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FEMA Loses Lessons Learned Data

Inspector general finds a poor archiving plan has left the Federal Emergency Management Agency unable to access historical data since May 2010

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The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been without access to years' worth of lessons-learned data for nine months, unable to recover access to it since a server failure in May 2010, according to a newly issued report by the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general.

While the data was recovered by November 2010, the software needed to read it hasn't been restored, meaning that FEMA personnel aren't able to access certain historical data stretching back to 2004, before Hurricane Katrina, California wildfires, and other major recent disasters.

The database was run by FEMA's Remedial Action Management Program (RAMP), the purpose of which is partially to identify lessons learned from major disasters and other FEMA operations and distribute that information throughout the agency. FEMA regional offices are responsible for coordinating and scheduling after-action reviews on-site, and those reviews were entered into RAMP's database.

That database was accessible by an average of 70 users, according to FEMA, which then disseminated the information to other FEMA employees.

However, in May 2010, FEMA's deputy administrator for protection and national preparedness told employees to stop using the database because FEMA was no longer supporting the server on which it was housed. At the time, FEMA was working to implement a data-archiving plan for the RAMP system. But days after the administrator's announcement, the server failed.

FEMA integrated some of the functions of RAMP's database into two newer and more modern systems: the Corrective Action Program system and the Lessons Learned Information Sharing system. But the old system and its data remains inaccessible. Both of the new systems are backed up daily, with backups routinely stored offsite, but that does little to recover the data that has been lost.

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