October 24, 2012
Improving the Delivery of Disaster Assistance - Using Standards-Based Data and Flexible Technology Platforms to Increase Data Sharing across the Federal Government and Reduce the Burden on Disaster Survivors
Karole Johns, Disaster Assistance Improvement Program PMO
In 2008, the Disaster Assistance Improvement Program (DAIP), an E-Government initiative led by FEMA with support from 16 U.S. Government partners, launched DisasterAssistance.gov to simplify the process for disaster survivors to identify and apply for disaster assistance. DAIP utilized existing partner technologies and implemented a services oriented architecture (SOA) that integrated the content management system and rules engine supporting Department of Labor’s Benefits.gov applications with FEMA’s Individual Assistance Center application. The FEMA SOA serves as the backbone for data sharing interfaces with three of DAIP’s federal partners and transfers application data to reduce duplicate data entry by disaster survivors. As DAIP works to integrate additional partners and further reduce the burden on disaster survivors, the Program is exploring solutions that reduce the technological and fiscal barriers to entry for partners while overcoming the challenges presented by each partner’s unique legal, security, policy and privacy requirements.
More than 800,000 individuals needed emergency assistance, such as housing, food, and clothing, after Hurricane Katrina struck the southern United States in 2005. That year, more than 2.7 million people applied for FEMA assistance. Since Hurricane Katrina, there have been more than 50 presidentially declared national disasters each year. These events have caused injury and death, destroyed homes and businesses, and disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousands of people across the nation. Executive Order 13411 was issued in response to the confusion and frustration people encountered when they asked for help from multiple federal programs following Hurricane Katrina. It required the government to simplify the process of identifying and applying for disaster assistance.
The executive order gave FEMA 15 months to create an information clearinghouse of all federal assistance available to disaster survivors and develop a single application process to reduce unnecessary duplication of forms and processes. Seventeen federal agencies, who sponsor over 70 different forms of assistance (FOAs) for disaster survivors, came together as partners in the Disaster Assistance Improvement Program (DAIP) to address this need. Even with the weight of the executive order behind its mission, DAIP faced the challenge of figuring out how to share data across the disparate technology systems of its 17 partners, each governed by a unique set of statutory and policy requirements.
DAIP capitalized on existing partner technologies, including the Department of Labor’s Benefits.gov content management system and rules engine to provide a prescreening questionnaire that allows disaster survivors to identify the assistance most relevant to them, and FEMA’s Disaster Assistance Center (DAC), which served as the foundation for the online application. To share data and services with other federal agencies, DAIP implemented Oracle’s Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) Suite, and employed the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM) to provide a standards-based model for exchanging data. Chosen for its flexibility, SOA offers the potential for sharing data with the least technologically advanced partners in a format that works for them, while also providing those with more sophisticated systems automated data exchanges. Bidirectional SOA interfaces share data with the Small Business Administration, Social Security Administration and the Department of Labor; an interface with the Department of Education assists displaced survivors with information on federal student loans. DAIP successfully integrated these government systems and launched DisasterAssistance.gov on December 31, 2008.
To address these challenges, DAIP is developing a federated application using an XML forms engine. The federated application will let partners use DisasterAssistance.gov as the central access point for survivors to access FOAs while each partner agency receives, stores, owns and processes all its unique applicant data and maintains control of its own business rules, adjudication processes and funding decisions. This approach will facilitate data sharing among partners through more efficient data gathering and processing, quality monitoring and control and adherence to policies governing data collection. For survivors, this will further reduce duplicate data entry and continue to improve access to assistance following a disaster.
DAIP is currently working with its partners to develop requirements for the forms engine framework and plans to have this capability implemented in early FY 2014.