up and maintain your own server hardware (or pay someone else to do this), and scaling to meet demand was only achieved by buying and installing new hardware or other manual processes that took some time to complete. Cloud architectures allow scalability to be more or less on demand, and servers can be replicated virtually in seconds. So if you're running a web mapping environment that experiences a sudden and sustained peak in demand, you can meet this demand flexibly (even automatically if you set things up that way).

If this topic interests you, you may want to check out our course in Cloud and Server GIS where you can learn how to leverage and deploy GIS on the Cloud.

Cloud computing services that are available for flexible server scaling include: Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), Google App Engine, Microsoft Azure, and Hadoop, which is an open source framework for cloud computing.

Cloud GIS for Emergency Management

FEMA's cloud GIS efforts include the FEMA Geoplatform, hosted on ArcGIS Online.

FEMA is currently operating an Emergency Management-focused collection hosted on the ArcGIS Online cloud, called the FEMA Geoplatform. By its name, you can also see the connection to the U.S. Federal Geoplatform, the origins of which are described here in a short video by Jerry Johnston from the Department of the Interior. One of the key motivating factors to begin this effort was the effort to respond to the Deepwater Horizon disaster:

So what attributes of Cloud Computing are relevant for GIS in Emergency Management? Here are a few things that make this technology worth serious consideration in this context:

  1. Decentralized data hosting (cloud resources can be spread across data centers around the country or world)
  2. Scalable services (peaks in demand can be easily handled, sudden decreases in demand won't result in wasted headroom)
  3. Reduced maintenance effort (cloud vendor maintains the server side, freeing up the emergency management organization to focus everything on delivering products to decision-makers)

This is not to say that Cloud solutions are universally better choices for emergency management contexts. Having a private company host sensitive datasets can be very problematic (or impossible) in some situations. Relying on an outside supplier for server uptime and maintenance can work well much of the time, but if they experience a failure, it would be impossible for a local organization to take charge and maintain things themselves.

Deliverables for this week's emerging theme

  • Post a comment that describes how Cloud GIS attributes may impact the design of systems to support Emergency Management.
  • Then, I'd like you to offer additional insight, critique, a counter-example, or something else constructive in response to one of your colleagues' posts.
  • Brownie points for linking to other technology demos, pictures, blog posts, etc... that you've found to enrich your posts so that we may all benefit.