Kim Lindros

Can Cloud Systems Meet Demand During Disaster Response?

The number of natural disasters is on the rise worldwide, dominating news cycles and increasing anxiety within the vulnerable communities involved. Each year, we experience more powerful hurricanes, massive wildfires and damaging tornadoes—all of which hit with some degree of unpredictability.

In October 2018, many ignored Hurricane Michael when it was a minor storm in the Gulf of Mexico. A few days later it made landfall as the third most powerful hurricane the Atlantic ever experienced, causing an estimated $25 billion in damage. In November, Northern California’s Camp Fire quickly spread through the town of Paradise within hours of starting, eventually destroying over 18,000 structures. Combined, these disasters claimed over 150 lives.

When events of this magnitude are underway, emergency management personnel scramble to adapt to changing conditions while locating resources and making critical decisions. First responders need to know in real time where to focus their relief efforts. Which areas need immediate attention? Which medical facilities can take additional patients? They need current information on the availability of fuel, hotel rooms and home rentals, and how to divert drivers to less congested routes.

Many experts agree that cloud computing is key to providing the infrastructure required by complex and dynamic disaster management systems and other resources needed during a disaster. Weather forecasting systems use the power of the cloud to track conditions and provide accurate weather data down to the street level. Utility companies can use predictive analysis to pinpoint locations in need of the most urgent repairs.

Cloud platforms, such as Amazon EC2, Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure Cloud, are reliable, scalable and interactive, providing an environment suited to large amounts of computing power over short periods of time. This type of infrastructure is ideal for hosting emergency management systems, where staff can set up discussion boards and share resource lists for anytime, anywhere access.

There is, however, room for improvement.

There isn’t a single emergency management system and there isn’t a single cloud. Systems may be hosted on a public, private or hybrid cloud on one or more platforms, which might or might not communicate. For example, responders need to know where supplies across the country should be routed, but the information may not be readily available if spread across disparate clouds. To be effective during a major event, information needs to move from one cloud to another seamlessly.

Another concern is that connections to a cloud may go down during a power outage, shutting off access to the data and applications stored there.

One potential solution is collaborating clouds with failover. Each cloud should be able to dynamically configure its emergency management resources to be available on demand across multiple clouds and geographical regions, much like private corporate data centers function. This type of flexibility also overcomes local power and connectivity issues to ensure access from any location.

The right clouds, on the right networks, with the right teams of experts can bolster natural disaster emergency management systems, better coordinate emergency response, and move people out of harm’s way more quickly.

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